Motorcars & Automobiles  |  Discussion forums Glossary of motoring terms


Motorcar is a wheeled vehicle that carries its own motor. A motorcar has seats for the driver and, almost without exception, one or more passengers. It is the main source of transportation across the planet. As of 2005 there are 600 million cars worldwide.

The modern automobile powered by the Otto gasoline engine was invented in Germany by Karl Benz. Even though Karl Benz is credited with the invention of the modern automobile, several other German engineers worked on building the first automobile at the same time. These inventors are: Karl Benz on July 3, 1886 in Mannheim, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart and in 1888/89 German-Austrian inventor Siegfried Marcus in Vienna, although Marcus didn't go beyond the prototype stage.

Steam-powered self-propelled cars were devised in the late 18th century. The first self-propelled car was built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769, it could attain speeds of up to 6 km/h (3.7 mi/h). In 1771 he designed another steam-driven car, which ran so fast that it rammed into a wall, producing the world’s first car accident.

In 1806 Fransois Isaac de Rivaz, a Swiss, designed the first internal combustion engine. He subsequently used it to develop the world’s first vehicle to run on such an engine, one that used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to generate energy. It was not very successful, as was the case with the British inventor, Brown, and the American inventor, Morey, who produced clumsy IC-engine-powered vehicles about 1826.

Etienne Lenoir produced the first successful internal-combustion engine in 1860, and within a few years, about 400 were in operation in Paris. In about 1863, Lenoir installed his engine in a vehicle. It was powered by city lighting-gas in bottles, and was said to have traveled slowly, with frequent breakdowns. Lenoir, in his patent, included the provision of a carburetor, so liquid fuel could be substituted for gas, particularly for vehicles.

Lenoir is said to have tested liquid fuel, such as alcohol, in his stationary engines; but it doesn't appear he used them in his vehicle. If he did, he most certainly didn't use gasoline, as this was not well-known and was considered a waste product.

The next innovation came in late 1860s, with Siegfried Marcus, a German working in Austria. He developed the idea of using gasoline as a fuel in a two-stroke internal-combustion engine. In 1870, he built a crude vehicle, with no steering or brakes, but it was spectacular for one reason: it was the world's first internal-combustion-engine powered vehicle fueled by gasoline. It was tested in Vienna in September of 1870. In 1888/1889, he built a second car, this one with seats, brakes and steering, and a four-stroke engine of his own design.

The four-stroke engine had already been written down and patented in 1862 by the Frenchman Beau de Rochas in a long-winded and rambling pamphlet. He printed about 300 copies of his pamphlet and they were distributed in Paris, but nothing came of this, with the patent expiring soon after and the pamphlet disappearing into total obscurity. Beau de Rochas never built a single engine.

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