Karl Benz stands proudly with his "Patent Motorwagen" sign

Who built the first car engine?

History of the Automotive Powerplant

These days, it’s hard to imagine a world without cars. But that’s just where things stood less than a mere 150 years ago.

Though we often take our modern, car-filled existence for granted, we owe the continual progressions of technology to a slew of eccentric inventors who just wouldn’t stop tinkering around with various machines in the 1800s.

Out of this inspired experimentation came a variety of primitive vehicles and unique engine technology. But who made the first real car engine?


What would those early inventors say today if they saw the engines inhabiting our new Mercedes-Benz inventory?


The engine created by Karl Benz stands proud

The first true car engine is typically credited to Karl Benz. After years of being obsessed with bicycles and technology, Benz developed what’s taken to be the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1885. The engine in question was a single cylinder four-stroke contraption.

The automobile Benz developed was the first designed to generate its own power, instead of simply being a motorized stagecoach or horse carriage. As a result, Benz received an official patent for his Motorwagen. A few years later, the Benz Motorwagen became the first commercially available automobile. His efforts, of course, eventually formed an integral part of Mercedes-Benz.

Nowadays, new Mercedes-Benz gas engines get some help from a technology called “EQ Boost.”

Other Contributors

In addition to the men above, many other individuals contributed to the continual advancement of engine technology that eventually resulted in the functioning automobile. These include:

  • Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who, in 1769, created the first steam-powered automobile capable of human transportation.
  • Hayden Wischett, who, in 1803, created the first car powered by a hydrogen-fueled early internal combustion engine.
  • Nicolaus Otto, who created the four-stroke petrol internal combustion engine, which is still the most prevalent form of automotive propulsion.
  • Rudolf Diesel, who invented the four-stroke diesel engine.
  • Enrico Bernardi, an Italian who created the first petrol-powered vehicle in 1882. It was a tricycle for his son.

A Rewritten History

The crediting of Benz with the first automobile engine is disputed, however. In the 1870s, a two-cycle combustion engine was created by a man named Siegfried Marcus. In 1880, Marcus introduced a four-cycle, gasoline-powered engine in a vehicle. This led to Marcus being honored, during his lifetime, as the originator of the motorcar.

Unfortunately, during WWII, the Nazi propaganda office ordered evidence of Marcus’s achievement destroyed, and instead passed full credit for the first car engine over to Carl Benz. They did this because Marcus had Jewish heritage.

That gas-powered tricycle probably couldn’t tow quite as much as the 2021 Mercedes-AMG® GLE Coupe.