The Betamax effect

Part one

Stanley Steamer steam car
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I've been thinking, lately, about how we got here. For the last seventy or so years the automotive industry has been completely dominated by the internal combustion engine. But this wasn't the story at the outset of automobile transport. Early car inventors experimented with all sorts of engines from steam powered, coal fired edifices to electric motors. What I want to know was how, with all the competing designs, we came to adopt engines fuelled with petrol (and its close cousin, diesel).

Was the petrol engine truly the best solution to the problem of propelling a carriage forward? Did it reach this dominant position by being the most efficient, cleanest or fastest power source? Or is there more of a back story, like Betamax and VHS video where the superior technology was not that adapted by the mass market?

Pictured: The Stanley Steamer - the steam-powered holder of the land speed record in 1906

by Beate Kubitz at 29 Mar 2015, 00:00 AM