1908 Benz Grand Prix Car

1908 Benz Grand Prix Car (photo credit: C.L.)

While perusing the collection of a friend recently, I saw this picture among the many covering the walls. I was curious about the coat-of-arms seen on the car. Upon further inspection the scene looks to be take here in America, circa 1908-1910 (based on the clothing). After a bit of research, I believe this to be a picture of one of the 1908 Benz factory GP cars. Benz brought forward a new design in 1908, due to the drubbing they took in 1907 at the hands of Mercedes. The cars featured a 12 liter, 120hp, 4-cylinder engine and performed well on it's first time out at the 1908 French Grand Prix - Victor Hemery  would bring one of the three cars home in 2nd place.

The Motor Car Journal of November 7, 1908, reporting on the pending American Automobile Club's Grand Prix race to be held in Savannah, states "The three Benz cars for the contest are the same as took part in the A.C.F. Grand Prix in July last; they have, however, been fitted with new engines, the cylinder dimensions of which are states to be 150mm bore by 200mm stroke". Victor Hemery would come to the United States to pilot one of the cars. The other two would be driven by Willie Haupt, fresh from his success with the Chadwick, and David Bruce-Brown, an unknown at the time who would go on to have a remarkable but short career.

The picture herein would appear to show one of the Benz GP cars with the Heraldic symbol of Prussian Royalty - the Royal house of Hohenzollem (of which Kaiser Wilhelm II was a member). Is the car shown here in Savannah? It doesn't look like a warm weather environment. Is the driver shown Hemery, Haupt, or Bruce-Brown. Well, after comparing pictures of the three, it appears not to be Hemery or Haupt. It might be Bruce-Brown but I'm not confident of that.

To give the story one more twist, Robert Dick's Auto Racing Comes of Age: A Transatlantic View of the Cars, Drivers and Speedways, 1900-1925, notes that in April 1908 Louis Bergdoll, of the prominent Philadelphia Brewing family, bought a GP Benz: "Louis J. Bergdoll of Philadelphia has purchased the Benz entry in the Grand Prix, and expects to bring the car to this country soon after the big race in France and enter it in the Vanderbuilt Cup race". 

Is this the car Bergdoll purchased and campaigned on the east coast? If any readers know more about this image, please leave me a comment.


1908 Benz Grand Prix Car (photo credit: www.favcars.com)

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting! The driver is neither Bergdoll nor Bruce Brown. My money is on Eddie Hearne, who drove one of the GP Benzes to second place at Savannah in 1911. He may well have continued to compete in such a car, which in your photo looks well-worn.

    If you're interested in these cars may I suggest my book 'The Incredible Blitzen Benz,' published in 2006 by Dalton Watson. It covers the 1908 GP cars as well as the later Blitzens -- amazing cars!

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  2. This photograph of the Racing Benz is most interesting, but I do not believe it was taken at Fairmount Park, Savannah, Elgin or Milwaukee, nor do I believe that the driver is any of the men mentioned. I have also never seen a photo of a car raced in the U.S. with the Hollenzollern Heraldric sign, although the informality of the crowd would appear be very American. Stay Tuned.

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