Archive for the ‘Old Cars’ Category

The First Car

Posted: January 12, 2012 in Old Cars

Several Italians recorded designs for wind driven vehicles. The first was Guido da Vigevano in 1335. It was a windmill type drive to gears and thus to wheels. Vaturio designed a similar vehicle which was also never built. Later Leonardo da Vinci designed a clockwork driven tricycle with tiller steering and a differential mechanism between the rear wheels.

A Catholic priest named Father Ferdinand Verbiest has been said to have built a steam powered vehicle for the Chinese Emperor Chien Lung in about 1678. There is no information about the vehicle, only the event. Since Thomas Newcomen didn’t build his first steam engine until 1712 we can guess that this was possibly a model vehicle powered by a mechanism like Hero’s steam engine, a spinning wheel with jets on the periphery. Newcomen’s engine had a cylinder and a piston and was the first of this kind, and it used steam as a condensing agent to form a vacuum and with an overhead walking beam, pull on a rod to lift water. It was an enormous thing and was strictly stationary. The steam was not under pressure, just an open boiler piped to the cylinder. It used the same vacuum principle that Thomas Savery had patented to lift water directly with the vacuum, which would have limited his pump to less than 32 feet of lift. Newcomen’s lift would have only been limited by the length of the rod and the strength of the valve at the bottom. Somehow Newcomen was not able to separate his invention from that of Savery and had to pay for Savery’s rights. In 1765 James Watt developed the first pressurized steam engine which proved to be much more efficient and compact that the Newcomen engine.

The first vehicle to move under its own power for which there is a record was designed by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot and constructed by M. Brezin in 1769. A replica of this vehicle is on display at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, in Paris. I believe that the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D. C. also has a large (half size ?) scale model. A second unit was built in 1770 which weighed 8000 pounds and had a top speed on 2 miles per hour and on the cobble stone streets of Paris this was probably as fast as anyone wanted to go it. The picture shows the first model on its first drive around Paris were it hit and knocked down a stone wall. It also had a tendency to tip over frontward unless it was counterweighted with a canon in the rear. the purpose of the vehicle was to haul canons around town.

The early steam powered vehicles were so heavy that they were only practical on a perfectly flat surface as strong as iron. A road thus made out of iron rails became the norm for the next hundred and twenty five years. The vehicles got bigger and heavier and more powerful and as such they were eventually capable of pulling a train of many cars filled with freight and passengers.