A history with pulling power: Mercedes-Benz all-wheel-drive vehicles
Stuttgart
Aug 02, 2011
All-wheel-drive vehicles by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft
  • The all-wheel-drive history of Daimler AG begins in 1903
  • Commercial vehicles are the main beneficiaries of
    all-wheel drive
  • Experience with the first four-wheel drive commercial vehicles lead to the ‘Dernburg-Wagen’ in 1907
The all-wheel-drive history of Daimler AG began around the turn of the century. During his time as Technical Manager of the Austrian Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Vienna-Neustadt, Paul Daimler had already ‘produced the basis of a four-wheel-drive design in 1903,’ as the publication Illustrierte Zeitung reported in issue 3846 in 1917. As is often the case with technical developments, it was the military that provided the initial impetus. The first such vehicle to be designed was an all-wheel drive armoured reconnaissance vehicle, which was tested successfully in 1905 before being delivered to the Austrian army. Powered by an 8.5-litre, four-cylinder engine developing 50 hp (37 kW) at 1000 rpm, it had a ground clearance of 335 millimetres and an indicated climbing ability of 18 per cent.
1905/06 saw production of armoured vehicles with all-wheel drive. The vehicles were equipped with a 30 hp engine, and as trials demonstrated, these were capable of overcoming considerable gradients, even over rough ground and when fully laden, wrote the Illustrierte Zeitung. They are also capable of moving at considerable speed over different types of terrain.’ In addition to four-wheel drive, the vehicles were fitted with a cable winch to haul themselves over obstacles.
After these first vehicles, the Prussian army purchased two all-wheel-drive trucks from DMG for suitability trials in 1907. These were powered by a model F 6 six-cylinder engine developing 70 hp (51 kW) at 820 rpm from a displacement of 12.7 litres. These vehicles particularly proved their worth in comparison with rear-wheel-drive equivalents during a Berlin–Glatz–Berlin test run, and reports show that gradients or unfavourable road surfaces presented no problem. The claimed climbing ability was 25 per cent unladen and 12 per cent with two trailers. The iron wheels (with wooden spokes) tended to distort after prolonged use, however. Despite these predominantly positive results these early all-wheel-drive vehicles did not remain with the military, probably because the amy authorities were still wedded to horse-drawn wagons; the two trucks were sold to Krupp AG. But in subsequent years all-wheel-drive vehicles for special purposes became gradually established with the military in the form of tractor units, dropsiders or ambulances.
On the basis of this know-how, DMG built the ‘Dernburg’ in 1907, an all-wheel-drive car with all-wheel steering. Commercial vehicles with four driven wheels were also produced for use in the colonies. There was a tractor unit destined for Portuguese South Africa in 1908, for example, which possessed an extremely good climbing ability of 45 per cent when unladen, and still managed 20 per cent when laden.
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