Development of the record-breaking Benz 200 hp started in 1909 at Benz & Cie. in Mannheim under the guidance of Victor Hemery. The starting point for the new vehicle was the Benz 150 hp racing car. By enlarging the bore to 185 mm, the displacement of the 15.1-litre engine was increased to a substantial 21.5 litres. The unit produced up to 147 kW (200 hp) at 1600 rpm.
The sound levels produced by the four-cylinder engine were described as “infernal”. This was because the combination of the cylinders, each with a capacity of more than 5 litres, created a thunderous roar which left spectators’ ears ringing and the earth shaking. The fact that the exhaust pipe also ejected flames from time to time only served to underscore the brute strength of the car.
First car to exceed 200 km/hVictor Hemery drove the 200 hp car for the first time on 17 October 1909 at a sprint race in Brussels, where he succeeded in totally outclassing the competition. Race victories were not the primary aim of Benz & Cie., however. It rather more had its sights set on breaking the iconic speed mark of 200 km/h.
On 8 November 1909, Victor Hemery looked to exceed 200 km/h on the track at Brooklands, which was the only track in Europe at the time on which a speed of 200 km/h was possible. But Brooklands did not make it easy. The two steep curves of the concrete oval, designed for the highest speeds, also posed a barrier at the same time. If Hemery would drive too fast, there was a danger of taking off.
Hemery succeeded in mastering both the car and the track. A speed of 202.648 km/h was recorded for the kilometre, and he even reached 205.666 km/h over the half-mile, from flying starts in both cases. The 200 km/h mark had now been broken for the first time in Europe. The race tracks of old Europe, however, weren’t able to support any higher speeds. This is why Benz & Cie. turned its focus on America.
New Success in AmericaDriver Barney Oldfield lined up at Daytona Beach in Florida on 16 and 17 March 1910 without any kind of specific preparation for his record attempt – and duly posted a new best of 211.4 km/h. However, the A.I.A.C.R. (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus), the highest authority in car racing and the precursor to the FIA refused to recognise the record because the Benz had not covered the distance in the opposite direction as well.
Driver Bob Burman too the Blitzen-Benz to Daytona Beach on 23 April 1911. Tapping the car’s full potential, he squeezed out an average 228.1 km/h for the mile with flying start and 226.7 km/h over the kilometre with flying start. This was an absolute land speed record which was to remain unbroken by any other vehicle until 1919.
In 1911, the record-breaking Benz 200 hp was not only faster than all other cars and locomotives (the rail vehicle record of 1903 was 210 km/h), but also twice as fast as the aircraft of the time.