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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.