The age of the automobile started exactly 125 years ago when Gottlieb Daimler filed a patent for his revolutionary “riding car,” a two-wheeled machine driven by an internal combustion engine.
His machine looks like a motorcycle with training wheels. But under the strictest etymology — the Greek auto means “self” and the Latin mobilis means “mobile” — the riding car was the first automobile. The car as we know it arrived in 1886 when Daimler built the four-wheeled Motor Carriage and Carl Benz built the three-wheeled Patent Motor Car. But Daimler set the stage for the automotive era when he filed his patent for the riding car on Aug. 29, 1885.
Daimler and Benz, who had developed their automobiles independently, later founded Daimler AG. The giant German automaker marked the anniversary of the riding car by calling it “the most important precursor to individual mobility.” It proved an internal combustion engine could power a vehicle and a human being could control it. It was a glimpse of what could be achieved.
In today’s tech world, it would be called Automobile V1.0.
What made the machine possible was the “Grandfather Clock” engine, so named because it resembled a clock. Daimler developed the single-cylinder four-stroke engine with Wilhelm Maybach in 1884. It displaced 265cc, produced 0.4 horsepower at 600 rpm and was remarkable for its relatively light weight
Daimler built the riding car to test the engine. The wood frame rode on wood wheels wrapped with iron bands. The engine drove the rear wheel via a belt. According to Daimler, a contemporary publication (which Daimler did not name) described the riding car like this:
“To start the engine, one must first light the small flame beneath the hot ignition tube and crank the engine once using the crank; these preparations take only a minute. The engine runs smoothly, since the silencer dampens the exhaust gases entering the exhaust pipe. To set the vehicle in motion, the driver climbs aboard, takes hold of the steering bar and connects the engine to the bicycle. This is done by means of a lever, cord and tension pulley, which shifts the drive belt onto the pulley.”
Two gears were available, selected using a lever while at a standstill. First gear was good for 6 km/hr (3.7 mph) while second gear brought the machine to twice that. The brakes were activated by tugging on a cord.
In November, 1885, Daimler’s son Adolph Daimler drove the riding car along a three-kilometer stretch of road between Caanstatt and Untertürkheim and back. The patent was awarded on Aug. 11, 1886.
The automobile age was officially under way.
See Also This Day In Tech:
March 4, 1887: Start Your Engine
Aug. 12, 1888: Road Trip! Berta Takes the Benz
Nov. 5, 1895: First U.S. Automaker Gets Off to Slow Start
Sept. 13, 1899: Pedestrian Dies in First U.S. Traffic Death
July 27, 1888: Electric Tricycle Jolts Bostonians
June 30, 1953: Corvette Adds Some Fiber, Flair to American Road
April 17, 1964: Ford Mustang Starts Galloping
A replica of the “riding car” at Spa Gardens in Caanstatt, Germany, where it was first tested.
The “hot tube” ignition system.
The “Grandfather Clock” engine, so named because it resembles a clock. The riding car was built to test the engine, which had a displacement of 265cc and produced 0.4 horsepower.
The riding car’s two gears were selected via a lever when the machine was at a standstill.
The riding car had a top speed of 12 km/hr, or a little more than 7 mph.
A drawing of the “Grandfather Clock” engine Daimler and Maybach developed.