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Benz Velo, first mass-produced car, debuted in 1894

Compact 2-seater weighed 280 kg, powered by a 1.5-hp single-cylinder engine

Published: May 3, 2019, 10:30 PM
Updated: May 10, 2019, 3:53 AM

1895 family drive in Benz Phaeton (left) and Velo

It was 125 years ago that Benz & Cie. Introduced the world’s first small car — the Benz Motor Velocipede (affectionately abbreviated to the Benz Velo — soon to become the world’s top selling automobile model (amassing 1,200 sales in its first 8 years).

1894 Benz Velo

The Velo weighed in at 280 kg, powered by a 1.5-hp single-cylinder engine that allowed it to reach a top speed of 20 km/h. It sold for 2,000 marks (the equivalent of about $45,500 Canadian, today).

Among its ground-breaking features was a 2-stage flat belt transmission that allowed it to climb grades of up to 10%, and a double-pivot steering system that allowed the front wheels to turn at different radii while cornering (patented in 1893 and first featured on Benz’s first automobiles — the Victoria and Vis-à-Vis).

1894 Benz Velo

The Velo hit the roads in 1894 and in 1898 could be equipped with a 2.75-hp engine (which would later go up as high as 3.5 hp) for an extra 200 marks. It could also be optioned up with a sun-guard (parasol) for another 100 marks.

Also in 1898, Velo received a luxury package in the Velo Comfortable, which came with the 2.75-hp engine standard and carried an MSRP of 2,500 marks (about $57,000 Canadian, today). Its features included an upholstered bench and a rear facing child seat at the front of the car, and had the availability of pneumatic tires (a 350-mark option).

1898 Benz Velo Comfortable, showing rear-facing child seat

By the turn of the century, the cars came with a 3-hp engine and a third gear was added to the transmission. Prices had climbed to 2500 marks for the Velo and 3,000 marks for the Comfortable. The Velo model was dropped in 1901 and the Comfortable carried on through 1902, with a 4.5-hp engine allowing a top speed of 35 km/h.

“This vehicle was quite literally grabbed out of our hands,” inventor Carl Benz told weekly auto publication Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung in 1909.” What we made was sold immediately.”