Stuttgart – In November 1885 the Daimler riding car made its first journey of real length in public, when Gottlieb Daimler’s son Adolf completed the three-kilometre route from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim. What seems no further than a stone’s throw today was at the time a giant step. For the riding car was the first vehicle to be equipped with a high-speed internal combustion engine and thus a direct antecedent of the automobile.
A year later Daimler built his first four-wheeled motor vehicle. Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz would later become known as the inventors of the automobile. Carl Benz was awarded the German Patent No. DRP 37435 for his Patent Motor Car on 29 January 1886, a document considered as the birth certificate of the car.
In the sum of its features, the riding car was the most important precursor to individual mobility, thereafter rendered possible by the advent of the automobile. It was proof on wheels that the internal combustion engine was capable of powering a road-going vehicle – and that a human being could fully control it. Indeed, in the case of the riding car, by sitting astride the engine the driver was seen to take complete control of the machine with the objective of locomotion, using just a few levers to set the vehicle in motion. The riding car therefore gave to the world an important and lasting signal of what was achievable.
The compactness of the riding car also sent out another important signal, for it used the smallest and most powerful combustion engine that could be fitted to a two-wheeled vehicle – it would have been impossible at the time to build a smaller vehicle than the riding car equipped with combustion engine.
The most important prerequisite for the riding car, simultaneously the world’s first motorcycle, was Gottlieb Daimler’s four-stroke, single-cylinder engine, which he registered for patent on 3 April 1885. This was a milestone in the history of technology, since the unit was small and powerful compared with other combustion engines of the day used for stationary operation. Daimler’s priority, on the other hand, was the engine’s mobile application. He applied for a patent for his riding car with “gas or petroleum engine,” as it was described in the patent specification, on 29 August 1885 (German Patent No. DRP 36423 was awarded on 11 August 1886).
The riding car was proof on wheels that the internal combustion engine was capable of powering a human-controlled road vehicle. Moreover, it provided an impressive demonstration of the size and power of the Daimler engine. For the riding car was a highly compact vehicle, and therefore sent out an important message about the large and unwieldy stationary internal combustion engines of the day.
Two inventors – one idea
The founding fathers of Daimler AG, Gottlieb Daimler in Cannstatt and Carl Benz in Mannheim, were working on an identical problem at the end of the 19th century – the invention of a vehicle that would give man the ability to travel without reliance on being pulled by a horse. They worked away independently, without knowing what the other was doing – and one can only assume the two had never met. Their places of work were separated by a distance of 120 kilometres – at least a whole day’s journey in the late 19th century. They both reached their objective almost simultaneously, though with different solutions: Benz built his three-wheeled Patent Motor Car, for which he was awarded the German Patent No. DRP 37435 on 29 January 1886. And shortly afterwards Daimler presented the first four-wheeled motor vehicle, a carriage chassis in which he had integrated the combustion engine that had proved so effective in the riding car.
Daimler pursued the vision of motorising a whole range of vehicles, on land, on water and in the air. He demonstrated the engine’s potential for universal application, for example, by mounting it in a boat in 1887, and in an airship designed by Friedrich Hermann Wölfert in 1888. Neither was Benz idle: by 1887 he had also completed a first motorboat, and aero engines followed later. But by this time, both inventors were already involved in the series production of automobiles.