The first Benz delivery vehicle celebrates 125 years

In Mercedes-Benz, News4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineDecember 13, 2021

Mercedes-Benz vans can trace their story back 125 years, with the premiere of the Benz delivery vehicle in 1896. This vehicle was the first motorised van in the world with an internal combustion engine.

The ‘Benz delivery vehicle’ was first seen in a Benz & Cie. catalogue in May 1896. The new concept of a “Patent motor vehicle of superior design for the delivery of goods, with 5-horsepower engine”, promptly met with considerable interest.

The first documented unit was handed over to the Parisian department store “Du Bon Marché”. Even the catalogue page for the delivery van is illustrated with a depiction of this vehicle together with advertising for the Paris department store. On 5 December 1896, this first motorised delivery van with an internal combustion engine, produced directly by a car manufacturer, rolled into Paris.


The van had a payload of 300kg and was based on a chassis that Benz also used for the “Victoria” and “Vis-à-Vis” models. The designers made optimum use of the overall length of the vehicle by placing the engine underneath the load area. The van was therefore also the first commercial vehicle to feature an underfloor design. The driver sat directly above the front axle, which was fitted with wooden-spoke wheels with solid rubber tyres that were smaller than those on the rear axle.

The van was powered by a horizontally mounted single-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.9 litres and an output of 3.7kW (5hp). A total of three gear ratios brought the engine power to the road: first stepped pulleys, then the planetary gear and finally the countershaft. From here, two chains led to the sprockets on the rear wheels. The clutch was operated by means of engaging and disengaging the belts. With this combination of engine and transmission system, the delivery truck reached 15kph with maximum load and overcame gradients of up to ten%.

The driver and the load area were almost on the same level, but this was not obvious to the observer at first glance. This is because the vehicle was in the form of a panel van, with a splendid advertisement for the department store and the purpose of this import vehicle from Germany on the side panels: “Grands Magasins Du Bon Marché. Livraison des Marchandises”. (“Department Store Du Bon Marché. Goods deliveries”).

The pre-eminent customer was doing what the manufacturer had recommended in the 1896 catalogue, where Benz & Cie. emphasised the potential advertising impact of the van: “Major advertising for any significant business,” the prospectus suggested.

The selling price of the vehicle was 4500 Marks. One third of this amount had to be paid in cash upon ordering, the rest of the sum was due when the vehicle was handed over in Mannheim. How many customers back then opted to buy this innovative delivery van, in addition to the Paris department store, is not known.