The 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen is slow to wake up

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The 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen is hardly push-button. In fact, starting one is more akin to building a house of cards than turning a key. Each step is important and should even one be forgotten or executed improperly, rather than hitting the town and heading to your favorite restaurant, you’ll be headed to your kitchen for dinner. If you ever find yourself in possession of the original or an exacting replica like this one, here’s how you operate it.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

1. Oil the Motorwagen’s moving parts by filling the drip oilers and giving a generous blob of oil to anything with an oiling hole. Don’t forget the slide valve and the cam gear. Any excess oil will fling off once running, so err on the side of too much—not too little.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

2. Rotate each grease cap one turn. If it bottoms out, add fresh grease. Rotating these caps pushes fresh grease onto the bearing surfaces, ensuring the moving parts will not gall or score.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

3. Fill the water tank that sits atop the engine. The cooling system is full loss, so it’s wise to keep tabs on the water level to ensure that the single-cylinder does not overheat. Make sure the battery is charged (not pictured).

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

4. The Benz utilizes a surface carburetor, meaning that it essentially runs on fumes. Fill the fuel tank with hexane ($55–$100 per gallon), and open the petcock to allow flow to the evaporation chamber. Hexane has a boiling point as low as 122 degrees Fahrenheit, so it readily evaporates on even a cool day.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

5. Close the airflow regulator almost all the way to enrich the mixture for a cold start. (It’s the large brass knob under the seat.) Then unscrew the small brass ignition contact above the airflow regulator, which connects the battery to the ignition system.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen

6. A leather glove will protect your hand as you spin the big flywheel. Rotate it clockwise until the engine is on the compression stroke, then heave it hard through the compression stroke. This could take a while, so repeat while making small adjustments to the airflow regulator until the engine fires. Once running, adjust the airflow regulator until the engine is running smooth and strong. This position will vary based on barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity.

With no generator on board, the engine will only run so long as the battery has enough voltage to light the mixture in the cylinder. Don’t worry, though—you’ll likely overheat or need to go back and re-oil the engine before that happens.

With the 0.75-hp engine puttering away, mount your horseless carriage. The lever to your left controls the transmission and brakes. Moving that lever forward shifts the drive belt from an idler drum to the drum connected to the drive chains that transfer power to the rear wheels. Once at the top speed of 12 mph, pull that lever back to engage the single drum brake. Turning is handled by a tiller that operates a rack-and-pinion mounted between driver and passenger and controls the aim of the slender front wheel. Point it toward your (hopefully nearby) destination and enjoy the drive.

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