With the 1901 Mercedes 35 HP, automotive design made a complete break with the horseless carriage. By comparison with this Mercedes, contemporary Benz models seemed archaic. It is by no means exaggeration to say that the 35-bhp Mercedes was the key model in the evolution of the early automobile.
In general layout, the car faithfully followed the Systeme Panhard, except for its mechanically operated intake valves (most cars still relied on "automatic" induction). The T-head layout would look familiar to any lover of early American cars. So, too, would the cast iron block, with its cylinders cast in pairs, fixed to a light-alloy crankcase.
But several features made the Mercedes a true pacesetter. These included a pressed-steel chassis (at a time when many manufacturers were using wooden flitch-plate construction), a four-speed gearbox with gated linkage, pedalactuated internally expanding drum brakes for the back axle, and a handbrake drum on the gearbox countershaft. While not revolutionary in layout, the transmission was already used by some other makers -- and almost every make would adopt it in the next few years.
Immediately behind the transmission was the differential, from which two countershafts -- actually driveshafts-ran to sprockets mounted outboard of the main frame members at either side. Final drive was by chain to the rear wheels, the wheel sprockets being mounted close to the drum brakes. On most cars that followed, the shift lever would also be outboard of the frame, but on the original racing Mercedes, with its skimpy two-seat body, the lever was pivoted at the base of the steering column.
With all this, no wonder the performance of the new car was so outstanding. So much so, in fact, that the secretary of the Automobile Club of France, Paul Meyan, was moved to say, "Nours sommes entres dans 'ere Mercedes" -- "We have entered the Mercedes era."
The competition success at Nice and sales success that followed throughout the year proved to be a real watershed in the affairs of Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft. Many new Daimler models had been issued in the last years of the 19th century, but after 1901 there were no more. (Daimler Ltd. of Coventry, England, founded to build Daimlers under license, became independent after 1900.)
From now on, the German company would produce the "Mercedes," which was adopted as its official name as soon as all legal formalities were ironed out. That name has graced most every Daimler and Daimler-Benz car ever since. The Daimler marque, therefore, passed from the scene in Germany just a year after its founder, though the name would survive proudly in the corporate title.
The story of Daimler in the next six years largely involved the big four-and six-cylinder cars that could be called the "Maybach generation." All were evolutions of the brilliant 1901 35 HP, and comprised both touring and competition types. Purists, incidentally, should note that while Jellinek's daughter always spelled her name with accents, they have never been used on the cars.
On the next page, see the specifications for the 1901 Mercedes 35 HP.