May 28, 2007

World’s oldest car returns temporarily to Germany

Stuttgart, Germany – An 1888 Benz Patent Motor Car, considered to be the world’s oldest original automobile, is returning temporarily to Germany for display at the Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz in Ladenburg. The car is on loan from the Science Museum in London, which has owned it since 1913; it will return to England in November 2008.

Carl Benz introduced the Patent Motor Car in 1886 and subsequently built about 25 of the three-wheeled vehicles. The original, the Model I, used wire wheels and design details adopted from advanced contemporary bicycles; Model II was converted to four wheels for test purposes, and was used to test axle pivot steering. The Model III, considered the first true automobile and the model of the museum’s vehicle, had two driven rear wheels and a steered front wheel.

Benz worked with Emile Roger of Paris, who set up the first foreign sales office; the vehicle on display was supplied to Roger and then sold in England. It is assumed that it was built by Benz in 1888 and originally displayed at an exhibition in Munich that year. The car is believed to be the first gasoline-engine vehicle operated in England. It is considered the world’s oldest vehicle in its original condition; the German Museum owns an 1886 Patent Motor Car, but it was reconstructed from original parts around 1900.

The Science Museum purchased the car in April 1913 and it was retained in ready-to-drive condition; in 1936 it was even driven outside the museum once a week. The car was completely overhauled in 1957 and was registered by the museum for the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run that year, but only covered 22 km, at an average speed of 12 km/h, before the brakes failed in a rainstorm and the front fork was damaged in a collision with another vehicle. In 1958, the car finished the 90 km rally in six hours and 25 minutes, at an average speed of 14 km/h. That year it was also returned to Munich, where it participated in a parade marking the 70th anniversary of Daimler-Benz AG. Later that year, the car became a permanent exhibit in the London museum.

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