At over 7.5 metres (~25ft) long it is unlikely you’ll be driving the kids the school in the British Steam Car any day soon. But then again you probably don’t need a vehicle designed to reach 274 kph (170 mph) for such a purchase. But maybe one day the technology developed for this land rocket might find it’s way into commuter vehicles.
Although powered by steam (enough, it seems, to make 23 cups of tea per second!) it does not exactly run on water. To get the water superheated to 400°C, the British Steam Car chomps down on LPG (or Liquid Petroleum Gas). And to do its thing it can slurp its way through 1,000 litres (1 ton) of water every 25 minutes. So not exactly what you might term ‘environmentally responsible.’ But that’s not to say other steam cars haven’t or won’t be in the future. Read on.
The first record of a self-propelled vehicle capable of transporting people is generally attributed to Frenchman, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, for his 1769 three wheeler. But it wasn’t until about the early 1900’s that steam cars really took off commercially. For many years the US Stanley Steamer, as well as holding a land speed record, was also the best selling automobile of its day. Around this time Abner Doble was tweaking his own steam car so that he could get 1500 miles (2400km) from 24-gallon (91 ltr) water tank.
However the ease of use of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), which is the cause of so much of our problems today, would soon rule the roost.
Although in the late 1990’s a Volkswagen offshoot, known as Enginion AG, were again developing a steam engine suitable for cars. Their ZEE (Zero Emissions Engine) was also said to be an "oilless" engine with ceramic cylinder linings using steam instead of oil as a lubricant. Unfortunately after seven years of development the company failed to find a manufacturer to commercially produce their engine.
That doesn’t mean it’s ‘all over rover’ for steam engines. Apparently BMW are still tinkering away at a ‘turbosteamer’ hybrid engine that could make their cars 15% more efficient. And maybe the speed demons involved involved the British Steam Car prototype, with its 12 boilers and 3km (1.8 miles) of tubing, will help propel such technology back into the 'mainsteam' -- if we might be allowed such an awful pun.
British Steam Car images from their website.