Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mrs Benz Borrows the Car for a Drive to her Mother’s

The year was 1888. Bertha Benz, born in 1849, was 39 years old and had just learned how to drive. Her husband Karl was the eternal tinkerer, and refused to promote his invention. We are talking about the first petroleum car. Karl patented his Motorwagen in 1886. There is a general agreement that this was the ancestor of the modern cars we drive today. What I love about this story is that it was Bertha’s money that funded the design of this prototype. Other inventors of this time had attached an internal combustion engine to a horse carriage, but Karl made the first vehicle designed for an engine. He had three prototypes, and it was the third one Bertha borrowed for her now legendary trip. Think about it. There were no roads as we know them today, and no petrol stations. She had to plan her trip around towns that had apothecary (chemist) shops where she could buy ligroin, a petroleum distillate sold at the time as a solvent and cleaning product.

Karl suffered from depression, and despite the fact that he had three prototypes, being an overwhelming perfectionist, he continued to tinker with his babies, not wanting to promote them until they were absolutely perfect. Bertha was not only the money that bank-rolled Karl, but also a shrewd business woman who understood that if people got to see these cars in action, it would result in success for the fledgling Benz Company.

In a moment of blind faith, she planned her trip to visit her mother some 50 km away. She set out early in the morning and enlisted the help of her teenage sons. Before dawn, they rolled down the driveway so that Karl would not hear them, and set off for Pforzheim. In Wiesloch they stopped at a pharmacy to refuel, making this the very first petrol station. In Bruchsal Bertha had to find a blacksmith to repair a snapped drive chain. In Bauschlott she had a cobbler replace the leather on the brake shoe, making her the inventor of brake pads. Somewhere along the route, she used her hatpin to clear a clogged fuel line and insulated a short-circuited wire with material from her garter.  At another point her boys and few locals pushed the car up a hill since the 2.5 horsepower engine could not make it. She arrived in Pforzheim the same day after dusk. This was lucky, as the car did not have headlights. She informed her husband of their success.

She became an immediate sensation.  People lined the road on her return trip, some fascinated, others frightened by the hissing and spitting horseless carriage.  But the automobile had proved itself to be safe. The rest, as they say, is history.

If Bertha had not had her “screw it, I’m doing this” moment, years later, Karl would have still been tinkering with prototype number whatever. The combustion engine with all its faults would have failed anyway and we could have been driving around in carriages pulled by unicorns.

Things that are Screamingly Funny at 3am

Driving on Sunday to catch up with friends, this vision appeared not far away from where I live, and for once I was grateful for having an iPhone. I stopped and pulled a U-turn to ensure I was not seeing things. The industrial-sized roll of Gladwrap needed to wrap up the entire ute and the various tool boxes seemed to defy logic. I am still wondering how long it took the poor sod to unwrap his car. Given the time it takes me to find the end of the plastic wrap on my daily newspaper delivery, I do not envy him. I suspect that a Stanley knife was used. I just dread to think what happened if the Stanley knife was inside one of the wrapped tool boxes.

But I am glad to know that the continuing legacy of playing tricks on your friends is in good hands. It’s a natural progression from picking up the old Mini and turning it around to face the opposite direction, or bribing crane drivers to lift your mate’s car on to the top floor of a construction site. The crowning glory was the time we resprayed a uni mate’s 1960s ute, which he’d purchased for $200 and a case of beer. It was a vast improvement on the purchased car, as it had a different colour on each panel. The only glitch was that we sprayed it mauve. What can I say… the local hardware store had a sale on spray cans that nobody wanted. If I remember correctly, “somebody” forgot to mask the headlights, and we may in our enthusiasm have sprayed over them, as well as the blinkers and a few other vital parts. However, this problem was fixed in the first downpour when most of the “detailing” simply peeled off.

“Entitled” Road Users Need to Pay Their Way: Financial Review Monday 10th Feb

According to Grant Agnew, people who use public transport are forced to pay every time they get on a bus or train or ferry, whilst “entitled” car users simply hop into their cars and use the roads for free. Wow, I did not realise how good I have it. Thank you, Andrew, for pointing this out to me. For a moment there I had totally forgotten the tolls I and very other driver pay for using roads long paid for (i.e., Sydney Harbour Bridge). Then there is the car registration, insurance, the taxes I pay every time I fill up my car with petrol, the taxes I pay when I park, and my own taxes that subsidise the public transport you use. Do you think that the price of your bus ticket goes anywhere near keeping the roads maintained?

Whilst we are on the subject of us “entitled” road users, think on this. We have been taxed and taxed again and again whilst our prospective governments have promised that these taxes will make public transport better, the roads safer, blah, blah, blah… only here we are, years later, public transport fixed, well, “fixed” by the NSW government in a way no sane person can understand, roads remain clogged and the speed limit in the Sydney CBD will be reduced to 40 km per hour. This will be a huge improvement for all of us drivers who travel into the CBD because the best we ever manage is about 10 km per hour if we are lucky. The Cross City Tunnel is a puzzle for all us drivers, because if there is an accident on the bridge, we need to drive half way to Double Bay to enter it, so we just give up and stay in the grid lock. It sort of defeats the purpose.