A Motoring Journey
There are estimated to be over 40 (forty) million cars and other vehicles currently driving on British roads, and over a billion motor cars and other vehicles around the globe. From the smallest super mini to much larger and expensive super cars, the car has played a significant role in defining the 20th century and continues to be, for many, an essential part of modern life.
But from where did this institution come from, and just how did the car evolve from a haphazardly-constructed wooden contraption into the reliable and safe motor vehicles we use today?
This is a highly abridged history of the motor car and represents only a few of the more significant developments in the history of the motor vehicle.
Steam Driven Vehicles
These were the very first automobiles and were powered by steam. The original car designers (if the term applies) drew their inspiration from the railway industry, designers miniaturised designs for the steam trains of the day and converted them to run on fuel oil rather than coal. While smaller, these steam driven
machines still needed a cumbersome (and fairly dangerous) boiler, which required frequent topping up with water.
The steam engine remained a sensible powertrain for transport applications from around 1770 until well into the 20th century. Manufacturers have continued to toy with the idea and have even produced seriously efficient prototypes, but the market isn’t ready for steam powered cars just yet.
The Internal combustion Engine
The advent of the internal combustion engine was a turning point in the history of the motor car. In developing a new type of engine, car manufacturers were able to significantly improve the efficiency and reduction in weight of their designs, something that continues with motor car design to this day.
The internal combustion engine differs from the steam engine by burning fuel within. It’s much lighter and generally much smaller than a steam engine, and it was these properties that allowed cars to become more practical and far safer.
Without question, the internal combustion engine is what made the modern vehicle that which it is today.
Mr Rudolf Diesel revolutionised engine design. The invention of the diesel engine has led to its use in industry and at home, on land and at sea. The seventy per cent efficiency of his engines made a great deal more sense than the paltry ten per cent efficiency of contemporary steam engines, and as a result, the diesel engine was immediately popular.
The fuel we know as diesel is one of several liquids that diesel engines can run on, the main difference between the diesel at the pumps and other similar distillates is the tax!
Post War Developments
Motor cars and other vehicles made significant and fairly rapid development after the war, as did the consumer driven market for them. The kinds of cars and other motor vehicles which proved popular on the roads prior to the war, giving way to more modern and efficient designs such as that of the Beetle and Morris Minor. Different flavours of ‘car’ soon followed. Family orientated cars,
estate cars, became popular family cars. Land Rover and Jeep ploughed their own respective furrows with what we now know as the 4×4, with Range Rover riding the tailcoat of Land Rover’s success.
There are an enormous number of cars and other vehicles driving on the roads now, many more than there were in the 1950’s – a trend which continues to this day as is giving road and town planers, as well as environmentalists, some enormous headaches! As the popularity and sheer number of cars on the road grew over the second half of the 20th century, car manufacturers were driven to look at the safety of their customers and their customers’ passengers. In short, to consider building safety features into the design of their vehicles.
EuroNCAP Vehicle Safety
EuroNCAP was founded in 1997 and provides a star rating out of five for new cars. These days, even pedestrians are taken into consideration and car manufacturers strive to make motor vehicles as safe as possible in every way. Several car safety features are now considered as standard and include seat belts, ABS breaking systems, air bags and many more safety features.
The Road Ahead
To listen to Jeremy Clarkson, there will never be an alternative to the petrol driven motor car. However, as we progress through the 21st century electric cars are now starting to make their mark in terms of numbers of cars sold. And this trend will likely continue as we’re likely to continue this move away from conventional fuels (petrol and diesel) towards more efficient, sustainable alternative fuels including biofuel, electricity and hydrogen.