A few months ago, we did our best to furnish your Dieselpunk setting with 1910s artifacts. Not Diesel Era yet but certainly not Steam Age. How should we call this period – Edwardian? Maybe, but King Edward VII left this world on May 6, 1910. Proto-Diesel? Too pompous. Let’s agree on a somewhat less spectacular but chronologically correct term – Transition. A bridge between two great eras, embracing old and new aesthetics and ideas.
Today, we’d like to celebrate Speed and Power. For example, the car above, the Blitzen Benz, is powered by a 21.5-litre 200hp engine. On April 23, 1911, Bob Burman – remember the guy with goggles? – piloted it to an average of 228.1 kilometres per hour (141.7 mph) over a full mile at Daytona Beach, a record that would not be surpassed until 1919.
Burman’s Benz wasn’t unique. Actually, there were six “lightning cars”, the first built as early as in 1909. Probably it looked a bit less impressive, but its performance was awesome.
A rival of the Blitzen Benz, the Fiat S.76, was nicknamed “The Beast of Turin”. The Italian engineers came up with a monumental overhead valve engine of 1,730ci (28,353cc) that produced its 300bhp at 1,800rpm, yet still employed just four cylinders. The engine was so tall the driver had to almost peer around the edge of the hood, but to aid aerodynamics, it was extremely narrow.
The S76 was dispatched to Britain’s Brooklands circuit where it was put through its paces by intrepid factory driver Pietro Bordino. After a subsequent journey on public roads, it thundered to a best speed of 116mph (187kph) at Saltburn Sands, Middlesborough — setting the record for the fastest flying mile time.
Fiat was satisfied, but Prince Boris Sukhanov, a wealthy Russian, was hooked on the enormous vehicle. He is thought to have acquired one of the two cars made, but too timid to drive it himself, he sponsored a record run with French driver Arthur Duray at Ostend, Belgium.
It was said to have reached 137mph (220kph), but suspect timing equipment and bad weather prevented two runs within an hour — a requirement for a world record qualification. Sukhanov’s team spent a further six weeks trying in late 1913 before admitting defeat. (Source)
Another racer, the Golden Submarine, was built by Fred Offenhauser and Harry Miller for Barney Oldfield back in 1917. The most interesting and noticeable feature is its streamline aluminum body.
This forerunner of the famous Miller 1920s and 1930s cars was powered by a 4,7 liter 4-cylinder aluminum alloy engine which developed 136hp and failed for a few times, but still completed 54 races with 20 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds.
The Golden Submarine is arguably the first streamlined circuit racing car. Here we see the dawn of a new age of technological advancement, yet the cage-like stone guards and skinny balding tires remind us how primitive the vehicle really was.
Oldfield has the toughened, cigar-chomping look that speaks to the hardscrabble existence of many drivers at the time, who lived from race to race on starting money and worked on their own cars. (Source)
Want something more street-wise but still powerful? You’ve got it, another Benz, a 1910 Priz Heinrich-wagen:
Not radical enough? OK, we’ve got a real bomb from Italy – a 1914 A.L.F.A. 40/60HP Castagna Siluro Ricotti:
A.L.F.A. will evolve into Alfa Romeo, Castagna is one the finest coachbuilder’s ateliers ever, Siluro stands for … er, not a bomb but a torpedo, and Ricotti was the guy who designed this fantastic vehicle.
The Siluro used a serial-produced chassis of a luxury model. The top speed was 139kph.
Speaking of early streamlining we simply can’t ignore McKeen railcars powered by straight-six internal combustion engines.
The cars were built between 1905 and 1917 by McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska for the US, Australian, Mexican and Cuban railways. Most, although not all, McKeen cars had the distinctive “wind-splitter” pointed aerodynamic front end and rounded tail.
The porthole windows were also a McKeen trademark, adopted allegedly for strength after the 7th production car. To see great pictures of a preserved McKeen railcar, click here.
Sea travel… The first ocean-going ship in the world to be propelled solely by diesel (no sail or turbines) is already here. Meet the Selandia.
She was built at Burmeister & Wain Shipyard in Copenhagen, Denmark, and launched on 4 November 1911. On February 1912, she started her first journey from Copenhagen to Bangkok.
Selandia was designed for cargo and passenger carriage. Tonnage: 6,800 dwt; 4964 GRT; Length: 370 ft (112.8 m); Beam: 53 ft (16.2 m); Installed power: 2 x eight-cylinder, four-cycle, 1,250 hp diesel engines; Propulsion: twin-screw; Speed: 12 knots. Note the absence of a funnel; instead, smoke from her engines escaped through the front mast!
The ship, sold to Norway in 1936 and then to Finland, (1940) wrecked in 1942 after 30 years of service. In 1962, Danish Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Selandia‘s 50th Anniversary.
From the sea – up to the sky! Who said that passenger air service was invented in 1920s? Don’t think these ladies are time travelers – they travel on a zeppelin:
Does the name DELAG sound familiar? The world’s first passenger airline, DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, or German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd) was established in 1909 as an offshoot of the Zeppelin Company.
While most of the early flights were sightseeing tours, in 1919 the DELAG airship Bodensee began scheduled service between Berlin and southern Germany; the flight from Berlin to Friedrichshafen took 4-9 hours, compared to 18-24 hours by rail. Bodensee made 103 flights and carried almost 2,500 passengers, 11,000 lbs of mail, and 6,600 lbs of cargo.
Between 1910 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, DELAG zeppelins carried over 34,000 passengers on over 1,500 flights, without a single injury. Of course there were accidents – although nothing to compare with the Hindenburg disaster:
The majority of the passengers were given free flights to publicize the zeppelin industry (especially members of German royalty, military officers, aristocrats, government officials, and business leaders), but DELAG also carried 10,197 paying passengers before having to cease operations with the beginning of the war. (Visit airships.net to learn more).
And in 1919, you already could buy a plane ticket for your travel from London to Paris or Amsterdam – like these passengers of the Dutch ELTA company:
For a dessert, some early jazz and aeronautical music: