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A Quick History

As early as 1335 the Italians were trying to develop self-powered machines (using wind power!). A little later,   Leonardo da Vinci designed a clockwork vehicle, unfortunately none of these made it past the drawing board. With the invention of the steam engine in early 1712 various vehicles using steam power were tried. 

Open car that looks more like a carriage.  There is a steering handle, like the tiller of a boat, rather than a wheel
The Cleveland Buggy

By 1801 a Cornishman called Richard Trevithic invented the first fully working steam-powered, self-propelling road vehicle, and called it the ' Puffing Devil'. However it only lasted a few days before it blew up!


Shows the large chain underneath and the suspension
Underneath an Early Car, The Sturmey Voiturette


How Were They Powered?

As well as steam, by the end of the 19th Century car designers had a choice of two more power types. The petrol-powered internal combustion engine and electricity (stored in large batteries). Petrol soon became the fuel of choice though, as it was much more convenient and available.


The Sturmey Voiturette, early petrol powered car .  It has a wicker seat and handlebars like a bicycle rather than a steering wheel.
The Sturmey Voiturette


What Were They Made From?

As with the cycle and boat, the main body of the early motor car was made from wood, making them particularly heavy and unsafe. By the end of the 19th Century cars were almost completely constructed from metal.


Metal and wood car with a steering wheel.  It looks more robust than earlier models.
Early Petrol Powered Car by Daimler Built 1899


Did You Know?

  • In the early days of the motor car, its top speed was limited to 4 mph in the country and only 2 mph in towns! To add to this inconvenience a man would have to warn people of this new invention by walking in front of it waving a red flag!
  • Even though petrol became the fuel of choice, steam powered cars proved they could reach very high speeds. In 1906 the fastest car in the world was a steam car , achieving a world record at the time of 127 mph!
  • Cars are often called auto-mobiles , this is taken from the Latin which means self-moving.
  • Before the car was invented, the main form of transport was the horse and carriage. Early cars stilll looked very much like a carriage, so they became known as horseless carriages. The first 3 letters of carriage is where the modern name for these vehicles comes from.