The Daimler legacy

The Daimler legacy

Gottlieb Daimler was a man of many achievements – a pioneer, inventor, entrepreneur and forward thinker. Most famous for developing the internal-combustion engine and for building the world’s first truck, he initiated motorised transport as we know it today. Join us for a trip in time back to the 1800s to see where it all began …

Gottlieb had a tough start to his career. While his truck paved the way for further successful progress in commercial vehicle development, it didn’t attract a single buyer in Germany at first. It had a hard time winning recognition in the early stages, unlike the car which was welcomed with open arms by high society as an enhancement to their personal freedom.

In 1885, Gottlieb and his lifelong business partner, Wilhelm Maybach, had a goal to create small, high-speed, petrol engines to be mounted in any kind of locomotion device. They founded Daimler Motors Corporation which sold its first automobile in 1892.

In 1896, Gottlieb built his first truck – a type of carriage built on ironclad wooden wheels with an engine instead of a drawbar. To put it lightly, this vehicle bore no resemblance to the trucks we are familiar with today.   

A 4 hp (3 kW), two-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1,06 litres was mounted on the rear and could operate on three fuels: petrol, coal gas and lamp fuel. Gottlieb opted for a petrol operation, but the fuel had to be bought from a chemist at the time – imagine that!

The engine, known to many as the Phoenix, was described by Gottlieb as compact and elegant in design, boasting the advantage of a noiseless and jerk-free operation.

Strictly speaking, this was a converted horse-drawn cart with a diagonally-mounted chassis and fully-elliptic leaf springs at the front and coil springs at the rear. But this complex suspension was important because of the poor road conditions at the time and the engine’s distinctive sensitivity to vibrations. 

Despite the lack of interest in Germany, a buyer was eventually found in England. Gottlieb then rapidly advanced his engineering and shortly after the first truck had been supplied to England, he presented a range of four models which he offered from September 1896.

In the same year, Gottlieb and Wilhelm moved the 6 hp (4 kW), two-cylinder Phoenix engine, previously mounted at the rear, to underneath the driver’s seat and moved the four-speed belt transmission to the front.

Just one year later, in 1897, the truck was finally given a face that clearly distinguished it from the car and paved the way towards greater output and payload. The engine found its traditional place right at the front, ahead of the steered axle, and transmitted its output via a four-speed gearbox.

After producing extensive innovations in a short space of time, Gottlieb proceeded carefully before launching a new five-tonne model. Without much ado, he handed over the truck, which was highly advanced by the standards of the time, to brickworks in Heidenheim where its weaknesses were systematically identified in arduous day-to-day operation – and subsequently eliminated.

After that period, Gottlieb left no stone unturned in promoting his trucks. Yet those with a doubtful view of the truck with a combustion engine, remained in the majority for a long time. Fears were still too great and people were reserved about purchasing petrol from a chemist – and who could blame them?

Although the truck was eventually accepted in England, it was not until 1901 that it proved to be superior to the steam-powered truck.

Gottlieb passed away in 1900 and Wilhelm quit DMC in 1924.  DMC management signed a long-term co-operation agreement with Karl Benz’s Benz & Cie and in 1926 the two companies merged to become Daimler-Benz AG, now part of Daimler AG.

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