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Mastering a Mercedes Simplex

5 months ago

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Andrew English | Journalist


7 December 2023

Five pedals? ‘Yes,’ says Claus Balle from the Mercedes-Benz Museum. ‘From the right, they are brake, accelerator, another brake, clutch and an exhaust thing to warn walkers of our approach…’

That’ll be an exhaust cutout, then. And while a quintet of pedals does seem more church organ than automobile, this machine, even outside of the glowing affidavits of a Mercedes official history, is generally acknowledged to be a prototype for the passenger cars we still drive today. Almost 120 years on from its first manufacture, the 1904 Mercedes Simplex 28/32hp Phaeton is a dancing phenomenon in brass and pinstriped cream paint.

Balle looks on as I swing the handle to start the 5.3-litre four-cylinder motor. You’ll imagine the rotating masses involved here, but when you consider its total output of 32bhp at 1200rpm and T-shaped cylinder head, you’ll perhaps understand that it probably doesn’t have the highest compression ratio, so starting isn’t (quite) the strain it might first appear. And you’d be right: it’s quoted at 4.5:1, or less than half what you’d expect from even a quite heavily turbo-boosted modern car.

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