Over A Century Older Than The Petrol Car!


| November/December 1993



Steam-car

Reprinted with permission from A Century of Motoring. Submitted by Michael Prendergast, Reanacoolagh, Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland.

Preserved in Paris is one of the two steam 'tractors' built between 1769 and 1771 by a retired French military engineer from Lorraine, Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, who had served in the armies of both Austria and France. Cugnot's wagons, believed by the authorities to have potential military significance, were the world's first self-propelled vehicles, but were abysmally defective in motive power, in steering and in control, simply because their constructor's ideas were decades ahead of locomotion technology then available. Note the massive boiler overhanging the front wheel and feeding a crude twin cylinder engine.

Not for another 60 years were Cugnot's ideas resurrected by steam pioneers mainly in Britiain, but to a smaller extent in America where steam-car designs were known by March 1833but success did not come until it was learned how to harness high-pressure steam.

It was the Scottish engineer and scientist, James Watt, F.R.S. (1736-1819), whose epoch-making innovations in steam technology led to the development of all subsequent steam engines. With Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), Watt constructed his first experimental engine in 1774, or about three years after the last Cugnot effort.