1908 Benz 75/105 HP Prinz-Heinrich Raceabout

  • Brand: Benz
  • Car Code: 110967

1908 Benz 75/105 HP Prinz-Heinrich Raceabout


Hans Nibel and Georg Diehl at Benz in Germany conceived the idea of a sports car a little before the idea for the T-head Mercer Raceabout came into the fertile mind of Finlay Robertson Porter and the Roebling family in New Jersey.

Its impetus was the Prince Heinrich Tour, a multi-day reliability trial through Germany, Hungary and Austria first staged by Hubert von Herkomer in 1907. Crown Prince Heinrich himself participated in the first Herkomer Tour in a Benz and in 1908 contributed its winning trophy (a 13.5kg silver automobile) and his name to the event.

Racing was in decline in Europe with the Gordon Bennett Cup retired by the French and the stamina and resources of automobile manufacturers were strained by the expense of building racing specials, retaining drivers and funding teams of cars, mechanicians and spares to contest only two or three events a year.

The idea of a reliability trial that demonstrated the automobile's reliability and practicality, along with a few timed events to highlight performance was attractive. Nibel and Diehl addressed its challenge with ingenuity.


Before delving into the design and history of the Prinz-Heinrich Benz another act bearing on the legend deserves mention: The Blitzen Benz and its redoubtable chauffeur Barney Oldfield.

Berna Eli "Barney" Oldfield was "The Speed King of the World" through much of the last century's first decades. A successful bicycle racer, he quickly transitioned to automobile racing. With his trademark cigar between clenched teeth, he took command of Henry Ford's "999" racer, the Winton "Bullet" and the Peerless "Green Dragon".

A showman of consummate flamboyance, he nevertheless was also a driver of skill, daring and calculated strategy. Backed by his manager Bill Pickens, Oldfield barnstormed across America drawing crowds for whom any automobile was exotic, let alone one clocked at over 100 mph, a speed that many thought would result in the expiration of the human spirit – except for a superhuman like Barney Oldfield.

In 1909 Benz created a 21.5-liter monster for record-setting. It had pushrod operated inline overhead valves and made 200 horsepower, nearly unimaginable for the times.

After a series of European record-setting performances in 1909, the Blitzen Benz came to the States where Oldfield and his backers bought it and set off to wow the public. At first they called it the "Lightning Benz". They capped it in late 1909 with new bodywork with a "bird beak" over the radiator and a tapered tail that instantly differentiated it from any competitors.

On March 16, 1910 Oldfield and the "Lightning Benz" arrived on Daytona Beach with a few competitors to challenge Fred Marriott's long-standing record of 127.7 mph in the "Rocket" Stanley steam car. Oldfield's 131.7 mph succeeded, earning Oldfield headlines across the country and even a congratulatory cable from Germany's Kaiser.

The record and a subsequent U.S. tour with the renamed "Blitzen Benz" (Bill Pickens thought it had a better ring to it, and he was right) also earned Oldfield everlasting fame – which he proved to be deft at prolonging, remaining a popular figure even after retiring from active racing after 1918. Barney Oldfield never retired from self-promotion; association with his name brought instant stature and recognition to sponsors who helped keep Barney Oldfield "Speed King of the World" in the public eye until his death in 1946.

Famously, the 1908 105hp Prinz-Heinrich Benz was closely associated with the "Speed King."


The car that Hans Nibel and Georg Diehl conceived for the Prinz-Heinrich-Fahrt was remarkable for its advanced design. Its chassis used a live rear axle suspended with semi-elliptical leaf springs. It had torque tube shaft drive instead of the double chain drive then common on heavy, high horsepower automobiles. It had comfortable 4-passenger coachwork as required by the tour regulations, suitable for the demands of events like the 1,944 km of the 1910 Prinz-Heinrich tour. These were touring cars in the finest sense, intended for the titled and wealthy who valued both luxury and speed.

But it was the Prinz-Heinrich Benz's engine that was extraordinary. A dual ignition four-cylinder with bore and stroke of 115 x 175mm, 7,272cc displacement, at a time when a side valve T-head engine was modern and a single overhead camshaft with inline valves, as Ferdinand Porsche employed in the 5.7 liter Austro-Daimler he designed, was revolutionary. The Prinz-Henry Benz had four overhead valves per cylinder, inclined with an included angle of 45-degrees to form a tidy pent roof combustion chamber. The valves were actuated through short pushrods and rocker arms by separate camshafts located at crankshaft level on each side of the engine.

Brake horsepower output for the biggest 7.3-liter Prinz-Heinrich was 105 horsepower (it was also built in two smaller versions of 35hp and 80hp), a tremendous number for the day in a road-going automobile.

Its inclined overhead valves clearly showed the trend of high performance engine design and may have influenced the fertile imaginations of "The Charlatans", as well as being a tangible demonstration of the possibilities of the dual overhead camshaft engine in their presentation to Robert Peugeot.

Their moment in the American racing sun appears to be when a team of three such shaft drive Prinz-Heinrich cars was campaigned at the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup. Each wore distinctive American style bodywork configured to have two seats ahead of barrel tank gas reservoirs, mirroring their American contemporaries and being quite different from streamlined high sided European deliveries. Piloted by Eddie Hearne, Franz Heim and David Bruce-Brown, Hearne and Bruce-Brown finished in 8th and 12th places respectively. It seems likely that those self-same cars account for surviving examples of this model which survived much of their lives in America.

It must have been incredibly expensive to build and remained available for only a few years, passing from Benz records after 1912 and never showing any influence upon subsequent Benz road cars.

It was, however, in both performance and appearance, an ideal mount for Barney Oldfield whose recognition owed so much to the "Blitzen Benz".

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams & flickr

Production Start 1908
Country of origin Germany