1904: Mercedes driven by W. K. Vanderbilt

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4 cyl. Petrol
90 bhp
8,700 cc
Bore x Stroke:
165 x 140 mm
Rear via chains
Top Speed:

92.30 mph


The history of the motor car is full of surprises, and the fact that Mercedes were so late to break into the record-breaking scene is perhaps one of them.

As we all well know, the Mercedes was named after the beautiful daughter of Jellinek, the Austrian Consul at Nice, who acquired the agency to sell Daimler cars in France.

So the Mercedes was really the German Daimler, and Daimler made one of the first cars of all, way back in 1883.

Yet almost 20 years would elapse before one of the pioneer's cars would appear on the record scene, although it was only five years since the first world speed record was set up.

The car which Vanderbilt drove on this, his second successful attempt, was the Mercedes model known as the Ninety, which became well known in European racing.

He was certainly the first man to use Daytona Beach in Florida, which 20 years later became a popular stretch for this purpose, until the cars became too fast.

The Mercedes was an orthodox car of its time, front-engined, driving the rear wheels by chain, with a high seat for the driver, a lower one for his mechanic, cart springs all round, and no weather protection at all.

Vanderbilt had one advantage over his competitors -  being a millionaire put him at significant financial advantage.

He never suffered from a shortage of finances, something which embarrassed the majority of his competitors.

Vanderbilt took his enthusiasm for motor sport back to the United States and was responsible for persuading others to organise the Vanderbilt Cup series of races, first held in 1904 over a circuit in Nassau County, Long Island.

His name would continue to crop up in motor racing over the years.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource