It was in the Autumn of 1885 that Carl Benz made history by driving his fragile three-wheeler Motorwagen on its first faltering run, the German Press declaring that, "This engine vélocipède will make a strong appeal to a large circle, as it should prove itself quite practical and useful to doctors, travellers and lovers of sport." The three-wheeler featured a rear-mounted horizontal engine, belt primary drive and final transmission to the rear wheels by side chains. The 984cc engine developed 0.9hp giving a top speed of approximately 8mph. By 1894 Benz cars had four wheels and the company was marketing a 1 1/2hp Vélocipède with a single cylinder engine, again rear-mounted, driving as per Carl Benzs first motor car. They were the best selling cars of the day, gradually developing more horse-power and by 1899 marketed in 3 1/2hp form. Benz had many imitators and their products were built under licence by other manufacturers such as Star and Marshall in England. In 1899 some 572 Benz motor cars were produced, putting them at the forefront of the European motor industry.
At that time Charles Frederick Miles ran The Onward Motors Steam Works at 417 Brighton Road, Croydon. As well as being menders and fettlers of all things mechanical they dealt in and supplied machinery and the new-fangled motor car. Charles Frederick Miles was to acquire this car in 1899, perhaps as a demonstrator, and it was to remain in his family until this day quite remarkably some 104 years. Upon his demise in the 1920s BY 74 passed to his widow, Mary, and some 70 years ago it passed again to his son, Reg Miles, later passing upon his death to his widow.
The car took part in the very first London to Brighton Old Crocks Race, organised by The Daily Sketch in 1927, and subsequently participated in every run until the 1980s. The tax disc on the car indicates it was last taxed up until March 1982. In 1980, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Veteran Car Club, BY 74 was displayed in the Ballroom at the Metropole Hotel at the conclusion of the London to Brighton Run, thus marking its unique history.
This is perhaps one of the most original surviving Victorian Benz cars, having been only mildly updated/restored during its 104 year history. It is presented in black livery with faint red lining, possibly the original paint. The upholstery has been replaced in more recent times, the original having been damaged by a flying bomb during the War. The car bears the suppliers plate of The Onward Motors Steam Works and the Benz & Co., Manheim, Gasmotorenfabrik plate for Patent Motor-wagen no.559. A brass RAC badge and a Veteran Car Club badge and dating plate are carried.
This car enjoys the distinct advantage of having the Crypto gear, used on Benz cars in 1899 and 1900 to assist hill climbing. It also significantly improves the starting from rest technique, eliminating the lurch forward so common on belt-cum-chain drive cars of this era.
It is over twenty years since BY 74 has taken to the road and it will undoubtedly require careful recommissioning. There can be few if any other cars of this Victorian era remaining which are still in the family of the original owner. This car is exceptionally well-known in veteran car circles, is dated by The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain (Certificate no.71) and comes with a Swansea V5 registration document for its original Croydon County Borough Council registration number.