One of the greatest talents of inventor Gottlieb Daimler was finding new areas of application for his engine. He invented the motor cycle, then went to the motorised trolley car, a motorised firefighting hose and then, almost inevitably, to the truck in the year 1896.
The design of the first truck in the world looked like a cart with an engine and without a drawbar. The engine, called “Phoenix”, was a four-horsepower-strong two-cylinder engine located at the rear, with a displacement of 1.06 litres, originating from a car. Daimler linked it to the rear axle by means of a belt. There were two helical springs to protect the engine, which was sensitive to vibrations. The vehicle rolled on hard iron wheels, after all. Daimler steered the leaf-sprung front axle by means of a chain. The driver sat up front on the driving seat as with a carriage. The engine was at the rear of the vehicle. The fuel consumption was approximately six litres of petrol per 100 kilometres. In the terminology of the day, that would be “0.4 kilogrammes per horsepower and hour”.
It is noteworthy that the first truck already anticipated 125 years before the planetary axles that are still common today in construction vehicles: because the belt drive sent the power from the engine to a shaft fitted transversely to the longitudinal axis of the vehicle, both ends of which were fitted with a pinion. Each tooth of this pinion meshed with the internal teeth of a ring gear which was firmly connected with the wheel to be driven. This is how the planetary axles of the heavy Mercedes-Benz Trucks up to the current Arocs series have worked in principle.
However, Gottlieb Daimler was cautious at first before presenting his new five-tonner to the public. The vehicle which was highly modern at the time underwent “Customer testing” which is how the test procedure would be called today. For months, Daimler subjected his new five-tonner to the daily grind of work at a brick factory in Heidenheim, and he painstakingly remedied the shortcomings it showed.
The second generation of Daimler trucks manufactured from 1899 to 1903 consisted of new basic types with a payload of between 1.25 and 5.0 tonnes, for which two-cylinder and four-cylinder engines from four to twelve horsepower were sufficient.
In detail, the almost complete range of the DMG in 1905 comprised: light vans with three payload classes from 500 kg 1000 kg to 1500 kg payload, powered by two-cylinder engines with eight to sixteen hp. Four-cylinder engines with 16 to 35 hp powered the heavy-duty class with two to five tonnes payload.
In 1900, Karl Benz took the plunge, progressing from the van to the real truck. The first range consisted of three models: the lightest version (1250 kilogrammes payload) was powered by a five to seven-hp-strong one-cylinder engine, the medium-duty version for 2.50 tonnes payload used a ten-hp-strong one-cylinder engine and the heavy-duty model for 5.0 tonnes payload had a two-cylinder Contra engine which achieved fourteen horsepower. What all three had in common was that the engine was no longer in the rear, but at the front, and positioned horizontally, and it drove the rear axle via a four-gear transmission and chain.
The basis for the truck was now prepared. The Industrial Revolution picked up speed and mass-produced goods came on the markets. The demand for distribution haulage grew. In 1871 the customs restrictions in the German Empire had been abolished. The history of road transport and the history of trade and road-building are more closely linked than generally thought.