A glance at historic photographs from 1901: The Promenade des Anglais, Nice’s boulevard running directly along the Côte d’Azur, is bursting with onlookers. It’s “Nice Week”, one of the most important motorsport events at the time, involving a host of car races. All eyes are on one creation: the Mercedes 35 PS. The vehicle with starting number 5 belonged to Baron Henri de Rothschild. Wilhelm Werner was behind the wheel. His co-driver, facing towards the rear, is holding a brass horn with which he would warn onlookers during the race. Emil Jellinek, clearly recognisable by his characteristic whiskers, is standing closely to the rear right of the vehicle at the heart of the hustle and bustle. Unsurprisingly, he looks very satisfied.
1901 “Nice Week”: All eyes are on the Mercedes 35 PS. Emil Jellinek is to the rear right of the vehicle, sporting whiskers.
The first Mercedes 35 PS prior to delivery to Emil Jellinek in December 1900. The first Mercedes is considered the first modern car. It brought the era of motorised coaches in automotive engineering to an end once and for all.
The first reason to be happy: the Mercedes 35 PS is Jellinek’s “baby” in several respects. The successful businessman demanded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) develop a new, safe, high-performance vehicle intended to compete at “Nice Week”. He was able to convince the company even though the predecessor vehicle had been involved in major accidents in the previous year and DMG had even considered pulling out of motorsport. Jellinek’s word carries weight, given he is the most important sales partner for these products from Stuttgart.
The second reason Emil Jellinek was happy: he inspired the also new “Mercedes” brand name. It was his favourite daughter’s first name. He made it clear to DMG that an illustrious and internationally understandable model designation – paired with outstanding technology – is extremely important to have success on the market. As a result, the Mercedes brand was established in Nice.
Namesake: Emil Jellinek with his daughter Mercédès. The picture was taken around 1895.
Model to this day: Mercedes-Simplex – here the chassis of a 28/32 PS version dating back to 1904.
In 1901, the Mercedes 35 PS was pure high tech. It completely redefined the limits of what was possible in the automotive world at the time. With elements including a low centre of gravity, accurate steering and its high-performance engine, it turned its back on the previous design that had still been inspired by horse-drawn carts, and is considered the first modern car. Putting the engine output into perspective: 26 kW (35 PS) from a displacement of 6 litres and a top speed of 90 km/h in the version with lightweight sports body are groundbreaking, top values a mere 15 years after the invention of the car.
Nice is just the right place to showcase this technological novelty of 1901. Around the turn of the 20th century this town was an international hub of automotive culture. Especially in the winter months, the sophisticated upper class from all over Europe and also from overseas met here. There was plenty of purchasing power: anyone needing to maintain their reputation was showboating in their most recent vehicles here. And there were many who also competed in one of the “Nice Week” competitions: it was a highlight of the luxurious automotive lifestyle.
Adequate domicile: Jellinek family’s Villa Mercédès at no. 54 Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Jellinek acquired the residence in 1902.
Emil Jellinek’s family at “Port Lympia” harbour in Nice next to the “Mercédès II” steam-powered yacht. The vehicle parked directly alongside the yacht is the Jellinek family’s Mercedes-Simplex 60 PS touring car.
Emil Jellinek was a confident part of this upper class. He expressed his lifestyle to the outside world with elements including a sophisticated villa directly on the Promenade des Anglais and a luxurious, steam-powered yacht. The businessman made the most of invitations and social events to permanently maintain and establish new contacts with a clientele happy to make considerable investments and with an affinity towards technology.
Jellinek is absolutely convinced by the Mercedes 35 PS’ potential. And “Nice Week” proved him right: on 25 March 1901, Wilhelm Werner won the Nice–Salon–Nice long-distance race over 392 kilometres with an average speed of 58.1 km/h. This went down in history as the first ever racing victory of a Mercedes. On 28 March, Claude Lorraine Barrow set a new world record over one mile from a standing start at the wheel of a Mercedes 35 PS with an average speed of 79.7 km/h. And on 29 March, Wilhelm Werner claimed the victory at the Nizza–La Turbie hill climbing race, the highlight of each “Nice Week”, in the category for two-seater racing cars with a new record time and an average speed of 51.4 km/h. Albert “Georges” Lemaître, also at the wheel of a Mercedes 35 PS, crossed the finish line in second place.
And the victory in the six-seater car category was claimed by a driver called Thorn with an average speed of 42.7 km/h also at the wheel of a Mercedes 35 PS.
Jellinek’s delight over these great successes was most probably not just down to his sportsmanlike spirit – he knew that racing victories would also set his tills ringing as DMG’s main agent. And that was certainly the case. He sold numerous vehicles, also of the successor model series Mercedes-Simplex. He formed a symbiosis with DMG: Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft built outstanding luxury cars and Jellinek provided the perfect customer base. These joint activities resonate significantly: to this day they form the strong foundations of the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand.