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A Blitzen Benz is Tuned-Up at the International Motor Co.

Head Librarian Chris Ritter at the AACA Library has uncovered an interesting set of photos showing one of the two Blitzen Benz racing cars that were imported to the U.S. Because of this new discovery we have decided to take a look at other interesting images of the cars beginning in 1910, and press reports of the day.

According to historian, author and racing car collector George Wingard, the Benz Company built six of these 200 h.p. machines between 1909 and 1913. The huge four-cylinder engines used a 7-9/32-inch bore x 7-7/8-inch stroke for a displacement of 1,310 c.i. The first five that were built used a short chassis suitable for racing. The last one built that Wingard owns and restored, has a 136-inch w.b. chassis and is fitted with a sport touring body.

  • Blitzen Benz Barney Oldfield
  •              Barney Oldfield with the Lighting Benz at Daytona in 1910.

The first car, #5100 was built late in 1909, and was run at a few events in Europe and once at Brooklands in the UK before being sent to the US for Barney Oldfield. In 1910, he ran the Lightning Benz on Daytona Beach and with it set a one-way speed of 131.275 mph.; the following year Bob Burman coaxed 141.732 mph out of it on the same beach. You can learn more about both speed runs here on The Old Motor when Barney Oldfield ran it and later by Bob Burman.

  • Blitzen Benz Bob Burman
  • Bob Burman with the Blitzen Benz No.2 at Vancouver, B.C. in July of 1913.

It appears according to Wingard’s sources that the second car built, #6257 ran at the Gaillon Hill Climb in France during October of 1910, and then it was shipped here to America. It was equipped with the same style of radiator and bodywork as the first car and was campaigned by promoter Ernie Moross and Bob Burman as the Blitzen Benz No. 2. You can view the car (above) with Burman at Vancouver, B.C. in July of 1913. 

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  •                                  Teddy Tetzlaff’s run at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 12, 1914.

Following the period after the speed records were set in Daytona by both Oldfield and Burman, it appears that both of the cars may have been owned by racing promotor Ernie Moross. His traveling racing circus was more show business than actual competition. The cars made numerous performances in the U.S. and Canada and always seemed to magically set a New Worlds Record, much to the delight of the spectators and the promoter’s bank roll.

  • Blitzen Benz Teddy Tetzlaff
  • Teddy Tetzlaff (center left) and the Blitzen Benz No.2 at Bonneville on August 12, 1914.

All of the photos and information in this post up to this point, lead us to the (top) photo and the image just (below), showing one of the cars at the International Motor Co. in New York City during 1915. That Company was established when brothers Jack, Gus and William Mack sold their Mack Brothers Motor Car Company to outside investors. International was formed as a holding company for both the Mack operation and the Saurer Motor Company that also built trucks in New Jersey.

The (top) photo shows one of the two Benz cars in the workshop at International and the caption of the photos states that it was Tuned-Up There. In studying the images and comparing them with others, it appears that the workmen have: overhauled the chassis, fitted Hartford friction shocks, knock-off wheel hubs, painted it, a new body and hood appear to have been built, and the paint on the radiator was removed and it was polished. This bodywork was the most up-to-date of any seen yet on one of these cars here in this country.

  • Blitzen Benz at Mack Truck N.Y.C.
  • One of the two Blitzen Benz cars in New York City in 1915 after a rebuild at International Motor Co.

The truck, according to the book about the Mack AC, Bulldog by John Montville, was the second pre-production prototype built. The 3 1/2 ton unit first went into use in a military test on August 5, 1915, hauling an eight-ton load of armaments and soldiers to Plattsburgh, New York from New York City. During this test, special armor plating was added to the sides, which may date this photo to before the test.

  • Blitzen Benz at Sheepshead Bay Race Track
  • Bob Burman with the “Tuned Up” Blitzen Benz at the Sheepshead Bay Board Track, October 9, 1915.

The Automobile on November 4, 1915 reported on the Astor Cup Race held at the new Sheepshead Bay Board Track on October 9, 1915. At that event, there were two match races held between Bob Burman and Ralph DePalma. Burman drove the “Tuned-Up” Blitzen Benz with the new bodywork and Ralph DePalma piloted a Sunbeam that was owned by the Packard Motor Car Co. at the time. The full details of the races can be found below.

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By 1916, the two Benz racers had been run hard for years and were getting quite long in the tooth. Period press coverage of them dropped off, and one of the last references found about them and a race track was a short piece below in The Automobile April 27, 1916 issue. Harry Harkness, one of the principals behind the track, apparently bought the car to run at Sheepshead Bay during the 1916 season. We seem to recall reading that this did not come to pass.

The following year the U.S. entered World War I and racing stopped for the duration. We know little about the fate of the two cars from that point forward, but would be interested in any solid details or good period photos of the cars from post-1916. Thanks to Chris Ritter from the AACA Library for his help the photos and to Gene Herman for his assistance with the history of the Mack prototype.

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  •                   Chart in The Automobile October 26, 1916, comparing racing car engines of the day.

15 responses to “A Blitzen Benz is Tuned-Up at the International Motor Co.

  1. The Blitzen Benz cars were truly star cars in their day. They received a lot of publicity. The cars’ beak-like prow and rakish boat-tail rear decks were the inspiration for the bodywork on a short-lived American cyclecar, the Hoosier Scout. It was introduced in 1914 by the Warren Electric & Machine Company of Indianapolis, and claimed to offer both a tandem-seat passenger car and a delivery version. The company folded in less than a year.

  2. These great racers toured the U.S. by railroad, making appearances all over the country. One appeared in Denver at Overland Park (now a golf course) and in Seattle (a late friend saw it run there). It would be fun to reconstruct their itinerary, but no doubt the railroad records have gone the way of all things, though newspaper accounts would be a good place to start.

  3. Larry Stone (see TOM post The Ruth Law Flying Circus and a Duesenberg Racing Car) was reported to be driving one of the Blitzen Benz cars when the accident of April 30 1921 happened at Lakewood Park track. He did recuperate and raced later that summer and into 1922. It was front page on the May 1 1921 Atlanta Constitution paper.

    news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19210501&id=Ah0bAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tEkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3465,5975587

    See Stone’s race listings w. accident above on page 86 also 105,108,109,114 & etc (of the pdf) here: http://www.dlg.speedfreaks.org/archive/book/1919-1922.pdf

    Some biographical info on Larry Stone : newspaperarchive.com/us/mississippi/laurel/laurel-daily-leader/1921/01-29/page-6

  4. Saurer company was Swiss?
    Saurer made a air starter offered as optional on Panhard and Renault about 1905?
    They are still in business,2014?
    Anyone have any more info on this?

    Which Benz was owned by Ned Bishop of
    Portland Maine in the 20s,later by Geo
    Waterman a VMCCA founder.

    That one took years to locate a L-H 2 spark dual mag
    as it was worked on by Johnson and Knowles at the old
    shop at Love Lane in Weston Ma.

    • Coburn, It appears according to various sources that the Saurer Motor Truck Company in the United States, was headed by C.P. Coleman. He had the rights to manufacture and sell heavy trucks under the Saurer brand name at its plant in Plainfield, New Jersey. The operation started on on September 23, 1911.

  5. The connection between Sunbeam and Packard is interesting. When I worked for Harrah’s Automobile Collection in the mid 1960’s, I remember running across an article about the 1913 Packard Model “38”, and that it’s side valve engine was a copy of a Sunbeam design.

  6. I’ve done a little research on the Sunbeam 12-cylinder car (aero-engined). This car changed hands many times and it’s my understanding that it influenced Packard’s development of both their Twin-Six road car and their 12-cyilider aero engine (which, I believe powered Packard’s 12-cylinder race car):

    The twelve-cylinder car was built by Sunbeam and probably used the newly developed Cossack 12-cylinder aero engine created on request to meet demand for a more powerful engine to power British sea planes campaigned in WWI. The Daily Almanac and Year-Book for 1916 (pg 459) reported that: “The one hour record was put at 107 miles 1,672 yards by a twelve cylinder Sunbeam on the English Brooklands track Oct, 11, 1913.” The car soon found its way to America and was bought and sold by a number of individuals – and raced by some of the best known drivers of the day. By 1916, it is reported to have been owned by Richard Adams.

    The New York Times (July 3, 1916) reported that a ten-mile match race (with $5000 going to the winner) had been arranged at Sheepshead Bay (seemingly the Adams Bros. home track) – “George Adams will drive the twelve-cylinder Sunbeam, the $30,000 world’s record car, and his opponent will be George Theobald, the French racer, winner of many distance races here and abroad, who will drive his 135-horse-power Mercedes.” It was also reported in 1916 that there was expected to be a feature race between the 12-cylinder Sunbeam owned by the Adams Brothers and the Blitzen Benz owned by Harry Harkness. There is one last reference to the the 12-cylinder Sunbeam (while under the Adam’s ownership) in Marci Lynn McGuinness’ book, Yesteryear at the Uniontown Speedway, which states that Hughie Hughes was to drive the 12-cylinder Sunbeam for the Adams brothers. The book notes that car had recently beat Bob Burman in Corona, CA – the race in which Burman lost his life driving a Puegeot.

    It’s unclear how the Adams brothers fared with the Sunbeam or how long they owned it. However, the car shows up at the ill-fated Kalamazoo race in August of 1916 driven by Jack Peacock. Said to be owned at the time by Hanson-Peacock Co., Brooklyn, NY – The Horseless Age, Nov. 11, 1914 lists them as “automobiles, tires, motors, etc., 31 Liberty Street, New York”. It is reported at the time that the Sunbeam may have contributed to a multi-car pile up that killed 2 drivers (including Peacock) and seriously injured 8 others.

    • Steve thanks for the details on the Sunbeam , the book “Yesteryear at the Uniontown Speedway” is not correct about the 1916 Corona Race. The Sunbeam’s engine was to large for the cubic inch limit at the time and it could not have been entered. The 1916 race was won by Eddie O’Donnell in his Duesenberg four.

  7. It’s the Evans Garage. Wonderful place. Not always open to the public. They have several pre WWI racing cars, an Isotta Fraschini and a big Fiat, and 30 or 40 other great cars. A replica DH2 airplane hangs from the ceiling.

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