Although the first automobile built on an assembly line – the Ford Model T – is about 106 years old, the history of the self-propelled vehicle goes all the way back to 1769, when a French inventor created a steam-powered tricycle.
Revised over the next hundred year, this external combustion engine concept was eventually used by a number of U.S.-based automakers until the more efficient gasoline powered was perfected. Most steam car manufacturers are rather anonymous today, but there’s one particular name that stands out – Doble.
Founded in Detroit by Abner Doble, the said company built steam cars between 1909 through 1931, with their latter models, which used electric starters and fast firing boilers, being considered the pinnacle of steam car development.
The Doble E-20, for instance, was able to reach top speeds of up to 132 mph in 1925, matching the performance figures offered by very few internal combustion cars of that era, one of them being Duesenberg . Dobles are a very rare sight nowadays, but one very lucky E-20 model found a home in Jay Leno’s garage, where all sorts of vehicles ranging from vintage steam cars to the latest supercars are known to rest their wheels.
This episode is an awesome history lesson on Doble vehicles, as Leno not only takes the E-20 for a drive, but also explains the mechanics underneath its body. You obviously won’t get any V-8 action in this one, but it’s a piece worth watching if you’re into the more obscure side of the automotive industry.