From Mercedes-Benz press: 1909 was a special year in the history of Benz& Cie, crowned by the achievements of a record-breaking car which has sealed its place in automotive folklore as one of the most inspirational models ever made. Powered by a quite awe-inspiring 21.5-litre 147-kW engine, the “Blitzen-Benz” reduced the then mythical 200 km/h landmark to a footnote in history. No other road-going vehicle could compete, whilst the world’s fastest trains and even the aircraft of the time were left gasping in its wake. A land-speed record which remained intact for eight years represents a suitable legacy for this era-defining vehicle. Six examples of the Lightning Benz were built in total; these were used in Europe and the United States. Of these, four have survived to this day: one Lightning Benz is in the possession of the Mercedes-Benz Museum, a second original vehicle, the only four-seater version, is in the hands of a collector in the United States. In 2004 another enthusiast for the brand in the US completed a private project to build a replica copy using many original parts. This project was carried out in close cooperation with the collection of the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. The fourth vehicle, built in England, is a replica of the blue Hémery car.
The Benz name is synonymous with the development of the automobile, and with good reason. It was, after all, Carl Benz who on 29 January 1886 was granted the patent which now serves as the birth certificate of the automobile. Just a few weeks later, Gottlieb Daimler’s motorised carriage turned its first wheels. As the 1800s gave way to the final century of the millennium, Benz towered over the world’s auto makers, the cars produced at the Mannheim factory earning an enviable reputation for practicality and reliability.
These were relatively rare qualities among the cars populating the roads at the time. A slew of new auto brands had emerged from nowhere, forcing Benz to recognise that a resonant name was not in itself enough to guarantee success in a marketplace with little structure or pattern. The company’s rivals, not least Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, had latched onto the potential of motor sport success as an advertising tool. Despite competing in a series of events, Benz had resisted the temptation to follow suit, preferring to accentuate the virtues of its affordable cars in everyday use.
The Blitzen-Benz embarked on a tour across the USA, becoming something of a sensation on wheels. However, a change in the regulations in 1913 stopped it in its tracks. With displacement limited to 7.4 litres, the legendary Blitzen-Benz I was passed on to Stoughton Fletcher, who hired Burman to carry out the necessary conversion work over the course of 1914. In October 1915, Fletcher then sold the Blitzen to Harry Harkness.