Much of the motorsports competition in the early days of the automobile involved long-distance reliability runs, with some of the sturdiest and most-advanced vehicles of the era vying for prizes.
One famous entry was the Benz 50hp that won the 1908 reliability trial presented by the German Imperial Automobile Club, a driving event that spanned a number of days and crossed through several nations. The trophy was a 30-pound silver automobile replica donated by Prince A.W. Heinrich of Prussia, a noted racing fan. The event was therefore named in his honor.
To celebrate its victory, Benz produced from 1908 to 1910 a “Prinz Heinrich” model that was bespoke and hand-built, terrifically expensive and featured such forward-looking technology as an overhead-valve engine and shaft drive. Prinz Heinrich cars could reach nearly 100 mph, making it a supercar of its day.
Bonhams has one of these cars, a 1908 75/105hp Prinz Heinrich Benz Raceabout, ready for its November 11 auction at the Bothwell Ranch in Woodland Hills, California.
This Benz also boasts American motorsports provenance with one of the early celebrities of auto racing, Barney Oldfield, who was known as much for his publicity feats as his driving prowess. In partnership with Benz, Oldfield and the Prinz Heinrich ran barnstorming and promotional events together, and even appeared in a silent film, Race for Life.
The Benz later became part of the collection of Lindley and Ann Bothwell, who frequently drove the car and had it restored as a two-seat raceabout.
“Beautiful, unique, rare, groundbreaking, historic, in excellent working order, and full of provenance, the Prinz Heinrich Benz possesses all the desirable qualities a collector could want,” Bonhams said in a news release.
About 50 collector cars will be offered during the auction at Bothwell Ranch, which is just north of Los Angeles. For information, visit the Bonhams website.