120 Years Ago – The First Long-Distance Trip by Automobile

120 Years Ago – The First Long-Distance Trip by Automobile

On July 16 1894, Theodor Baron von Liebieg set out from his home town of Reichenberg, Bohemia (today's Liberec in the Czech Republic) in his Benz Victoria and drove to Gondorf near Koblenz (Germany). What may sound rather simple was, in fact, quite an adventure at the time – regarded as the first long-distance trip by automobile, at an average speed of just 13.6 km/h.

Far from a leisurely trip, the car was open – offering less protection than many carriages and exposing both driver and passengers to the elements. The roads were at best cobbled, and even that did not make the ride particularly comfortable. From a contemporary perspective, the vehicle engineering was extremely reliable. But nevertheless, it presented the driver with challenges – a clogged carburettor, ignition contacts requiring readjustment and loosened nuts often being the order of the day. Furthermore, with gasoline not conveniently available at filling stations – but only at pharmacists' and drugstores – fuel consumption stood at around 21 litres per 100 km. Equally remarkable was the water consumption of the open cooling system – some 150 litres per 100 km. The top speed of the Benz Victoria, meanwhile, was just 20 km/h.

Nevertheless the 22-year-old von Liebieg, alongside his companion and friend Franz Stransky, mastered the challenges along the journey. They stayed in Gondorf, home to von Liebieg's mother, for an entire month – starting from there on several excursions in the Victoria, including a trip to Reims in France. On August 22, they set out on the return journey from Gondorf to Reichenberg via Mannheim, arriving nine days later on August 31. Overall, they clocked up 2,500 km in that one summer.

Theodor von Liebieg's Victoria was one of the early units built, bearing the production number 76. It was later extensively restored by the specialists of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center and is today displayed in the National Engineering Museum in Prague. At the age of 21, Theodor von Liebieg bought the car directly from Karl Benz, having travelled to Mannheim in October 1893 especially to collect it. It is said that he informed Carl Benz of his desire to return and visit him in the car the following year. Benz is said to have been astonished by von Liebieg's plan – his previous customers having listened to his predictions of the automobile's forthcoming triumphal march without believing that the car would be capable of completing such a long journey at the time. After receiving instructions from a Benz mechanic, and with the Victoria having been taken by rail to Reichenberg, Baron von Liebieg set out on trial drive and received the first driver's license in the region.

Von Liebieg and his companion enjoyed the long-distance trip so much that they repeated it one year later. This time, they reached Gondorf on a more direct route after only four days. Again they spent a month there, making another excursion to Reims and once more visiting Carl Benz on the return journey – staying in Mannheim for three days during which the car was completely overhauled. Benz had gained confidence in Theodor von Liebieg and asked him to drive a touring car in the first German race from Berlin to Leipzig on September 20, 1899 – from which he duly emerged victorious.

The Benz Victoria wrote automotive history. It was the first four-wheeled car with axle pivot steering and one of the most important inventions of Carl Benz – which has retained its significance to this day. The single-cylinder engine with upright flywheel was installed in a horizontal position, with the first generation of 1893 developing 3 hp. Von Liebieg's car had an output of 4 hp, and in later years output was boosted to 6 hp. The Victoria, said to be Carl Benz's favorite car throughout his life, remained in production until 1900.

The Route

According to his own records, Theodor Baron von Liebieg took the following route with his Benz Victoria:

July 16: Reichenberg – Zittau – Bautzen – Dresden – Wilsdorf – Waldheim (196 km in 14 hours)

July 17: Waldheim – Altenburg – Zeitz – Eisenberg (112 km in eight hours)

July 18: Eisenberg – Jena – Weimar – Erfurt – Gotha – Eisenach (136 km in nine hours)

July 19 – 20: Two days' drive without overnight break: Eisenach – Hünfeld – Fulda – Hanau – Offenbach – Frankfurt – Darmstadt – Lampertheim – Mannheim (282 km in 26 hours)

July 21: Mannheim – Kreuznach – Bingen – Boppard (173 km in 10 hours)

July 22: Boppard – Koblenz – Gondorf (40 km in two hours)

Total Driving Time: 69 hours, 939 km

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