Mercedes 70hp

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Mercedes Model 70hp


Mercedes Model 70hp

4 cylinder
4 spd. manual
Top Speed:
80 mph (approx)
Number Built:
5 star
Mercedes Model 70hp
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The Mercedes 70hp was powered by a huge four-cylinder engine that displaced 9230cc, the engine of course being started via use of handle. While we push a button to start a car these days, and the thought of standing in front of a car on a chilly morning to turn a crank seems very foreign, the Mercedes 70hp did go to some lengths to make the whole operation a whole lot easier - and that it did that at what could be considered the dawn of the automobile was simply remarkable.

How the Mercedes 70hp achieved the easy crank was an engineering masterpiece of the time - a half-compression device was operated by a lever in front of the radiator, and this in turn shifted the exhaust camshaft so that the exhaust valves opened on the first half of the compression stroke, thus diminishing the effort needed to spin the engine. In three or four turns from cold, the huge engine would be rumbling over at a leisurely 200 rpm or so. If you own an old pull-start lawn mower, next time you head into the garden, spare a thought for our motoring forefathers as they cranked over 9 litres of engine by hand.

Behind The Wheel

Getting into the driving seat was something of an acrobatic exercise, as the floor of the car was high off the ground and there was no step. And the wheel itself? A 20 inch monolith - but understandable in an era when Armstrong Steering was the only option. The same un-ergonomic design applied for seat to pedal distances, although these could be adjusted. Surprisingly for a car from this era, the clutch was not too heavy in operation, and very sweet in action. This Mercedes 70hp had a toggle clutch, with two shoes acting inside a drum, which was first seen on 1903 Mercedes cars, rather than the "sudden-death" coil spring clutch more often associated with the marque in Edwardian days.

Mercedes obviously felt that the coil clutch, in which a flat spiral spring was coiled round a drum on the flywheel centre and fixed at one end to a stud on the flywheel boss to tighten it on the drum like a python round its prey, was less liable to slip when coping with the torque of a powerful engine. (The coil clutch was freed by a hemispherical steel release acting on a bellcrank to which the "free" end of the spring was attached, expanding the spring and forcing it to let go its grip on the drum.) The 9230cc engine peaked at around 1100rpm, but do not let that fool you, as the acceleration was surprisingly lively, and the car gathered momentum quickly as you shifted through the gate.

In comparison with its contemporaries, the Mercedes 70hp was fast - very fast. Yet because its engine turned so slowly and smoothly, there was less actual impression of speed than with many of its slower contemporaries. Corners would come up far quicker than you would have expected, and you could see why several of the first Mercedes drivers - like Count Eliot Zborowski - managed to have such horrific accidents when they let their cars go all-out. One story that remains to this day - but is difficult to verify- is that of Zborowski leaving the road on the Nice-La Turbie hillclimb in April 1903 because his starched cuffs had caught in the hand-throttle as a pleasant fiction created well after the event (probably where Zborowski's son Lou was killed at Monza in 1924 wearing the same pair of cufflinks).

Claude Johnson

Claude Johnson, who was present in the role of motoring journalist which he briefly assumed between resigning as secretary of the Automobile Club and joining Rolls-Royce, attributed the accident to sheer misjudgement: "That gallant sportsman, Count Eliot Zborowski ... had a good reputation as a fearless rider to hounds in Ireland and the Midlands; he was, I know, a skilful driver of an automobile, as I had driven many miles in Ireland by his side on his 40hp Mercedes, and seen him arrive triumphant on it at Vienna from Paris in the great race between those cities; yet even he could make the mistake of approaching a dangerous corner at too high a speed. His death was instantaneous; his 60hp Mercedes a ruin. His end should be a warning to the millionaires who may woo and acquire one of these fair but - to the unskilful - terrible mistresses."

We have to rely on what others have said to understand better how the Mercedes 70hp drive. There were, as was the custom on ALL cars from this era, rear wheel brakes only. That meant corners had to be treated with great caution, controlling the speed through the gearbox which, though equipped with massive straight-cut gearwheels, had an amazingly sweet down-change - you needed to dip the clutch and slide the next ratio in as the revs rose. The relative tooth speeds were so slow that the gears would mesh without much protest - again, brilliant engineering in a time before synchromesh. It was only when engine speeds grew faster and gear diameters smaller that such a technique resulted in the "prolonged sidegrub-bing of teeth" that was to rend the Edwardian air as cars clawed their way uphill.

A Balanced Driving Style

Steering, too, was a surprise, positive without being too heavy, and very high-geared, with less than a turn lock-to-lock. Yet you could place the car precisely where you wanted it on the road, aided by the fact that without mudguards you could see exactly what each front wheel was doing, and hold the car at speed with one hand while you changed gear or pulled on the outside handbrake, which acted on massive drums on the rear wheels (though it was advisable to leave the handbrake "notched on" when going down a twisty hill to leave both hands free to hold the car and change gear).

The right-hand of the three close-set pedals operated drum brakes on the drive shaft and countershaft; so that these would not overheat on long descents they were cooled by water fed from a brass tank on the nearside of the chassis by exhaust pressure; exhaust pressure also feeding oil to the engine bearings via a battery of drip lubricators on the dashboard. The exhaust also helped to feed petrol to the massive Stromberg carburettor that featured a glass-walled float chamber - from the rear-mounted tank, which was initially pressurised from a brass airpump on the footboard.

Mercedes 70hp
Mercedes 70hp.

Mercedes 70hp engine
Mercedes 70hp engine.

Bugle Motor Horn

According to a few motoring journalists lucky enough to have spent some time behind the wheel, the big Mercedes was very quiet - just the bellowing of the exhaust and the rhythmic swish of the driving chains over the massive sprockets. The 70hp Mercedes was was also fitted with a plunger-operated "Bugle Motor Horn" (patented by Swan & Stuart of St Albans, UK) which played a four-note call in a slightly strangled manner. Lighting was taken care of by two huge self-contained Ducellier headlamps, augmented by oil side and tail lamps. Back in 1904, Claude Johnson perfectly expressed the thrill of riding in the "magnificent Mercedes".

"Oh! Lucky millionaire! How all of us, watching a bird in full flight which suddenly with motionless wing soars aloft, have envied its powers and jealously estimated the delights of that effortless ascent. The upward rush by which the fleet-footed Mercedes delights to devour hills enables the millionaire to experience this rare sensation and ... enables him generously to allow his poorer friends to share the delight with him ... The process is delightful. I have seen a Cabinet Minister ecstatic; an old lady of sporting proclivities in tears of delight; and have heard a parson state that the experience was one which could not be omitted from any well-designed Paradise."

Setting The Fashion To The World

If you had to determine the date at which the horseless carriage grew up into the motor car, it would have to be 1901, when the introduction of the Mercedes, with its low, sleek lines, its pressed steel chassis, honeycomb radiator and gate gear change suddenly rendered all that had gone before obsolete. "We've entered the Mercedes era," wrote Paul Meyan, secretary of the Automobile Club de France, after the brand-new 35hp Mercedes car had swept the board in the races at the Nice Week in March 1901. But Austrian Consul-General Emil Jellinek, at whose behest the new model had been designed by Wilhelm Maybach, promised even greater things to come: "That car will be as nothing beside what you will see next year!" And that after Jellinek had ordered 36 of the original "New Daimler" chassis, worth over half a million gold marks, from the Cannstatt-Daimler factory, provided that he controlled the selling rights for the marque in France, Belgium, America and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Having, so to speak, fathered the new marque, Jellinek, a musical-comedy figure given to impressive uniforms and flamboyant moustaches, also insisted on christening it after his daughter Mercedes. Though the name was of Spanish origin, he felt that it would prove more acceptable to the French, still smarting over their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War 30 years before, than the Teutonic "Daimler". And so it was that the Mercedes "set the fashion to the world". Its design was widely copied by the leading French firms, inspiring The Autocar to comment that "it represented the highest development in autocar construction at that time". The magazine added: "The advent of the 1903 Mercedes Simplex car was looked for with a good deal of interest by all users of motor vehicles, and no doubt with considerable anxiety by those manufacturers who had followed the 1902 model".

By now Cannstatt was offering a full range of Mercedes cars, with the fastest and most glamorous the new 60hp, with overhead inlet valves of curious "triple-seated" design operated by pushrods. There was also a 90hp racer, which promised much, but which was apparently not liked by Jellinek. Six of these were entered for the ill-starred Paris-Madrid race of May 1903. A week after Paris-Madrid, Jellinek (who in July 1903 would change his name officially to Jellinek-Mercedes) placed an order for a 28hp four-cylinder Mercedes 1904 model, to be delivered in July 1904 to Rabourtin-Clement Lamber-jack, Belgian agent for the marque. Fate was to see that the delivery would never be made.

The order for the car which would eventually pass into Paul Foulkes-Halbard's hands was placed on June 5th. On June 10th, Jellinek, on a visit to the factory, was about to take his morning bath in the Hotel Marquandt in Stuttgart when the news was brought to him that the Daimler Works had been gutted by fire the night before, destroying all the 90hp racers intended for the next month's Gordon Bennett Cup race in Ireland. Considering that the Daimler factory had been an elaborate and highly inflammable wooden building, its destruction by fire can have been little of a surprise to Jellinek, who asked to be allowed to finish his bath in peace.

The story of how a privately owned 60hp, belonging to the elderly American millionaire Clarence Gray Dinsmore, was borrowed by the factory and driven to victory in the Gordon Bennett by red-bearded Belgian Camille Jenatzy has become part of the legendary lore of motor racing; this achievement did much to establish Mercedes as the finest and most fashionable car in the world. But even if the factory had not burned down, it seems as though the 28hp, Commission No 3307, engine 4307, car no 2404, would never have reached M Lamberjack, for his name had been firmly ruled through in Mercedes' "commissions book", which recorded each order placed.

The reason could well have been that in January 1904 Lamberjack had been party to a meeting held behind Jellinek's back, at which Adolphe Clement, the French motor manufacturer, had discussed with Gustav Vischer of the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft the possibility of a merger between the Levallois and Cannstatt companies. Jellinek might well have written off the order out of pique at this threat to his influence over the Mercedes factory, though the proposed merger came to nothing (as did another proposal, for a merger between Mercedes and the Serpollet steam car company).

Whatever the cause, the order was made over the C. L. Charley of Paris. Monsieur Charley was actually a cycle racer from Alsace named Karl Lehmann, who had adopted his alias when he set up in business as a motor agent in Paris. He had been at Cannstatt in 1900 placing an order for the old pattern Cannstatt-Daimlers when he saw the first Mercedes under production. Realising the potential of the new model, he visited Jellinek at his home on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, and negotiated the sole Mercedes agency for France.

The Mercedes Palace

Charley operated from palatial showrooms - the "Mercedes Palace" - on the Champs-Elysees, and it was here that the car was delivered, probably on a horse drawn cart, on December 31, 1904. All the paperwork still referred to the car being of "28hp"; but in fact the car that arrived at the Mercedes-Palace on New Year's Eve was a much more powerful vehicle, with an engine rated at 70hp by the factory. Allgemeine AutomobilZeitung had just published a long article on the Daimler factory at Cannstatt and its planned production for 1905, centred largely on a new 70hp model with the same 140mm x 150mm cylinder dimensions as the 60hp, but a T-headed engine instead of the overhead inlet layout.

The article showed illustrations of a long wheel-base 70hp, with its cylinders cast in blocks of two, ball main bearings requiring a considerable gap between the two blocks; it also had a new type of transmission with the gearbox and differential separate, but linked by a sleeve. During the 1904 Paris Salon, Charley had shown two cars of this type in the Mercedes-Palace, as they had presumably arrived too late to be exhibited in the Salon itself; but the article also mentioned a racing car on which "work was well advanced, though the details are not yet sufficiently settled to permit publication". This had a different pattern gearbox, with the gears and differential in the same housing, though drive was still by side chains.

It seems as though the Foulkes-Halbard Mercedes is this very car, delivered on December 31 to Charley; total production of the 70hp was just five cars, all intended for favoured customers of the Cannstatt factory. A letter from one of the five, the American Albert Bostwick, was published in The Autocar in 1910, and mentioned that the intention was that the favoured five (another of them was Clarence Gray Dinsmore) should act as moneyed guinea-pigs for a new design, and discover any weaknesses in the car before it went into general production. So the five 70hp's were probably all of slightly different design; certainly Paul Foulkes-Halbard's has a 60hp crankshaft, and consequently plain bearings and the cylinder blocks set closer together, as well as detail differences like fibre timing wheels instead of bronze, oil feed by exhaust pressure instead of a pump and no automatic sprag on the countershaft - a "charming device" according to Car Illustrated - like the long-chassis cars.

So why was it described on its original paperwork as a 28hp? The answer could be that Paris at that period was a separate customs area, with customs offices (the "octroi") established at all the city gates, like the Porte Maillot, Porte d'lvry, etc, as Paris was still walled in by the Thiers Fortifications of 1859 (they would not be pulled down until 1919), and all dutiable goods passing into the city were taxed. Cars even had to pay duty at the octroi on the amount of petrol in their tanks. So the false declaration of the car's horsepower may have been a device to avoid paying the full duty on the car's entry into France and then Paris.
Mercedes 70hp

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