For quite a long time there has been a great disagreement among people concerning the world’s very first hybrid car. That is why before we continue any further, we need to clarify the difference between a hybrid car and an electric car.
According to plugincars.com, an electric car is a car “powered by an electric motor instead of a gasoline engine. The electric motor gets energy from a controller, which regulates the amount of power—based on the driver’s use of an accelerator pedal. The electric car (also known as electric vehicle or EV) uses energy stored in its rechargeable batteries, which are recharged by common household electricity.”
And here is a definition of Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) according to hybridcars.com: A car, truck, SUV, or other types of vehicle that are propelled by more than one power source mated together to work in conjunction.
What is the World’s First Hybrid Car
As you can see, there is a significant difference between a hybrid car and its electric counterpart. Here is the infographic to help you understand this difference:
Now you see that not all alternative fuel cars are created equal. That is why these vehicles often mistakenly referred to as hybrids: Robert Anderson electric car built in 1839; Sir David Salomon’s car developed in 1870 that had a light electric motor; 1888 Magnus Volk’s three-wheeled electric car; the cars designed by Walter Bersey in 1897 that used a 40-cell battery and a three-horsepower electric motor as well as 500 electric cars by The Pope Manufacturing Company of Hartford manufactured in 1897-1899, should all be excluded from the list of the world’s first hybrid cars as none of them is an eligible hybrid and all depend solely on electricity.
The Armstrong Phaeton
Even though hybrid cars have been in the spotlight during the last decades, it does not mean that the idea of building a car using alternative power sources couldn’t have been born centuries ago. In fact, not only had that idea been already present among many car manufactures and young car designers, but it became a reality in 1896 when the Armstrong Phaeton was created.
For many, the world’s first hybrid car, Semper Vivus, was built by Ferdinand Porsche back in 1900. But the reality is quite different. The very first hybrid car is Armstrong Phaeton Gasoline Electric Hybrid, which was developed in 1896, earlier than Semper Vivus.
Here are some of the characteristics of 1896 Armstrong Phaeton Gasoline Electric Hybrid, according to Bonhams:
- 6500cc Opposed, twin-cylinder gasoline engine with dynamo wound flywheel
- F-head with atmospheric/electrically restrained intake valves
- Electrically controlled clutch
- Three-speed with reverse, constant mesh semi-automatic transmission
- Tubular chassis, solid axles with full-elliptic springs
- Rear wheel brakes with regenerative electric motor assist
- Fully operational machine displaying unheard of technology for its day
- A true hybrid automobile a century before the Toyota Prius
Developed by Harry E.Dey and built by the Armstrong Company for the Roger Mechanical Carriage Company, the Armstrong Phaeton could be fueled by gas, electricity, or a combination of the two. Considered as a great invention by Dey, the Armstrong Phaeton was designed from an all-new perspective and was way ahead of its time. Roger Mechanical Carriage Company after noticing Dey’s great talents, decided to trust him with the development of a new version of Roger to be mass-produced in the United States.
Happy with Dey’s final result which combined the Roger Mechanical Carriage Company gasoline run vehicle with Dey’s great interest in infusing the electronic part resulted in a classy hybrid vehicle that in 1896 was announced by Roger Mechanical Carriage Company as the company’s new product.
According to bonhams.com, a Horseless Age magazine publication in 1896 included this description of Roger Mechanical Carriage Company’s newest product:
“The flywheel is constructed as a dynamo, which by rotary charges a storage battery, carried in the vehicle. At the time of starting the carriage, the motorman turns a switch which discharges the storage battery through the dynamo, converting it for a few seconds into a motor, which, being upon the main crank shaft, gives rotation and does away with the necessity of starting the flywheel by hand. After the motor gives a few turns, the cylinder take up their work, and the battery is disconnected from the dynamo which then acts as a flywheel.”
“The flywheel dynamo furnishes the current for the induction coil of the sparking mechanism as well as the electric lamps at night, thus doing away with the necessity of going to a charging station.”
“Attached to the crank shaft is a devise for changing the point of ignition in the combustion chamber, perfectly controlling the point of ignition, acting as a “lead” and allowing the motor to be operated at a variable speed according to work done.”
Even though Dey’s idea of a hybrid car was very promising, the Armstrong was only built as a prototype and never managed to be mass produced as originally intended. What happens next in the history of the world’s first hybrid is quite fascinating.
According to bonhams.com, Armstrong remained at the Bridgeport works for many years until a factory employee moved the vehicle into his home after the car got damaged during a flood. “It was there that Dennis David discovered the machine some 32 years later. Mr. David acquired it and it, and it passed into the McGee Collection. This collection was primarily concerned with Connecticut made automobiles so was right at home. It was determined that the Armstrong was too important to languish, and it was decided to pass the car along to a collector who had the ambition to rebuild the historic machine.”
The Armstrong was sent to Holman Engineering in 2015 for solving technical issues the car had and was eventually restored to be fully operational. Just a few months ago, on March 10, 2016, the Connecticut-built Armstrong Phaeton Gas-Electric Runabout was set for auction at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and was purchased for $483,400 by Dutch collector Evert Louwman, who according to Sports Car Digest displayed the Armstrong Phaeton at his museum- Louwman Museum in The Hague, Netherlands.
So now you know where to find, enjoy, and learn more about the world’s first hybrid car in case you found its story fascinating and are on your way to visit the wonderful Netherlands. If you do happen to stop by the Louwman Museum, please tell us about your experience there in the comments. Links to photos will also be appreciated.