939 kilometers with four “horses”

Jun 16, 2004
  • 110 years ago: first long-distance trip by automobile
  • From Bohemia to the River Moselle
  • Visit to Carl Benz in Mannheim
939 kilometers with 4 hp. On July 16, 1894, Theodor Baron von Liebieg set out from his home town, Reichenberg in Bohemia (today's Liberec in the Czech Republic) in his Benz Victoria and drove to Gondorf near Koblenz (Germany). What sounds rather simple was quite an adventure at the time – at an average speed of just 13.6 km/h. On his journey, which is being regarded as the first long-distance trip by automobile, von Liebieg also paid a visit to Carl Benz in Mannheim.
You shouldn't imagine this tour as a pleasure trip. The car was open, offering less protection than many a carriage and exposing driver and passengers to the elements. The roads were at best cobbled, and even that did not make the ride all that comfortable. From a contemporary perspective, the vehicle engineering was extremely reliable but nevertheless confronted the driver with challenges time and again – with problems which were the order of the day at the time, for instance a clogged carburetor, loosened nuts and ignition contacts requiring readjustment. And gasoline was not to be had conveniently at filling stations but only at pharmacists' and drugstores; fuel consumption was around 21 liters on 100 kilometers. Equally remarkable was the water consumption of the open cooling system: some 150 liters on 100 kilometers. The top speed of the Benz Victoria was 20 km/h.
Nevertheless, 22-year-old von Liebieg (born on June 15, 1872, died on May 24, 1939), the son of a renowned family of industrialists in the textile business and himself an industrialist, and his companion and friend, physician Franz Stransky, mastered the challenges on the journey and were even extremely pleased because everything had been running smoothly. They stayed in Gondorf, where von Liebieg's mother lived, for a whole month and started out from there on several excursions in the Victoria, one of them to Reims in France. On August 22, they set out on the return journey from Gondorf via Mannheim to Reichenberg where the gentlemen arrived on August 31, nine days later. Overall, they clocked up 2,500 kilometers in that summer.
Theodor von Liebieg's Victoria was one of the early units built, with production number 76; it was extensively restored by the specialists of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center and is today displayed in the National Engineering Museum in Prague. At the age of 21, Theodor von Liebieg personally bought this car from Karl Benz and had specifically traveled to Mannheim in October 1893 to collect it. It is said that on that occasion he had told Carl Benz that he would return to visit him with his car the following year. Carl Benz is said to have been highly astonished about von Liebieg's plan – his previous customers had listened to his predictions of the automobile's forthcoming triumphal march but nobody had believed that the car would be capable of completing such a long journey at the time. The Victoria had been taken by rail to Reichenberg where it was the first automobile. After receiving instructions from a Benz mechanic, Baron von Liebieg set out on trial drive – and received the first driver's license in the region.
Baron von Liebieg and his companion enjoyed the long-distance trip so much that they repeated it one year later. This time they reached Gondorf on a more direct route after only four days. Again they spent a month there and made an excursion to Reims in the Victoria. And again they visited Carl Benz on the return journey, staying in Mannheim for three days during which the car was completely overhauled.
Carl Benz had gained confidence in Theodor von Liebieg because of the latter's journeys and therefore asked him to drive a touring car in the first German race from Berlin to Leipzig on September 20, 1899. And the winner was: von Liebieg.
The Benz Victoria wrote automotive history. It was the first four-wheeled car with axle pivot steering, one of the most important inventions of Carl Benz, which has retained its significance to this day. The single-cylinder engine with upright flywheel was installed in a horizontal position; the first Victoria of 1893 developed 3 hp; von Liebieg's car had an output of 4 hp, and in later years, output was boosted to 6 hp. The Victoria, Carl Benz's favorite car throughout is life, remained in production until 1900.
To mark the 110th anniversary of the long-distance journey, German and Czech classic car fans intend to complete the journey with historical vehicles in the summer of 2004. The "Baron von Liebieg Memorial Rally" is planned from July 18 until 25, 2004. Only cars built before 1914 will be permitted.
The route
According to his own records, Theodor Baron von Liebieg took the following route with his Benz Victoria:
July 16:
Reichenberg – Zittau – Bautzen – Dresden – Wilsdorf – Waldheim (196 kilometers in 14 hours)

July 17:
Waldheim – Altenburg – Zeitz – Eisenberg (112 kilometers in 8 hours)

July 18:
Eisenberg – Jena – Weimar – Erfurt – Gotha – Eisenach (136 kilometers in 9 hours)

July 19 - 20:
Two days' drive without overnight break: Eisenach – Hünfeld – Fulda – Hanau – Offenbach – Frankfurt – Darmstadt – Lampertheim – Mannheim (282 kilometers in
26 hours)

July 21:
Mannheim – Kreuznach – Bingen – Boppard (173 kilometers in 10 hours)

July 22:
Boppard – Koblenz – Gondorf (40 kilometers in 2 hours)

Total driving time:
69 hours for 939 kilometers