1894 Benz Velocipede   

   Carrying on from his “Patent Motorwagen” Karl Benz produced the four wheeled "Victoria" model available as two seat and four seat "Vis-à-Vis" styles. Prior to this Carl Benz had built three-wheelers as he was of the opinion that the conventional steering designs used for horse drawn carriages were unsuitable for the automobile. He solved this problem with a double-pivot steering design, which he patented (DRP 73515) on the 28th of February 1893, and used it on his Victoria four-wheel models. However, Benz considered the Victoria heavy (it weighed 1433 lb), and looked for ways to make a lighter model. The result was the "Velocipede", or "Velo" for short, which weighed 380 kilograms less than the Victoria.

   The Velocipede was launched at the 1983 World Exposition in Chicago (1st of May to the 31st of October 1893), for sale from 1894. A contemporary newspaper article wrote: “The car attracted attention with its elegant lines and refined appointments, testifying to the fact that Benz set great store not only by outstanding design and excellent workmanship but also by perfect styling.”

   Like the first Benz the “Velo” was a thoroughly state-of-the-art design. The car was strong, light and quick. It had a wooden frame with iron reinforcements. The “Velo” featured rigid axles front and rear with the new patent steering system directed from a vertical steering column at the centre of the car. Dimensions for the Velo were relatively compact at just 2.25 meters long. Wheelbase was 1,340mm, front track was 1,000mm and 1,040mm at the rear.

   Early models had a one-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 110x110mm giving 1,045cc which produced 1.5hp @ 450rpm. Carburation was by a Benz designed surface carburettor later changed to a Benz float carburettor. The crankcase remained open just as the three-wheeler patent Benz had been. The flywheel, still used for the basic starting of the engine, was moved to a vertical position better aiding the smoothness of the engine’s running.

   The engine was housed at the rear of the chassis under a wooden bonnet and fed from an 18ltr fuel tank situated under the bench seat. This was sufficient to let the Velo transport its passengers around 100km. A belt transferred engine power to the drive shaft with chain final drive to the two rear wheels. There were two forward gears but no reverse gear. The Velo had solid rubber tyres initially on 550mm wire-spoke front wheels and 850mm rear wheels and could reach 12mph or 20kph if you prefer.

   The Velo was also relatively inexpensive selling for 2,000 marks, "equipment complete with lanterns". Motoring was very much for the rich but the Velo was priced well enough to tempt those who weren’t so bothered by motoring, or their younger relatives who were!

   The 1896 “comfort” model, selling for 2,500 marks, had a 3hp unit that could propel the little vehicle at speeds up to 18mph, 30kph. This version ran on smaller wheels, 540mm at the front and 780mm at the rear, which could be fitted with pneumatic tyres at an extra cost of 350marks.

   The new engine was now started by means of a crank rather than spinning the flywheel, much safer than the previous method. Transmission was the same principle but the vehicle now had three forward gears; reverse gear was made available for an additional 200marks.

   Benz would further improve the Velo by developing the engine to the point that the 1,045cc unit could eventually put out 3.5hp, reverse gear became a standard part of the specifications and the inclusion of an electric starter was the ultimate innovation, the Velo was the first car to be fitted with such a device.

   In 1894 Benz built 67 Velo’s, followed by another 134 in 1895, not exactly “mass” production to our modern minds but at the time no other car was selling in these numbers. Benz produced 572 vehicles at Mannheim in 1899 making the firm the biggest automobile company in the world at the time. Production of the Velo ran from 1894 to 1901 and over 1,200 are known to have been built. The interesting thing is that, alongside the 1895 Duryea Motor Wagon, this is one of the first cars to be “standardized”, that is to say the cars had identical parts making it possible to simply replace a broken or worn-out part with another part rather than have to make a new individual part to fit the one off sizes of an individually built vehicle. Maintenance not only became cheaper, but quicker too.

   The Velo has a few other first to its name too. In 1898 a Dr. John Colohan imported the first car to Ireland. A Velo was also the first car to be imported into Britain, in November 1894 Mr. Henry Hewetson brought his Velo into Britain. This car was unknown for some time and everyone assumed the first car in Britain was the 1895 Panhard-Levassor of the Honourable Evelyn Ellis, until Mr. Hewetson had an article published in the October 1903 edition of “The Autocar” effectively trumping the Honourable Evelyn Ellis’ claim. South-Africa’s first car was also a Benz Velo which was demonstrated to then President Paul Kruger on the 4th of January 1897.

   The largest number of Velo’s were sold in France. In Paris Émile Roger had been building Benz engines under license for some time and logically moved onto building the Benz cars too.

   Promoting the brand is as old as the car itself and it will be no surprise to find that the Velo competed in the first motoring trial event, the 1894 Paris-Rouen trial. Le Petit Journal’s “Horseless Carriages Contest” had a rather loose set of rules open to some interpretation. Émile Roger drove his Benz Velo to a nominal 14th place overall, only to find himself receiving the 500 gold Francs for fifth place! Why you ask? Well, it was because the Velo was an original design with advanced features and proved to be very easy to use.

   The Benz Velo proved to the world that there was a market for carriages without horses. The populace was ready for personal mobility without having to stop to rest, feed and water a horse. Production numbers also set Benz on the path to understanding the problems of large-scale production and gave the foundation for the Benz company of the future. The Velo, with Benz's patent designs, inspired other vehicle designers and companies; particularly British firms such as Arnold, Marshall (later Belsize) in Manchester, Star in Wolverhampton and the Lanchester firm of Birmingham.  It was also the basis for the 1895 Benz eight-seater bus, commencing the world’s first motorized scheduled passenger service, and the Benz delivery vehicle of 1896, a predecessor of the modern van.

Scratch built Model.                               1/24th scale model.
                                                                         Built by Rod.

   This model was built from scratch by Rod (aged 83!) in the first half of 2019. He drew is own plans and set to work with plastic rod, tube, strip and card to create a replica of Benz Velo. The model is painted with Humbrol enamels and acrylic paints, Revell, Tamiya and Citadel acrylic paints. All applied by brush.

   Making a model from scratch is not as difficult as it first seems, our information on scratch building can be found here.  Start making small detail parts for your models and progress on from there as you gain in experience and confidence. You can see another example of the process through our Benz Patent Motorwagen here