Early Cars - Forerunners of the Modern Automobile




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    Early Cars

    The following pages will show us how early cars were built. In this history of cars , we'll find out that experiments in Europe and in the United States were gaining ground. Building on the work of earlier scientists and engineers, French engineer Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir completed a workable internal-combustion engine in 1860. This one-cylinder engine ran on coal gas ignited by an electric spark. The Lenoir engine was designed as a stationary power plant for factories but a small model was used experimentally in 1863 to power a road vehicle.




Etienne Lenoir Automobile




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    About 1865 and Austrian inventor, Siegfried Marcus, built and road tested a simple four-wheeled vehicle with an internal combustion engine that used liquid fuel. Ten years later he produced a second liquid-fueled vehicle which ran successfully and is now preserved in a museum in Vienna as forerunners of the modern automobile - early cars in their infancy.


    Nikolaus A. Otto, a German inventor, built the most direct ancestor of today's automobile engine in 1876. Otto's engine used the four-stroke principle of operation - intake, compression, power, and exhaust. Car engines today operate on this principle. Otto's engine originally operated on coal gas but was soon adapted for use with other fuels. Otto's engine provided a compact yet powerful engine, much different from the cumbersome, noisy and clunky engines a few decades back. These early cars were important to the developments that would come later.

    Gottlieb Daimler and another German, Karl Benz, are usually credited with being the earliest builders of successful automobiles that used internal combustion engines. Each produced a motor car in 1886 and they are now classic automobiles that command very high prices for classic car collectors. Daimler produced light, reliable, medium-speed gas engine. The design formed the basis for the modern car engine.Benz concentrated on the idea of a vehicle fitted with a gasoline motor which combined with body, chassis (frame and wheels), and other parts into an efficient unit. The pair produced excellent early cars.

    In the early 1890's, a French engineer, Emile Levassor, produced a chassis to fit Daimler's engine. The resulting vehicle, called the Panhard-Levassor, is regarded by many automobile historians as the first real forerunner of the modern automobile. It was the first motor vehicle in which the frame was made separately from the body and suspended from the axles by springs. It also was the first to have the engine in front and the now-standard clutch-and-gear transmission. These early cars are really good collectibles very so very few exist today.




Siegfried Marcus Car




Nikolaus A. Otto




Siegfried Marcus petrol motor car 1875




Gottlieb Daimler




1886 Daimler Automobile




Karl Benz Velo model 1894




Panhard Levassor 4HP-1897






    Between 1890 and 1930, the concept of the automobile emerged and resulted in competing types of automobiles powered by electricity (batteries), gasoline, and steam. The electric car was superior to the steamer or the gasoline car because it ran quietly and smoothly, without the vibration and smelly fumes of its rivals. It did not require a complicated set of gears or clutches to transmit the power to the wheels or to run in reverse. But they are good to only 20 to 40 miles. After that, the batteries run down. And the low speed (12 miles per hour) did not appeal to prospective buyers.


    Steam-driven cars were even more popular than electrics in the late 1890's and early 1900's. There were more than 100 different makes of American steamers during those times. Steamers offered more power than electrics, quiet operation, and smooth performance. But their drawbacks were serious. It took a long time to build up steam and and procedures were complicated. Also, owners were afraid that the boiler might explode.

    The best remembered of the steamers are the Stanley Steamers, made by twins Francis and Freelan Stanley. They even set a land speed record in 1906 of 127.6 miles (205.9 kilometers) per hour at Ormond Beach, Florida. The last steamers were built in the mid-1930's. You can still find these early cars in car museums.


    The internal-combustion engine is much more complicated than either the steam engine or the electric motor. But its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. Although it has more moving parts, it could produce more power in relation to its weight than the other engines.


1895 American LaFrance Steamer




Francis Stanley




Stanley Steamer







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