125 years of trucks.
Transport Magazine

125 years of trucks.

From the motorised carriage to
the short‑nosed truck.

Gottlieb Daimler invents the truck, laying one of the foundation stones for the rapid development of the 20th century. In the areas not covered by the railway network and when the horse‑drawn carriage cannot move fast enough, the truck is now at hand. Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz identify the demand and seize the opportunity: the era of transportation begins.

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No less than four hp from one litre of displacement, belt drive, simple anti‑swerve brakes, iron‑tyred wheels and the body clearly still a carriage: the Phoenix might have given its name to the vehicle, but Gottlieb Daimler’s invention certainly does not rise like a god from the ashes to start with. That said, the foundation stone has been laid, and the truck is born. The first buyer is in England. A team of three is required to operate the vehicle there: two men for steering the vehicle, and the third has to walk in front of the vehicle with a red flag.

In the meantime Carl Benz devotes his attention to the “delivery vehicle” – known today as a “van”. The first vehicle built – with a single‑cylinder engine (5 hp), three‑speed transmission and 300‑kilogram payload – went to France, bought by a department store in Paris.

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From 1900 Carl Benz also brings trucks into the range. A six‑hp single‑cylinder engine is configured for a payload of 1,250 kilograms, a ten‑hp single‑cylinder is designed for the 2.5‑tonne model and the 5‑tonne model boasts a two‑cylinder Contra engine with 14 hp. Chain drive is a characteristic feature of the Benz truck, whilst Daimler initially uses belt drive.

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The engine soon moves forwards, and solid rubber instead of iron covers the rim.

From 1905 the Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik GmbH – SAG for short – becomes a further player in the market and concentrates on the truck business. Just a few years later Benz & Cie. invests in the company and ultimately takes it over completely. A stroke of luck, as capacity at its own factory in Mannheim is under too much strain to produce trucks on a greater scale. Having become “Benz‑Werke Gaggenau,” today the former SAG site is the oldest truck plant in the world and still a key element of Mercedes‑Benz truck production.

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The D11 “Benz delivery vehicle,” built in Gaggenau. The models derived from it made three version available, from light to heavy duty, and six engines.

Production grows, and the competition never sleeps: in 1926 Daimler‑Motoren‑Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. join forces to form Daimler‑Benz AG. The previous year, both companies manufactured more than 6,000 trucks between them and at the Mannheim, Gaggenau, Untertürkheim, Berlin‑Marienfelde and Sindelfingen plants they employed 15,000 workers.

A new trademark seals the fusion in visual terms: it combines the Mercedes star of Daimler with the laurel wreath of Benz.

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The diesel engines from Benz & Cie. cause a sensation when they are launched in 1923. But they only manage to win through in 1927 when Robert Bosch brings his injection pump to production maturity. Now there is no holding back: the diesel engine becomes standard on the heavy‑duty trucks such as the Mercedes‑Benz L 5, as it does in the light‑duty segment on the Lo 2000. The latter sells like hot cakes, with orders even coming in all the way from China.

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Lo 2000 – its success is mostly thanks to the new OM 59. Half the size, but nearly as powerful as on the preceding models, it finally gives the diesel engine its big break.
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Faster and less expensive to run than horse-drawn carriages, and the pump can also be operated via the engine: no wonder fire brigades were using the truck from an early stage.

Car production slumps after the end of the war. Daimler‑Benz brings out the first new model in 1949. And hits the bull’s eye. The new OM 312 diesel engine plays a large part in this. Powerful and frugal, it impresses with its extremely smooth operation. From 1954 it is also available with turbocharging.

With a simple yet solid structure, the L 3250 meets all the requirements of the time. It even had one feature that put it ahead of most passenger cars: heating.

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Including several wheelbases: the L 3250 and the vehicles derived from it became the ultimate all‑purpose truck.

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In 1958 the “Seebohm” laws come into force and bring drastic restrictions on weights and measures. With the 16‑tonne LP 333 Mercedes‑Benz launches the perfect solution. Tuned for maximum payload, the “Millipede” establishes the cab‑over‑engine principle. The two steered front axles, excellent damping, drastically improved steering comfort, single‑plate dry clutch and the first standard engine brake – apart from the noise level due to the location of the engine directly next to the seats, the LP 333 is state of the art.

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Hardly any other model of truck enjoys as much success as the short‑nosed trucks from Mercedes‑Benz: Extremely robust and with a high payload, with high driving comfort and modern technology plus a synchronised five‑speed transmission, they capture the German market and become the ultimate export hit over many years. And it is only in the mid‑90s that the last one rolls off the production line in Wörth! A success story practically beyond compare, and still to this day these vehicles are reliably carrying out their work all over the world.

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Photos: Daimler AG