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Circa-1908 Prinz-Heinrich Benz sells for $1.87 million at Bothwell Collection auction

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Circa 1908 Prinz-Heinrich Benz. Photos courtesy Bonhams Auctions.

Designed to compete in the Prince Heinrich Tour, a multi-day, 1,200-plus-mile event that wound through Germany, Hungary, and Austria, the Prinz-Heinrich Benz could lay claim to being one of the world’s earliest grand touring cars. One such model, dating to around 1908 and reportedly driven by racing great Barney Oldfield in promotional appearances for sponsors Firestone Tires and Maier Brewing, crossed the block as part of the Bothwell Collection last weekend, selling for a fee-inclusive $1.87 million and earning a spot in the sale’s top-10.

Circa 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz

The Benz model was considered advanced for its day, employing a torque-tube shaft drive instead of the more common chain drive. Front and rear suspensions used semi-elliptical leaf springs, but the most advanced component on the Benz was its massive 7.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, which featured pushrod-operated overhead valves and four valves per cylinder. Output was rated at 105 horsepower, which likely made the Benz quite a performer even when fitted with the stock four-passenger bodywork, a requirement for the Prince Heinrich Tour.

Circa 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz

Racing in America was less of a formal affair, and in 1910 a team of three – or possibly four – Prinz-Heinrich Benz models were entered in the Vanderbilt Cup races on Long Island, New York. Each was modified from a four-seat tourer to a two-seat raceabout, with a barrel-style fuel tank mounted behind the driver and riding mechanic. As Howard Kroplick relates on his Vanderbilt Cup Races website, the #7 Prinz-Heinrich Benz driven by Eddie Hearne finished eighth, the #16 car driven by David Bruce-Brown finished 12th and the #8 car, driven by Franz Heim, finished 27th despite catching fire on lap six.

Circa 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz

The Prinz-Heinrich Benz from the Bothwell collection was not one of the cars campaigned in the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup races. Instead, records show the car was used in promotional appearances by Oldfield, famous as the best racer of his day, but also for his 1910 land speed record run at Daytona Beach, Florida. Piloting a 21.5-liter, 200-horsepower “Blitzen Benz,” on the sand, Oldfield managed a record-breaking top speed of 131.7 mph, later touring with the record car and thrilling audiences nationwide.

Circa 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz

Eventually, Oldfield and the Blitzen Benz parted ways, but the circa-1908 Prinz-Heinrich Benz used for later promotional appearances sported a similar “bird beak” nose atop the radiator shroud, likely an intentional visual link to his record car. Oldfield reportedly drove the car – complete with Firestone and Benz logos on the tanks – between cities on his promotional tours, removing things like fenders and lights to compete in staged races before appreciative crowds. How exactly the car wound up in the possession of Eddie Maier, an owner of Maier Brewing, isn’t clear, though the company was one of Oldfield’s sponsors.

Circa 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz

Lindley Bothwell purchased the Prinz-Heinrich Benz from Maier in the 1930s, later converting the car to its current “raceabout” form. The original bodywork that accompanied the car at its sale to Bothwell was destroyed during a 1948 fire, but when the car was restored in 2005 the decision was made to retain the appearance associated with Oldfield’s on-track exploits. Invited to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2005, the work was not finished in time to send the Benz; instead, the offer was extended again for 2006, when the newly restored car made the trek up the hill on Lord March’s estate.

1902 Packard Model G

1902 Packard Model G four-passenger surrey.

Other cars in the top-10 at the Bothwell Collection sale included a 1913 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car, which sold for $7.26 million; a circa-1908 Mercedes-Simplex 65 two-seat raceabout, which sold for $1.07 million; a 1902 Packard Model G four-passenger surrey, which sold for $423,500; a 1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50HP open drive landaulette, which sold for $385,000; a 1910 Pope-Hartford Model W 50HP “racer,” which sold for $264,000; a circa-1897 Baldwin 0-4-2 locomotive, which sold for $187,500; a circa-1912 Austro Daimler Touring Victoria, which sold for $176,000; a 1910 Winton 48HP Model 17 A seven-passenger touring, which sold for $160,600; and a 1926 Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost pickup conversion, which sold for $159,500.

1929 Ford Model AA police truck

1929 Ford Model AA police truck recreation.

More affordable lots included a 1925 Ford Model T Speedster, which sold for $6,600; a 1929 Ford Model AA police truck recreation, which sold for $8,250; a 1912 Ford Model T roadster, which sold for $8,800; a 1917 Smith Flyer, which sold for $8,800; and a 1914 Ford Model T touring, which sold for $9,350.

For complete results from the Bothwell Collection sale, visit Bonhams.com.