|The First Car and then Some More|
So many of us drive cars today, and we take the whole experience of driving for granted. Sure, our grandfathers might not have had cars – and even that doesn’t hold true for a lot of people – but our fathers did, and now we do, and those who come after us? They won’t just drive cars; they’ll be flying across the skylines of the cities of the world in their Ford or Toyota or Chevy Hovercrafts. But driving hasn’t always been around, you know. There was a time when automobiles didn’t exist, except in the imagination of a few whom we now might consider visionaries, but who, back in their days, were seen as madmen on flights of fancy. Any guesses as to how far back the drive for driving goes? It goes back, way back to a time when America, as we know it today, did not exist – the year 1335. In that year, a man named Guido da Vigevano came up with the design of a wind-driven ‘chariot’. It was something like a windmill with the drive attached to gears and the gears, in turn, to the wheels. A man named Vaturio also came up with something similar bit it never got built. Much later, the famous artist and sculptor Leonardo da Vinci came up with a brilliant design which can only be described as a tricycle that had to be mechanically driven and steered by tiller, with a differential mechanism placed in between the two rear wheels.
It is said often that the first functional ‘car’ was built in the year 1678 by a Catholic priest, Father Ferdinand Verbiest. Legend has it, that he built a steam powered vehicle for Chien Lung, the Emperor of China at that time. However, this has never been confirmed. In fact, it seems doubtful as to whether this vehicle was anything more than a working model, owing to the fact that the first steam engine (by Thomas Newcomen) was built only in the year 1712. Regarding Thomas Newcomen’s brilliant invention, it was an engine with a piston and a cylinder. Something like it had never been seen before. The engine employed steam in the form of a condensing agent in order to create a vacuum, following which,, with a walking beam overhead, one could lift water by pulling on an attached rod. Let along portable, the gigantic new steam engine was not even under any pressure, but it was merely a boiler that was open and had been attached to the cylinder through pipes. But everything changed in the year 1765. A man named Jamed Watt came up with the first ever steam engine that was pressurized. It turned out to be extremely efficient and more importantly, it was way more compact than the erstwhile Newcomen steam engine.
A lot of people had attempted to create something like an internal combustion engine, but that wasn’t possible until they found some fuel that could internally combust. In an early attempt, gunpowder was considered and tried, but unfortunately, it was a no-go. The very first gas was generated when coal was heated under pressure in a boiler. The very first gar-powered engine that was small enough to fit in a smaller vehicle was built by Etienne Lenoir in 1860. Two years later, he drove the first car ever from Paris till Joinville. The engine stats were pretty cool for that time – turning at 100 rpm, it was a big and clunky one-half HP engine with a 5-inch bore plus a stroke of 24 inches.
It is interesting to note that Etienne Lenoir had a separate mechanism for compressing the gas prior to combustion. In the year Lenoir rode the first car between Paris and Joinville, a man named Alphonse Bear de Rochas realized that he’d found a way by which the gas could be compressed in the very same cylinder in which is was supposed to burn. This method – still used today – which involves getting the gas into the cylinder, compressing and combusting the mixture that is compressed and finally releasing it from an exhaust is referred to as the ‘four cycle’ engine or the ‘Otto cycle’.