The Benz Patent-Motorwagen (or motorcar), built in 1886, is widely regarded as the world’s first automobile; that is, a vehicle designed to be propelled by an internal combustion engine. The original cost of the vehicle in 1885 was $1,000 (equivalent to $26,337 in 2015).
Bertha Benz, married to Karl, chose to publicize the Patent-Motorwagen in a unique manner: She took the Patent-Motorwagen No. 3, supposedly without her husband’s knowledge, and drove it on the first long-distance automobile road trip to demonstrate its feasibility as a means to travel long distances.
That trip occurred in early August 1888, as the entrepreneurial lady took her sons Eugen and Richard, fifteen and fourteen years old, respectively, on a ride from Mannheim through Heidelberg, and Wiesloch (where she took on ligroin as a fuel at the city pharmacy, making it the first filling station in history), to her maternal hometown of Pforzheim.
As well as being the driver, Benz acted as mechanic on the drive, cleaning the carburetor with her hat pin and using a garter to insulate a wire. She refueled at the local pharmacy in Wiesloch and as the brakes wore down, Benz asked a local shoemaker to nail leather on the brake blocks, in doing so, inventing brake lining on the way. After sending a telegram to her husband of the arrival in Pforzheim, she spent the night at her mother’s house and returned home three days later. The trip covered 194 km (121 mi) in total.
After developing a successful gasoline-powered two-stroke piston engine in 1873, Benz focused on developing a motorized vehicle while maintaining a career as a designer and manufacturer of stationary engines and their associated parts.
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was a three-wheeled automobile with a rear-mounted engine. The vehicle contained many new inventions. It was constructed of steel tubing with woodwork panels. The steel-spoked wheels and solid rubber tires were Benz’s own design.
Steering was by way of a toothed rack that pivoted the unsprung front wheel. Fully elliptic springs were used at the back along with a live axle and chain drive on both sides. A simple belt system served as a single-speed transmission, varying torque between an open disc and drive disc.The first Motorwagen used the Benz 954 cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine with trembler coil ignition
In Germany, a parade of antique automobiles celebrates this historic trip of Bertha Benz every two years. In 2008, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route was officially approved as a route of industrial heritage of mankind, because it follows Bertha Benz’s tracks of the world’s first long-distance journey by automobile in 1888. Now everybody can follow the 194 km (121 mi) of signposted route from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back.