The First Car Ever Built Was Steam Powered & Hilariously Impractical [Video]

The first ever motor vehicle was a weird mess. Powered by steam, with a top speed of 3 MPH, the fardier à vapeur didn't work.

The first cellphone ever looked like a cinderblock and even worse, wouldn't let you take selfies. The first airplane didn't exactly have plush seating, forcing inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright to fly the plane lying face down, inadvertently creating the planking trend nearly a century before its fleeting popularity.

And the first and oldest car ever? Forget the jalopy images of the Model T or the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Nope, the first motor vehicle is almost as ancient as the Industrial Revolution, in a form of a billowing, belching behemoth that ambled onto the streets of Paris way back in 1769, according to Jalopnik.

The fun part about checking out this archival monstrosity is in describing it. You could say it resembles a genetic mutation of a flatbed trailer and a Soyuz capsule or an antiquated furnace fronting a buckboard (sans horses, of course). Whatever it looks like, it sure ain't pretty.

But since it's most likely the first ever internal-combustion vehicle, auto historians would caution a bit of respect to the contraption. Alas, here's the rub: it was noisy, slow, and didn't work very well. Credit Nicholas-Josef Cugnot with the ingenuity available to him at a time when it was discovered that steam could power a factory.


Using the same principles that went into factory machinery, Cugnot created the fardier à vapeur (steam cart) in the form of a mobile platform to haul around a cannon so that horses could be utilized elsewhere on the battlefield. These days, we'd call it a tank.

But as far as tanks go, the steam cart wouldn't have provided its users an edge in conflict. It was far too slow, chugging along noisily at three miles an hour at full throttle. It relied on a bar instead of a steering wheel, but even then, the two-ton cart was so heavy, maneuverability was next to impossible. On top of that, the noise it emitted would have made the cart a detriment to strategic attack since enemies could hear this thing coming from miles away.

Cugnot couldn't exactly mass-produce his steam cart, having made only two of them. The second one, which hit the road in 1771 also made history when it smashed into a wall, resulting in the first motor vehicle accident on the books. Fortunately, the first one is still in one piece, currently on display at Musée des Arts et Métiers, and occasionally available for the world's most irritating test run.


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