The birth of the automobile
Daimler: Engines, carburetors, radiators and transmissions (1883 – 1901)
Daimler’s first engine, built together with his long-time congenial companion Wilhelm Maybach, was a horizontal four-stroke single-cylinder unit. Its most important innovation was the hot-tube ignition which provided reliable ignition and made the desired increase in engine speed possible; the first experimental engine reached a speed of up to 600 rpm, significantly more than the previous maximum of 120 rpm for gas engines. The exhaust valve was precisely operated by Daimler’s invention of radial groove control, while the intake valve, known as the “snifting valve,” opened automatically by vacuum pressure.
The first fast-running four-stroke engine (still with a horizontal cylinder here) developed by Daimler and Maybach in 1884.
The horizontal engine was soon replaced by the so-called grandfather clock, a vertical, considerably smaller engine which was perfectly suitable for installation in vehicles. This engine saw the first use of the float carburetor developed by Maybach, a type nowadays referred to as a surface carburetor, which enabled reliable operation with gasoline. The patent application contains an interesting explanatory note that is remarkable for its foresight: “Instead of the evaporator unit it would also be possible to use an atomizing pump”, an idea that later gave rise to the injection pump.
The world’s first motorcycle (1885)
Daimler riding car, 1885. The world's first motorcycle.
Daimler first installed this air-cooled, 0.5-hp (0.4-kW) engine in the “riding car,” a wooden two-wheeler that was used as a test vehicle and quite incidentally went down in history as the world’s first motorcycle. Power was transmitted from the engine’s belt pulley to the rear wheel via a drive belt. Two speeds were possible depending on the belt pulley chosen: 6 or 12 km/h.
The horseless carriage (1886 – 1888)
Motorized Daimler carriage, 1886
In the summer of 1886, installing the engine in a coach was the next step. Still air-cooled but now with an output of 1.1 hp, the engine was centrally located in front of the rear bench seat to produce the world’s first gasoline-powered, four-wheel car. In 1887 the engine became water-cooled but still lacked an efficient radiator. The crucially new feature of this vehicle was its power transmission. Depending on the chosen ratio the engine’s belt pulley drove discs of different sizes on a lay shaft. The power was transferred to gears on the rear wheels via pinions on both sides. Instead of a differential a slip clutch was mounted on each side of the lay shaft.
V-engine and gear-only transmission (1889)
Daimler engine of 1889, two cylinders, 1.6 hp
In 1889 this was followed by the world’s first V2 engine, which at 40 kilograms per hp was only half as heavy as its predecessor and initially delivered 1.5 hp (1.1 kW), later two hp (1.5 kW). This unit was first used in the very advanced design of the four-wheel Daimler steel-wheel car, whose tubular frame also served as a coolant ducting system. Next to the right wheel the rear axle featured an encapsulated bevel gear differential, while the left wheel was fitted with a brake drum and band brake. As if to confirm its technical exclusivity, the car had a four-speed gear-only transmission developed by Maybach, the first in the world. This became the forerunner of all subsequent automotive transmissions.
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