Ever since the car was first invented, design engineers have been striving for supreme performance.
Bigger, more powerful, faster – these are the goals that they have achieved with courage, inventiveness and skill in equal measure. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was also about demonstrating to people the benefits of motorised travel over the tried-and-tested horse-drawn carriage.
And one of the key benefits, as all automotive pioneers knew, had to be speed. They were aware that the motor car only had a real chance in the market if it could get its passengers to their destination quicker than a horse.
Men, masters and motor engines.
Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach did their utmost, therefore, to ensure that their engines were able to deliver more than the original 0.75 to 1.1 hp and that their “motor carriages” were capable of accelerating at ever-increasing speeds. 20 km/h – that was the target everyone was aiming for back then.
However, it’s one thing to develop technology further; it’s quite another to convince customers to buy it. If Carl Benz originally thought that a good product like his patent motor car would sell itself just like that, he very soon realised that his invention would not be successful without publicity. Just like Gottlieb Daimler, he visited regional and national trade fairs, travelled abroad and even presented his car at the World Exhibition in Paris in May 1889. However, the rewards for all of these efforts were small. The order books remained empty.
So, another way had to be found to promote the motor car and to inspire confidence in its technology. In short, they had to come up with a new advertising concept. And it came from France. The French newspaper Le Petit Journal, with its colour weekly supplement, was seen as particularly innovative and was also renowned for its highprofile advertising campaigns. After organising the first long-distance cycling race back in 1891, the newspaper’s publisher Pierre Giffard came up with the idea at the end of 1893 of holding a competition for “Voitures sans cheveaux” – vehicles without horses. Along the 126-km route from Paris to Rouen, steam-, battery- and petrolpowered vehicles were required to demonstrate not only their speed but also their reliability and operating safety.
Men, masters and motor engines.
The event was a complete success. Gottlieb Daimler and his son Paul also travelled to Paris and took their places amongst the spectators close to Porte Maillot. “Large crowds gathered,” Paul Daimler said as he later reminisced about the event. “On the heavy steam-powered vehicles, we saw stokers, dripping with sweat and covered in soot, shovelling combustion material into the furnaces. And then we saw the drivers of the vehicles with gasoline and petroleum engines, perfectly relaxed behind the steering wheel, operating levers every now and then - as if they were just out for a little jaunt. It was an incredible sight to behold and one I will never forget.”
It was an event that also remained etched on the memory in Stuttgart, as nine of the 17 motor cars that crossed the finish line were equipped with Daimler engines, among them the first four cars to finish the race. Known as the “Moteur système Daimler”, it was manufactured under licence based on original plans by Gottlieb Daimler by the French car manufacturer Panhard & Levassor. This first endurance race from Paris to Rouen in 1894 marked the world’s first motorsport event and also the first sporting success for the Stuttgart-based brand.
It made the car famous and led to the founding of the Automobile Club de France, which organised the first “proper” race in 1895. This ran over the considerable distance of1,192 km from Paris to Bordeaux and back, following a basic principle that still applies today: the fastest wins. Once again, it was the French cars equipped with the “Moteur système Daimler” that won out.
The speed races that took place from 1895 onwards in Paris, London, Marseille, Nice, Berlin, Chicago and elsewhere boosted the automotive business. The slogan “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” became a recipe for success for the manufacturers who therefore made great efforts to turn up and win.
Mercedes-Benz motorsport: a remarkable story of success, from the first race to the present-day German Touring Car Championship (DTM), and from the first Grand Prix to Formula One.
A story that continues to enthral.
Motorsport is fascinating and fun. Its energy, excitement and ever-changing narrative delight millions. Motorsport also brings people together – in peace and transcending all national borders.
Mercedes-Benz looks back on a great sporting tradition, one which is closely associated with the history of the automotive brand and still shapes its philosophy to this day. After all, at Mercedes-Benz we’ve always enjoyed a close connection with sporting attributes such as team spirit, dedication, responsibility, competition and fairness. These characteristics not only apply to our ultra-modern, highly technically advanced cars; they also chime with the goals of the company and its employees.
That is why the history of motorsport at Mercedes-Benz is one that has endured. For 120 years.