Once upon a time... at a photo spot in Mannheim

In front of an art nouveau fence stands a racing car with an angular hill climb body – ready to go. Four massive manifolds stick out of the engine compartment and end in a side pipe. The big wire wheels seem to withstand any type of surface. The pilot and co-pilot are waiting for the starting signal. Hermann Layher, President of the Technik Museen Sinsheim Speyer, looks up from the historic black and white photograph and is visibly pleased with the result. On Monday, June 14th, 2021, 110 years after the photo of race driver Franz Heim was taken, it was accurately re-enacted with his descendants.

But let’s start at the beginning. Anyone who is even remotely interested in motorsports is familiar with the Blitzen Benz. With a displacement of 21.5 litres, the 200-hp giant presented a considerable performance, which made it quite famous at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1909, the vehicle set a new land speed record at 202 kph over a distance of one kilometre. Two years later, in Daytona Beach, it even reached 228 kph. Until 1919, no one was able to break this record and, as a result, the German manufacturer Benz became known across the globe.  Franz Heim was once an apprentice of Carl Benz and later became a successful car designer himself. In his Blitzen Benz, he successfully raced in several hill climbs. That is also how this historic photograph was taken in Graz, Austria. Author Dietrich Conrad and Mercedes Benz expert Lothar Gottmann explained that they didn't have to go far to take this photo. The heraldic symbol of Mannheim, the “Wolfsangel”, a symbol inspired by historic wolf traps, can still be found on the brickwork of the fence at the waterworks called Käfertaler Wasserwerk in Mannheim, Germany. Test rides used to take place on the street next to it. That's how the photograph came into being.

On a warm day in June, more than 110 years later, said photo was re-enacted. The President of our museums saw an opportunity and provided the Blitzen Benz for the picture. We have been showcasing this vehicle to our visitors for years. And once a year, at the BRAZZELTAG® in Speyer, Hermann Layher starts the car, whose restoration took over a thousand hours. This time, however, the reason for bringing the vehicle back to life was a trip down memory lane. “The car was constructed at the old Benz plant in Mannheim-Luzenberg. Today, 110 years later, the car is back where it started. The re-enactment of the photo caught a lot of media attention. Franz Heim’s great-grandchildren Daniela and Oskar Heim were on site. And Winfried Seidel, Benz legend and director of the Benz-Museum in Ladenburg, did not want to miss this big event either”, remembers Hermann Layher. “The Mannheim waterworks provide the city’s water tower with fresh spring water. Carl Benz used to drink from this source. And we tasted the same water as him, only 110 years later – which was a big highlight”, says the President of our museum.

After the photo session, the Blitzen Benz rode from the so-called “Square City” Mannheim to the Benz-Museum in Ladenburg on its own wheels. “The Blitzen Benz was very comfortable in Mannheim and on the road to Ladenburg”, explains Hermann Layher visibly in a good mood. His co-pilot Luca Chiusole, his 16-year-old nephew, could not stop smiling either. This shows once again: Vintage cars unite generations. 

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