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With the near release of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, both 100% electric driven automobiles, I thought that it would be appropriate to reflect on the history and technology of the automobile.  Actually, the Volt also has an internal combustion engine on board, but that engine runs a generator, so both of these cars are exclusively driven by electric motors.

The engine to generator concept is not at all new, as practically all big Diesel locomotives are driven that way.  There are significant advantages in using electric motors to propel vehicles, even if they are powered by on board generators.  We shall get to that in future.

This is the first part of a several (yet to be determined) part series.  This overview will look at the history of the automobile, the evolution of the car from very primitive beginnings to what we now have, and some speculation as to what the future holds.  Future installments will go into some detail about the different major systems in cars, how they originated, how they work, and how they have changed over the years in a more Geeky fashion than this overview.  Next time we shall discuss engines (or, for electric cars, motors).

Most authorities agree that the automobile originated in the 1880s in Germany, and also that Karl Benz designed and built the first commercially successful automobile in 1885, using a four stroke internal combustion engine.  However, others had demonstrated automobiles (as differentiated from locomotives, which run strictly on rails) as early as 1801 when the first steam powered road vehicle was demonstrated.  Also, in 1881 usable electric car was demonstrated in France, thus making the electric car older than the internal combustion engine one.

As a matter of fact, electric cars were very common around the turn of the 20th century, because they were simpler and more reliable than internal combustion ones.  However, internal combustion engines and other power train components improved significantly in the late 1910s so that electric cars were little produced after 1920.  The biggest problem at the time for electric automobiles was their limited range because of physical limitations of the battery packs.  In 2010, the biggest problem for electric automobiles is their limited range because of the physical limitations of the battery packs.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  In the 1900s, there were limited recharging stations even in large towns and none in rural areas.  This problem remains to this day, except rural areas have electricity.

Without getting too deep into Geeky detail that will come next week, it takes an overnight charge for the Leaf or the Volt to travel around 40 to 50 miles.  The Leaf claims to have a 100 mile range and requires 20 hours at 120 volts or 8 hours at 240 volts to recharge it.  Commercial "fast charge" filling stations require 30 minutes, but with damage to the battery pack, which weighs 660 pounds.  The Volt has a 375 pound battery pack and no fast charge option and is claimed to have a 40 mile range.  However, at that time the engine starts and runs the generator, both recharging the battery and powering the motor at the same time until the batteries are up to the designated charge state.  The difference is that with the Leaf, once you run down the batteries, you are stopped (for a minimum of 30 minutes if you happen to make it to a high voltage charging station), where with a Volt the engine starts and you keep going.

The first models of what are pretty much considered to be cars were three wheeled affairs, then Benz decided to add a second wheel in the front and that became practically universal.  A three wheeled automobile is technically much simpler to build, but the instability required the second from wheel.  The exact same thing happened a hundred years later when all terrain vehicles (ATVs) were introduced.  They were first three wheeled, but safety regulations soon required the forth one.

Early cars were often steered with a tillar on the single front wheel rather than a steering wheel, and some early four wheeled ones were steered that way as well.  The steering wheel was developed in the 1900s and soon became the standard method.  One reason is that a tillar is direct coupled to the wheels, so half a turn was all the travel that it had, requiring significant strength to operate and producing huge changes in direction for just a small movement.  Steering wheels can be geared to the wheels, so less effort is required and smoother steering results.

From the very first, automobiles were designed to run from diverse power sources (but only one source in a given vehicle).  Steam, gasoline, alcohol, Diesel fuel, and battery power have all been used.  In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, all of these methods were being built.  As a matter of fact, the Stanley Steamer had better take off power than most other designs, but required that coal or wood be put in the firebox from time to time, making it inconvenient to say the least.  Liquid fuels in internal combustion engines became the fuels of choice for a plethora of reasons.

First, liquid fuels are extremely energy dense, so a reasonable amount will carry you a long way.  For example, in my 1998 Windstar with a 20 gallon fill up, I can go over four hundred miles.  20 gallons of gasoline weighs about 125 pounds, much less than the battery packs on either the Volt or the Leaf.  Second, liquid fuels are actually quite cheap (I wrote an installment wherein I showed that, adjusted for inflation, the cost of gasoline is quite comparable to that in 1964).  Third, they are easy to handle, easy to transport, easy to dispense, and easy to meter into the intake ports of an engine.  Forth, the infrastructure for manufacturing and distributing liquid fuels was easier to develop than others.

Petroleum won out over alcohol because it was at the time (and is still, by many accounts) cheaper to produce than alcohol.  It offers another couple of advantages as well.  Both gasoline and Diesel fuel are more energy dense than alcohol for one, and does not soak water from the atmosphere like alcohol does.  As a matter of fact, vehicles designed to run on E85 (85% alcohol, 15% gasoline) are specially designed to avoid the corrosive effects of alcohol to fuel systems.  Alcohol, however, does have excellent anti-knock properties, and we shall discuss that more next time.

The shape of automobiles has changed dramatically since invention.  The first ones were based on the horse drawn carriage, hence the name horseless carriage, through high center of gravity cars, then streamlined, and now to the low center of gravity, highly aerodynamic vehicles of today.  As the center of gravity got closer to the road, stability increased.  I know from personal experience that the Model "T" Ford was extremely easy to turn over (I never did turn it over, but I came close several times).  I guess I should admit that it was a 1919 Model "T" Ford on which I learnt to drive.  No, I am not that old, but my father and I restored one when I was little and he taught me to drive it when I was 13.

Other then the recent changes in power sources, the most significant change in the automobile is safety.  Mercedes-Benz has long been an innovator in this area, pioneering the crush zone construction that reduces driver and passenger impact energy during a collision.  Seat belts were a big innovation (remember when they were called safety belts?), followed by the shoulder belt.  I maintain that is absolutely nuts to operate a vehicle without wearing belts.  About the same time of seat belts came the padded dashboard, reducing injury from impact with it.  Until then, most dashboards were metal and/or wood.  Next came air bags (that do not use air at all) in the front, and now side curtain air bags.  By the way, it is an urban myth that the convertible went out of production in the United States because of rollover regulations.  This is not true, although the expense of building convertibles that would meet the standards was pretty high.  With better technology, convertibles are back.

Materials of construction have evolved tremendously over the years, from the wooden, steel, and cast iron ones early on to fiberglass bodies of Corvettes, to aluminum engine blocks, to the substitution of lots of plastic for previously metal parts.  Most of these changes have been for the better, but some of the early plastic substitutions were inferior to the metal pieces that they replaced.  With better resins, this problem is largely solved and modern polymers are in many cases much better than the metal ones that they replaced.

Whilst I am not a futurist, here is where I see the automobile headed for the near term.  First, the trends will be towards smaller, more efficient cars because of costs involved in driving them.  More hybrids and electric cars will be produced, but battery technology is still not where it needs to be.  The lithium used in batteries is also a problem, since that is not a lot of lithium.  Fortunately, it can be recycled.  The total electric car will not be feasible until power packs (I hesitate to use the word battery, since batteries might not be the answer) are developed.  Less and less steel will be used, being replaced with lighter materials even if they cost more.  The internal combustion engine will be used for a long time to come, but I suspect it will be more like the Volt, being used to drive a generator.

I am not sure that we will ever do away with the automobile completely (and I include SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans in this category) simply because they fulfill a purpose not available with mass transit, especially in a nation as spread apart as the United States.  However, I do see a day when alternatives are better than they are now.  Not having cars is not withing the realm of reality in our lifetimes, and probably not even in that of our grandchildren (I do not have any, yet).  Nor do I see the day of the George Jetson flying car for many a day to come.  We have enough trouble driving in three dimensions (counting time, since timing is critical to safe driving), let alone four.  We have enough trouble looking front, rear, right, and left and adding up and down would overwhelm even the best of drivers if the number of cars on the road were now in the air.

Well, you have done it again.  You have wasted another perfectly good set of photons reading this low horsepower excuse for a post.  And even though Mike Huckabee will have Tommy Chong on his extremely right wing Fox "News" Channel show and treat him with respect after he reads this, I always learn much more than I could ever pretend to teach writing this series.  WOW!  Huck must have read my mind, because he did just have Chong on his show and treated him with respect.  Good one Huckabee for that!  Thus, please keep comments, tips, recommendations, questions, and corrections coming.  Remember, no science or technology subject is off topic here.

I will hang around for Comment Time until comments dry up, and shall return tomorrow around Rachel for Review Time if you miss commenting tonight.  Thanks for your input.

Warmest regards,


Crossposted at and at  

Originally posted to Translator on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 06:00 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good to see this post Doc, (13+ / 0-)

    I'm tired of arguing with the factually challenged in other threads.
    I once worked in an open pit copper mine driving huge dump trucks. Their tires were 12 feet in diameter and they held many tons of low-grade ore. They were diesel electric also. A surprisingly small diesel engine ran a generator with electric motors in all four wheels. They were very easy to drive, the transmission had F, R, and N.
    Now tell us about your Camaro.

    •  Thanks for the (10+ / 0-)


      The combination of an engine running a generator that in turn runs an electric motor really works well.  The primary reason is that the motor(s) can be revved as desired and the drive train is much simpler.  Actually, a transmission as we think of one is not even needed, just the amount of current to the motor has to be controlled.  In the example that you mentioned, I think that rather than transmission, you actually were operating a direction selector.

      As for the Camaro, 1967 was the first year.  Mine is half disassembled for restoration (the engine and transmission are fine), with the interior removed, all of the glass out (every piece of glass in that car is original except for the driver's side outside mirror).

      This particular one was white with a black vinyl roof, red interior, 327 cubic inch displacement engine (four bolt mains) old style with the canister type oil filter, Powerglide two speed automatic transmission, Turbofire rated at 210 HP.  Not a high performance model my any means, but I have has this car since 1974, so I am very fond of her.

      Warmest regards,


      •  By the way, I have the (9+ / 0-)

        original owner's manual with the name of the girl (at the time) who purchased it, in its original jacket.  You almost NEVER find that with a car that is 43 years old.

        Warmest regards,


      •  series hybrid trucks, 1910s and a century later. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem, Azazello

        The Hvass corporation in New York manufactured diesel/electric hybrid trucks early in the 20th century.  These were commonly used as tractors pulling trailers.  A number of them were used by the Department of Street Cleaning, City of New York (predecessor to DSNY), for refuse collection.  They pulled trailers having two decks of containers, the bottom deck for food waste, the top deck for dry rubbish.  

        DSNY has actually been at the forefront of experimenting with different types of truck technology over the years.  They tried electric trucks in the 1930s, but phased them out when automatic loading systems became necessary.  At present they are running two hybrid trucks on evaluation, as 31 cubic yard refuse collectors with standard compactor bodies.  Success in the experimental phase will lead to standardization, and with a fleet of over 2,000 such vehicles in service, will lead to them becoming a standard product of US truck manufacturers for urban delivery & refuse collection applications.  

        The great advantage of hybrid power in that application is that it is constant stop-start driving with frequent use of auxiliary equipment (the compactor), which is the ideal case for hybrid power.  In a machine of this type, the duty cycle is such that the diesel engine can store power either in batteries, in compressed air, or in the hydraulic system.  The advantage of compressed air is that there is no decline in performance over the lifetime of the machine, compared to battery packs that have to be replaced.  

        Compressed air hybrid power systems are also starting to appear in hydraulic excavators.  The typical application is a "third cylinder" under the main boom.  This performs the simple task of compensating for the weight of the entire boom, reducing the power needed to lift the boom during each digging cycle.  It's nothing more than a cylinder containing a fixed volume of air.  It needs no external connections: no plumbing, no external compressor, nothing else.  

        The weight of the boom itself provides the force to compress the air as it is lowered to dig.  The whole idea is so simple and straightforward that it's amazing it hasn't been done until now.  The only technical issue that had to be dealt with, was the materials engineering needed to ensure the long life of the components of the compressed air cylinder.  

        Hybrid diesel/electric power is also being applied to hydraulic excavators in general, and most major manufacturers are doing it for at least one product in their line.  Liebherr, Hitachi, and Caterpillar come to mind.  Cat also has a hybrid powertrain dozer, first of its kind in the world.  

    •  I saw an amazing program ... (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, Translator, JeffW, Lujane, allep10, Azazello

      on the discovery channel... they were building one of those monsters.  Among the many amazing facts that stuck:

      1. the whhel size was determined by the maximum size they could transport by road without the process being difficult or costing more $$.
      1. breaking was achieved by using the momentum to drive a generator and the excess energy blown off as heat.

      Amazing things :)

  •  I'm partial to a Mini (7+ / 0-)

    with big headlamps :)

    Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

    •  Those are really pretty good cars. (5+ / 0-)

      Speaking of headlamps, that will be one of the subtopics as we develop the evolution of the automobile.  Many cars before the early 1920s used acetylene headlamps and had a carbide acetylene generator on the running board.

      Warmest regards,


      •  I love mine. It's fun to drive and good on gas. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, allep10, yesdevkmem, Azazello

        It's very quick too and corners like a dream

        •  Do you know (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          palantir, allep10, yesdevkmem, Azazello

          what the wheelbase and right to left distance is?  That ratio is important for handling.  It also seems that the Mini has a pretty low center of gravity, which also helps handling.

          Warmest regards,


        •  My wife drives a '96 Geo Metro. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Translator, palantir, allep10, yesdevkmem

          Many car enthusiasts laugh at this vehicle. I like to point out that it is superior to the original Austin Mini-Cooper in every way. That car tore up the European rally circuit for a while. The Metro has more displacement, 1000cc, and fuel injection.

          •  I had a Metro (6+ / 0-)

            and drove it for a long, long time.  Three cylinders, automatic transmission, robin egg blue, and except for safety in crashes, a wonder car.  I do not remember the year model, it was the only car that I ever bought new, and it ran for just about 250,000 miles until it just gave up the ghost.  The 12 inch tires were cheap to replace, too.  We got it when our kids were little, and had to go to the Windstar when arms and legs from the kids started to stick out from the windows due to low interior space.

            The former Mrs. Translator actually rigged a jig on it to carry a 32' extension ladder from Lowe's so we could restain our very tall house.  The Lowe's folks make me sign a disclaimer holding them harmless if anything happened, but we got home with the ladder in good shape.  That car would go anywhere!

            Warmest regards,


          •  and 50 - 60 mpg. (5+ / 0-)

            The Geo Metro is a legend among efficiency enthusiasts.  

            I rented one years ago for a day, and did a measured fuel consumption test while on my rounds to a distant client's site (approximately Oakland to Davis and back).   65 miles per gallon at 65 miles per hour on the freeway (largely flat and steady driving) with the air conditioning on.

            My tribe has a "fleet" of Metros (three = a fleet:-), and typically gets 50 or better mpg. on runs from the land to the nearest large town (over 50 miles each way).  

            The problem of course is that these cars are now getting old enough that they require fairly constant mechanical attention.  The way my folks deal with it is with redundancy:  enough spare vehicles in the group that there's always at least one (usually two) Geos running.  (We also have a couple of equally-old Subaru 4WD wagons for carrying larger loads, and an ancient Chevy Suburban from back when they were more truck-like, that is being converted to diesel, and can haul building materials.)  

            BTW, you could write some excellent diaries about your days working in the mine.  Diaries about peoples' working lives are always of major interest around here, particularly jobs that involve "physical stuff" such as farming, manufacturing, construction, etc.  A few years ago there was a guy here who was an elevator repair tech, and his work stories were popular.   I'd bet your stuff would reach a decent audience.  

            For anyone who doesn't know what a quarry truck (mining dump truck) looks like, check this out:


            •  To tell the truth, (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek, Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

              I didn't work there very long. That job scared me into college. I did menage to work in every section of the mine and learn the entire copper production process. Sometimes I think I should have majored in mining instead of philosophy.

              On the Metros, Suzukis actually, here's what we did. In Japan, when car owners take their cars in for a 50k mile check-up, they change out the engines as a matter of course. There's a company called "American Engines" that buys these >50k engines and imports them. They're a chain, based in Texas if I'm not mistaken. Check 'em out. They guarantee their engines to have less than 50k miles and will do the installation.

            •  Calamity Jean had a Chevy Sprint... (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek, Translator, yesdevkmem, Azazello

              ...which was the percursor to the Geo Metro. My father-in-law bought it from her after the engine needed a hard-to-find part (which he found) with the intention of converting it to steam! He's a member of the Steam Automobile Club of America (SACA), and told me that gas engines with multiples of three cylinders make good candidates for conversion, as they are self-starting, and the Sprint had the minimum three cylinders. He had been working on a valve-phase changing setup to improve operation over a wide range of speeds, but I guess the project was more than he wanted to take on at that point in his life. He drove the Sprint for several years before selling it, but Calamity Jean was a little disappointed that he didn't attempt the conversion.

              Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

              by JeffW on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 09:47:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  MGB-GT XL-Trunk edition FTW! (6+ / 0-)

      The XL trunk model was the one with the large trunk so you could carry the mechanic around with you 24/7 :)

    •  I wanna see it with the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "high beams" going like Hell!


      Celtic Merlin

      Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

      by Celtic Merlin on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 10:54:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Stanley steamers ran on liquid fuel (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timaeus, G2geek, Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

    not "coal or wood". They could use a variety of fuels, from kerosene to home heating oil. Being less volatile than gasoline (which was rare in those days), it had to be heated before it could burn. Once running, its own fire warmed the fuel, but starting a Stanley involved removing a section of fuel line, heating it on the kitchen stove and bolting it back into place before it cooled off.

    Much more convenient, efficient and elegant were the steam cars made by the Doble Brothers. Great engineers but less-than-great entrepreneurs, they couldn't stop improving the design long enough to produce a profitable production model, and they were plagued by bad luck (like opening their factory just in time for the Great War (later known as WWI) to make materials unobtainable.

    Dobles started by turning a key, went from dead cold to full power in 90 seconds, and (like all steamers) never stalled; they could run at zero RPM (forward or backward) if your brakes failed on a hill.

    I dream of winning the lottery, or at least getting the chance to drive one.

  •  I Drive A Car (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, 1864 House, yesdevkmem

    that can do 150 MPH. Four door. It gets 28 MPG. We can do better. A lot better.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 06:46:58 PM PDT

    •  Yes. We. Can. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, webranding, yesdevkmem

      What kind of car is it?  By the way, Tesla motors has all electrics that are much superior to the Volt or the Leaf, but that is for a future post.

      Warmest regards,


      •  VW. An Early Passat. n/t (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, yesdevkmem

        "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

        by webranding on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 06:50:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Tesla Toys (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        webranding, Translator, yesdevkmem

        We may argue about this, but the Tesla Roadster can hardly be called a car.  Its a sports toy that sells for $100k plus (cost is significantly more).  The real "car" models of Tesla are not off the drawing boards (so to speak) yet and Tesla is burning through everybody's cash with grand promises which will be very difficult to achieve from an engineering standpoint.  Those of in the auto biz are very excited about the next generation electrics and PHEV's, but the excitement is tempered with a dose of physics.

        •  I agree. But I think that you (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BTower, yesdevkmem

          will agree that with current power packs, the total electric car is not very practical.

          Warmest regards,


          •  I think the Leaf is a great Idea (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            G2geek, Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

            Nissan took a different approach than GM.  Part of it is due to timing.  Nissan started the "Leaf" Program as a "City" car, with less range than they are shooting for now. But with the current excitement about electrics globally they are betting the market will tolerate the range practically limited at 100 miles.  That being said, if I only drove the Volt to work and home and around town I'd probably never have to buy gas.  Even driving about 24k miles a year.

            •  I like the concept of the (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              BTower, yesdevkmem, Azazello

              Volt better, and GM did some research and determined that over 75% of the workforce has less than a 40 mile commute.

              However, the $41,000 cost is sort of a bummer.  Even after the $7,500 tax credit, $33,500 is a lot for a car, at least to me.

              The environmental advantages vary depending on the region.  Where I live, almost all of the electricity is coal fired, it may be just a dirty as a conventional car.

              Warmest regards,


              •  Ah yes. The total emissions equation. (5+ / 0-)

                I've started to look into that in a some detail.  Its not as easy as a straight kwh consumed to gallon. One significant factor will be the time and style of charging.
                In the near future, nighttime charging in most cases will not require additional electrical production, (until some critical mass of EV's and PHEV's are out there).  The volt will ship with a controllable charger, you can enter the time you need to vehicle and it will time the charge to minimize loads.  Then on the near horizon will be "Smart Grid" chargers, which will be able to take advantage of momentary lulls in electrical demand, taking advantage of produced power which otherwise would have been lost as heat.

                Like I said, Things are getting interesting.

              •  Early-adopter prices are always higher. (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                BTower, Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

                When the Volt becomes popular, the price will come down to around the $30,000 level or better, making it affordable to a much larger segment of the public.  

                Even where electricity is produced by coal, electric vehicles are still much cleaner than gasoline vehicles, because the efficiencies of scale and the carbon outputs are much better for power plants than for individual vehicle engines.  

                We still have an obligation to replace coal with climate-clean power, but switching the vehicle fleet to PHEVs is a viable step on its own merits.  

          •  the key problem with batteries... (5+ / 0-)

            ... is that over time their capacity declines, and it becomes difficult to estimate how that change affects their range.

            This produces the risk that toward the end of the life of the battery pack, the state-of-charge indicators may not be entirely accurate, or the rate of discharge might increase unexpectedly, leading to the possibility of getting stranded.

            The antidote for that, at least for individual vehicles in the near future, is to always include a combustion engine of sufficient capacity as to be able to move the vehicle even if only at slower speeds.  PHEVs such as the Chevy Volt, that can operate at full speed while charging the batteries, will probably go mainstream over the next couple of decades.

            •  GM has basically derated (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek, Translator, yesdevkmem

              the battery pack by 50%, off hand I don't remember the #'s but I think the batteries can actually produce 16kwh but the system only uses 8 before declaring the battery fully discharged.  They went with this strategy even though it adds considerable weight to prolong the life expectancy of the batteries by preventing the full discharge/charge cycle.  

              •  Ford also applied conservative specs to... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                ... the battery packs in the Transit Connect minivans that will be available as all-electrics next year.   Claimed 80 mile range, including San Francisco hills.  More likely, 100 mile range in actual use.  Apparently UPS is going to start using these.  I expect they'll become huge in the small biz & urban delivery sector.  

                I got the gas version because my previous minivan died and I didn't have time to wait for the electric.  I also need @ 150 mile range for occasional emergencies where I have to go from Oakland to a client's site and then to a distribution warehouse and back to the site again.  My normal driving is about 6,000 miles per year which would seem ideal for electric, except for the emergency cases, where there isn't time to rent a vehicle to cover the distance.  

                •  and i should mention.... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  One of my old clients just reactivated their account, and they are 50 miles away, so 100 miles round trip, freeway driving.  

                  After the break-in period, I can start using the cruise control, which means being able to set it for 50 miles per hour on the freeway (and staying in the right lane!)  ("No officer, I don't smoke that stuff, I was driving slowly for fuel efficiency...").  

                  Keeping in mind the old Dodge Caravan, rated at 19/22, got 39.5 on the freeway at 50 mph.   The Ford TC is rated at 22/25, so I think I can reasonably expect 40 mpg on the freeway at 50 mph.  We shall see.

                  Slow it down, save it up!

                  •  My old 1998 Windstar (0+ / 0-)

                    gets really good mileage on the highway.  At 75 MPH, unless I have a strong headwind, I still get over 26.  No doubt that it would be better at 50 MPH, but to travel back to Arkansas at 50 would turn a 10 hours trip into a 15 hours one, and I am beat enough after 10 hours.

                    Warmest regards,


        •  P.S. Great Post (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek, webranding, Translator, yesdevkmem

          I like the history.  I think you forgot what is probably the most important safety innovation, the collapsible steering column.  Not having the steering column go through the chest was a pretty big improvement.

        •  I'd Love Me A Tesla (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BTower, Translator, yesdevkmem

          but as you say they are a toy. My dad likes to joke a car is a tool. You need it to get from point A to B. He says that as a due with two mint condition '57 Thunderbirds.

          "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

          by webranding on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 07:04:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  no, the entire point of the Tesla... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Translator, yesdevkmem

          ... was to destroy the myth that electric cars were enclosed golf carts.

          This it did so completely that people today barely remember the old myth.  The post-Tesla idea of "electric car" is fast and silent.  

          BTW, I spoke with one of the core team at Tesla about a year before they released the vehicle to the public.   I speculated about a 4-seater with a 100-mile range, and he said something along the lines of "nope, we're going to blow the entire myth out of the water."  

  •  A Mid 20th Century Automotive Darwin Award Winner (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, JeffW, Leo in NJ, yesdevkmem

    Just saw one of these vessels vehicles being trailed across town a couple weeks ago.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 06:49:22 PM PDT

  •  You had me at 1967 Camaro (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, Translator, yesdevkmem

    Doc, all I can say is it's a good thing that car is disassembled and I am several states away.

    They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. - Andy Warhol

    by 1864 House on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 07:14:22 PM PDT

  •  I used to have a Plymouth Neon hybrid. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem, Azazello

    Half the time it ran on gasoline.
    The other half of the time I pushed it.

    Less Rand Paul, More Les Paul.

    by jazzmaniac on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 07:49:26 PM PDT

    •  I had the unfortunate experience (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to rent a Neon (full gasoline engine) on travel once.  That was the worst car that I ever drove.  I had to call the rental company to come and get it and replace it with something that would run.

      Warmest regards,


  •  Translator, (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:
    Situational Lefty

    how did you manage to get nearly all of your hidden comments from the last several months deleted?  That's quite a trick!

    Who knows?  Maybe the search routine just has a glitch tonight?

    Your last set of hiddens, with the public warning from MB, was quite a doozy. I'm surprised to see that apparently erased from the database. How does one get that done?

  •  Flying cars would require a lot of power... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, Translator, yesdevkmem

    ...onboard to have any range. I frequently post links to a site that discusses the Tom Swift, Jr., books, and a fanfic site that extrapolates off of that series (current day, young Tom is the great-grandson of the original Tom Swift) for the stories about his Triphibian Atomicar. Ford had a model of their nuclear-powered ride, the Nucleon, but it was non-operational and didn't fly. Shielding was the biggest problem with nuclear power projections: look at the experiments with a nuclear-powered plane, where they used a highly-modified B-36 bomber to carry a small reactor, just to see if they could do it!

    I hope your series will cover another potential flying car, Doc: Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion vehicle.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 09:00:05 PM PDT

    •  the Dymaxion Car... (4+ / 0-)

      ... had one fatal flaw: rear-wheel steer.

      In 3-wheeled vehicles, there are two common configurations: the "delta" design with a single wheel in front and two wheels in the rear, and the "tadpole" design, with two wheels in front and a single wheel in the rear.  Power and steering can be applied at either end of each configuration.  

      Rear-wheel steering is excellent for slow-speed applications that require the shortest possible turning radius:  for example road sweepers (the Elgin Pelican, for which the basic design goes back about a century now) and fork lift trucks.  However at high speed there is a positive feedback with the inertia and angular momentum of the rear of the vehicle, that can lead to overturning.

      That's what happened to one of the Dymaxion cars, leading to a fatal accident, and causing the public to lose interest.  

      The fix for this is to apply the power to the rear wheel, and steer with the front two wheels.  That configuration was used in the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller (Cabin-scooter) and the car was highly successful for well over a decade.   85 miles per gallon too.

      So if someone wants to revive the Dymaxion, they should at minimum have front steering.  With electric hub motors on every wheel they could also overcome the tradeoff that power to the rear wheel only doesn't produce as much traction as power to two wheels, for use in snow and on slippery roads.

      Here's another one that has a similar vibe to the Dymaxion car, however it never went into full commercial production: the Automodul.

      And for anyone interested in the history of ultra-efficient microcars, go here:

      Click on "Start tour" to get a selection of typical examples, or the "Tour index" to get the complete index in the left hand column.

      •  The wheelbase and the engine location... (3+ / 0-)

        ...somewhat mitigated that, but the cable-operated steering gear was just as problematic, with the steering wheel operating counter to a standard one. The Dymaxion could nose into a parking space easily, but what you don't hear about is that you had to back out beacuse of the rear-wheel steering! The accident with the No. 1 car was caused by a collision with a car driven by a big-shot from the South Parks Commission, which was conveniently removed from the scene on Lake Shore Drive before the police arrived. The patent mentions using the front wheels for steering, and I've read that Fuller was planning to acquire a Cord front-end assembly to refit the No. 2 or No. 3 car when the money ran out. It would have been interesting to see how he would have handled the steering control front and back, as the proposed No. 4 car was to have a crank in the middle of the steering wheel to operate the rear wheelset. With the No. 4 car he planned three close-tracked wheel pairs, each driven by it's own engine/transmission unit, with the front wheels doing the steering. As you got up to speed, the front engines would cut out, the rear engine would maintain speed, and the rear wheelset would extend back on a telescoping faired boom to increase the wheelbase. Too bad Henry J. Kaiser, who initially backrolled the No. 4 car didn't let him get to a prototype: would have been interesting!

        You could probably do a whole diary on the Dymaxion, Doc!

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 10:01:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes, i think it was you who mentioned.... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

          ...some of those points in some other place around here.  

          Heh, I can see why you'd need to back out of parking spaces.  Surprising it never occurred to me before.  

          Interesting points about the original accident.  Minus the bigshot in the other car, and Bucky catches shit for his car design.  

          A crank in the center of the steering wheel would have been potentially problematic in certain ways.  And a rear wheel set that extends on a boom behind the vehicle, would be a safety hazard to other drivers who might change lanes and run into it, not knowing it was there.  

          So what I would do if reviving the Dymaxion concept, would be first of all to make it ride level instead of at an upward incline (in order to not catch lift from air at high speeds), and the have all-wheel drive via hub motors, and all-wheel steer with a selectable steering pattern.

          At low speeds you could choose conventional steering, all-wheel steering for tight turning radius, and "crab steer" to change lanes while remaining parallel to the lanes.  (These configurations are standard in modern construction equipment such as telehandlers.)  At high speeds, only conventional steering would be available, from the front wheels.  

          Crab steer would also be a fantastic option on city buses, to enable them to pull up to bus stops without having their rear ends sticking out in traffic to cause congestion.  The entire bus would pull up parallel to the bus stop, and could get quite close to the bus stop as it did.  This would also be a great boon to bus riders, who could board and exit to & from covered shelters built to the appropriate length.  And for people using wheelchairs and other means of accessibility, it would alleviate having to disembark onto a road surface and then climb a curb to the sidewalk.  

          I wonder about this: take the Dymaxion's overall geometry and apply it to large buses.  The seats in front might each hold three passengers on either side of the aisle, and the seats in the rearmost area might only hold a single passenger each.  Wheelchair users could go to an area near the midsection, right near the rear exit door for easy exit.  

          Given the "tadpole" shape of the Dymaxion, a bus on this plan form wouldn't stick out into traffic even if the driver forgot to engage crab steering to get to a stop.    OTOH, a rear-wheel-only steering mode at very low speeds could address that issue.  

          OK, this is suggesting a design project, just to get the concepts out there: Photoshop pictures of the Dymaxion car into other applications, such as an enlarged version as a bus, and so on.  Hmm.  One more thing I'd like to do if I had plenty of time to do it right.  

      •  I agree with the "tadpole" design. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, JeffW, yesdevkmem

        It is considerably more stable in corners.

        Steering should be front wheel.

        Power should be all wheel.  Since I live in PA, the all wheel drive sounds much more attractive as it snows here.

        Electronic stability control would be very helpful.

        Celtic Merlin

        Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

        by Celtic Merlin on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 10:28:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Delta is also highly stable. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Translator, JeffW

          As long as steering is front wheel.  

          Yes, 3-wheeled automobiles should be power to all wheels.  

          However, delta config with power to two rear and steering at one front, also works fine under conditions where 2-wheel power is acceptable.  

          •  In my mind, I've got this problem with the delta. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            G2geek, yesdevkmem

            It seems to me that the delta would have less stability in higher-speed cornering - especially the sharper ones.  I get this feeling that it would act like my childhood tricycle and tip to the outside of the turn.  The inside wheel would lift and the outside flank of the car would head for the road.

            Again, only a perception.

            Celtic Merlin

            Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

            by Celtic Merlin on Mon Aug 09, 2010 at 01:36:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  depends on the weight distribution. (4+ / 0-)

              If most of the weight is toward the rear, not so bad.

              Imagine the view of the vehicle from the rear, where you can see the two rear tires.

              Now draw an equilateral triangle with the ends of the base at the hubs of the rear wheels, and the peak of the triangle at a point above them.  

              Now look at the vehicle from the side. Your equilateral triangle is above the rear wheels, so from the side it's flat, you're looking at it from the edge.  

              Now draw a line from the peak of that triangle all the way down to the hub of the single front wheel.  Draw another line from the hub of the single front wheel, parallel to the ground, back to the hub of the rear wheel.  Imagine a similar line on the opposite side of the vehicle, from the front wheel back to the other rear wheel.

              Now look at the vehicle from the top.  Draw another triangle: from the rear wheels to the front wheel.  

              OK, now you have all these imaginary lines forming triangles.  Look at the vehicle from a 1/2 front/side view, and connect all the triangles into a solid.

              What you've just drawn is a figure representing the approximate safe zone for weight distribution, a 3-dimensional area consisting of triangles.  The enclosed space in the vehicle can be larger than this at the front, so long as it's understood that the space outside of this figure shouldn't carry significant weight.  You could have a wider frontal area with a wide dashboard, for example, but you don't want the seats right up in front, you want the seats further back on the chassis.

              Image search "Reliant Robin" for an example.  

              "Zap Xebra" is another.  It's basically an NEV type city car with the ability to do 40 mph for short stretches for passing or keeping up with traffic.  It's recently been improved with a full hatchback that increases access for cargo (the rear seat can fold down to make a flat area).  

              There have been some controversies about Zap, but the bottom line is they're selling viable electric vehicles, and one of their designs is a finalist for the X-Prize, which takes some serious doing.  

    •  You must know that (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, JeffW, yesdevkmem

      I love Bucky as I do myself.  That is for another post, and he designed the first RV.

      Warmest regards,


      •  Bucky Fuller - what a guy. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

        Interesting life story and fantastic series of inventions and innovations.  He was so far ahead of his time that his ideas couldn't be brought to their best fruition because our technology hadn't caught up with his mind.

        Celtic Merlin

        Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

        by Celtic Merlin on Sun Aug 08, 2010 at 10:31:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  all-terrain vehicles... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, JeffW, yesdevkmem

    .... were originally amphibious, per the Attex:

    These were originally intended for personnel transport on rough construction sites, in remote area surveys, search & rescue, and similar utilitarian applications.  They quickly became popular with hunters, photographers, nature survey specialists, and others looking for a low-impact method of covering large distances in rough terrain including crossing water.  

    Eventually they became "recreational" vehicles, and then faded from the scene in that role, only to re-emerge more recently in their original utilitarian designs (with price tags to match).  

    Meanwhile the term "ATV" became applied to motorcycles having fat off-road tires, that were not amphibious vehicles though could be operated in muddy conditions and in water up to the bottom of the engine.   Those motorcycles eventually became 4-wheeled vehicles for the sake of stability (in other words to make them safe for idiots who drove them carelessly), and then the development of these forked into a "recreational" branch and a "utility" branch.

    Today the "motorcycle" configuration of non-amphibious rough terrain vehicle covers most of the applications of the original amphibious ATVs.  The latter are used primarily in niche applications where the 6-wheel design is needed for added traction in mud or sand, or the amphibious feature is needed for work in marshes, swamps, and so on.  

  •  Cars were never supposed to run on gasoline! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, yesdevkmem

    Ok, that's a bit of a stretch, but it's not far from the truth.
    The fact is, we've been screwed by big oil right from the beginning. If you were shopping for a car one hundred years ago, you probably would have bought an electric- or steam-powered car, as gasoline-powered cars were dirty, smelly and noisy, and you could break your arm crank-starting them. It wasn't until the 1920s, when Charles F. Kettering invented the electric starter and oil was discovered in great quantity in Texas, that the gasoline car became practical and popular.
    But as gasoline engines became more powerful, they developed a tendency to knock... New high-compression engines couldn't burn gasoline efficiently, so there was always some residual afterburn. Unfortunately for Kettering, many people blamed this disturbing behavior on the newfangled electric starters. An additive was needed change the combustion properties of gasoline, and despite the fact that Kettering knew that simple corn alcohol (what we now call ethanol) would fix the problem, he went along with his boss, Alfred P. Sloane, the CEO of General Motors, and his fellow CEOs at Standard Oil and DuPont Chemicals, to push for a different gasoline additive: lead. Why the switch? Simple: the CEOs couldn't corner the corn market, but they could corner the lead market, so they did, and we were stuck with poisonous leaded gasoline for over 50 years.
    (btw, you may recognize the names Sloane and Kettering from the Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC... seems they got a case of the guilts at some point).
    One other thing you probably don't know: when Rudolph Diesel debuted his new engine at the 1911 World's Fair in Paris, he ran it on peanut oil... That's right, the diesel engine was never intended to run on petroleum fuel.

  •  I object (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Doc, I know you mean well, but I really have to object to you calling the Volt an all-electric car. Any car that burns petroleum fuel in any way, shape or form, is, by definition, NOT all-electric. I hope you'll keep that in mind on your future posts.

    •  We differ in our definitions, that (0+ / 0-)

      is all.  It depends on how far you want to take it.  Even battery-only cars have to be recharged, and that usually involves coal, oil, gas, nuclear, and sometimes hydroelectric, solar (rarely), geotherman (rarely).  I define "all-electric" as the method of locomotion coming from an electric motor exclusively, whether or not electricity from an on board generator produces it, and you define it as being strictly a battery operated vehicle.  Neither is completely wrong, but neither is completely right, either.

      Warmest regards,


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