The Steam Car: The Little Car that Could

A modest proposal to revive the steam car as a commercially sold vehicle.

| January/February 1970

  • 19th century steam car.
    Photo by Getty Images/nicoolay
  • 001-060-01
    In the dawn of the automobile era, many cars function off of steam engines.
    Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

  • 001-060-01

This is a modest proposal. Some people will think it's anything but modest, but people scare easily these days.

Take a point: Our atmosphere smells like Hell. Any minute we may all choke to death. And that isn't a fantasy; it's a fact, attested to by sober scientists. Add a codicil; under no circumstances will Americans give up their cars and roads, and return to rail travel … and don't mention the sky, for good and sufficient reasons. They will not surrender their cars, ever; they'll die first. And so will the remaining pedestrians.

Take another point: the steam automobile. For 30 years, steam cars ran faster, more cheaply, and more safely than gas-fueled cars. And they did not emit poison fumes. Then, they vanished, for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with engineering, ecological good, or cost. They were outsold, by vast amounts of money poured into advertising, by good old American salesmanship, which always works hardest when selling an inferior product. The gas car won.

Throughout the last few years, repeated attempts have been made to revive steam cars as a commercially sold vehicle. Every such attempt has suddenly, and often rather mysteriously, stopped, just short of actual production. Now, with the current yells of pain from gassed citizens, you keep hearing of a steam car … next year, maybe. But, somehow, not today.

Lear, who made huge promises, invested millions in development, and was, according to publicity, ready to actually produce a steam car, suddenly, and with no good reason, stopped dead in his tracks. Again, I won't speculate about possible reasons; do your own paranoia trip.

Third point: groups and communes, popping up here and there, are looking for economically feasible ways to make it. Well, not all of us are farmers.

Herbert Seiffert
1/27/2011 6:04:02 AM

Check out the Doble steam car(1922). Jay Leno has one of the last ones. Last of the modern steam cars. I am using the doble steam car as an example to build my own, not the body just the workings. Double acting, Triple expansion, Uni-flow is the most efficient steam engine for the fuel you use. As far as a kit to convert, there is none. At least not any that are complete and reliable. Good luck. P.S. If you think I'm wrong, please post.

6/11/2010 5:49:59 PM

Why not run the steam engine on liquid air; much cheaper than gasoline. Force passenger compartment air, as heat source, through coil in liquid air and you get free air conditioning. Startup time is zero because the Dewer flasque(thermos bottle) maintains pressure as long as you have liquid air. A five horse power gasoline powered air pump would be the emergency source when you run out of liquid air out on the road. Up-side: no combustion, no toxic exhaust, free air conditioning, free heat (by running the aux gas air pump),plus all the benefits of a steam engine. Down-side: air conditioner would be way too cold, you would have to mix in outside air.

1/9/2010 1:07:38 AM

any one able to provide a web address for the pre assembled steam engines manufactured suitable for fitting into existing vechicles referred to in the article.There is a possibility of an an Australian company trying to revive a concept they deveolped in the 70's but never brought into commercial reality called the Pritchard steam car. There is also another Australian company making steam boilers and engines for remote bush power generation systems (and marine steam engines), called and or trackpull however, the most likely engine referred to in the article is likely to be a "Flash tube boiler principal which is a bit like an old fashioned wood chip water heater where the water is heated instantly through a copper tube coil. the trick being how small the heating souce can be to fit into a motor vechicle. any way any links would be appreciated. thanks Bob

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