Motor enthusiasts generally consider the evolution of the car to have begun in 1879 when Carl Benz first fired up his petrol-powered, single cylinder, three-wheeled motor carriage. But inventors had been toying with the idea of a powered ‘people carrier’ for hundreds of years. As early as the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci had considered the concept of a self-propelled vehicle, and by the early 1600’s, sail-powered ‘wind carriages’ were whizzing people along the pan-flat roads of Holland. Towards the end of the 18th century, steam-powered vehicles began to appear on British roads, but they were noisy, smoky and dangerous, so they failed to catch on. And by the late 19th century, electric vehicles were setting new standards in speed and power. Yet the lack of re-charging infrastructure hampered their popularity – a challenge that’s still around today!
The world’s first production vehicle was the Benz Patent Motor Car, Model No. 1 which spluttered into life in 1886. The ‘Number 1’ was road-tested by Benz’s wife and two children on the world’s first-ever motorised road trip – a journey of 180km. And the rest, as they say, is history. In 1908 the automotive industry took a giant leap forward when the first of 15 million Ford Model Ts rolled off the production line. Nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie” – the Model T would go on to change American industry, culture and society forever.
The boom in car ownership
Car ownership in the UK really took off in the 1960’s, and by the mid-70’s the number of households with a car overtook those without. The 1970’s was a golden age of British motoring, with the appearance of iconic models like the Ford Cortina, the Mini and the Vauxhall Viva. The coveted Cortina Mark IV 1600GL boasted a top speed of 94mph and could go from 0-60mph in a little over 14 seconds. Which may not seem super-quick by today’s standards, but the world wasn’t in such a hurry in those days. And if you really wanted performance, you could accelerate up to 123mph in a 3-litre Capri.
Cars of the future
We all know that the development of self-driving cars is well underway – prototypes have already been trialled on British roads. So the next big step must surely be to design a more environmentally friendly engine. Thankfully, manufacturers are hard at work developing a new generation of hydrogen powered vehicles which are even cleaner than the latest electric cars. Hydrogen powered road transport is the ultimate eco-friendly solution, because not only is Hydrogen one of the most abundant elements in the universe, the only emission produced by a hydrogen powered engine is fresh, clean water.