Before this morning if you were to ask me what century or even decade we saw the first motor car I would have guessed at the 1910s – I would have been very wrong. Indeed, I have come to find that motor cars running on steam have been around for over 240 years, with Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot widely credited for the first auto-motive vehicle, a steam powered tricycle in 1769. However, the reason for my confusion may have been Karl Benz’s gasoline invention in 1885, which is credited as being the first vehicle with a gasoline engine by many and often seen as the beginning of modern automobiles.
So why do I suddenly have all this knowledge about the origins of auto-mobiles? Well, because the oldest working car in the world was sold late last week to an exciting and cheering crowd by RM Auctions in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The 1884 De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos was invented by Frenchmen George Bouton and Charles Armand Trepardoux for the wealthy entrepreneur Count De Dion.
The car has only had 4 owners in its lifetime, remaining part of the same family for 81 years; it didn’t actually work for 73 years from 1914 to 1987when ownership passed to a member of the British Veteran Car Club, who once again restored it to full working order competing in several competitions.
This steam powered machine is testament to how far we have come in terms of technology. In the style of a cart, which we usually pulled by horses at the time of invention – this open top car really does still work having completed 4 recent London to Brighton trips. It looks like the ‘missing link’ in the evolution of the automobile, mixing modern technological concepts and 19 century styling.
A participant in the first ever motor race today’s Formula 1 cars corner twice as fast as its top speed of 37 mph on the straights, however you could buy more than 10 used F1 cars for the price of this veteran – which went for $4.62 million! It also takes 45 minutes to start up, needing time to generate enough steam using wood, coal and paper as its fuel.
The huge price could be down to the prestige and rare nature of ‘La Marquise’ as it was nicknamed after the entrepreneur’s mother, with only 20 thought to have been made and only 6 are known to still be in existence.
Martin Wright is a writer who loves history and cars, so writing this article was a real pleasure. He also writes for various used cars sellers which helps them with their car sales