I first became aware of this car when it was shown during an episode of Chasing Classic Cars. It may very well be the world’s first hybrid automobile, even though it was built in 1896. What is it? From this Hemmings article that is a picture of an 1896 Armstrong.
Surprisingly and disappointingly neither the classic Standard Catalog of American Cars nor the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of Automobiles goes into much detail about the Armstrong merely listing its year of construction and place (Connecticut). The Hemmings article has much more detail, such as:
“Harry E. Dey had a passion for electric vehicles, and his 1895 design for an electric car brought him to the attention of the Rogers Mechanical Carriage Company. The firm had been importing Rogers Motor Carriages from France, but wanted to reverse-engineer the automobile for assembly in the United States. Dey pushed for the new motor carriage to be powered by electric, but company executives, concerned over range limitations, insisted it be powered by gasoline instead.”
“Undeterred, Dey blended the two worlds, creating a vehicle with a 6.5-liter opposed-twin gasoline engine and a dynamo wound flywheel that could perform numerous functions. At rest, the flywheel served as an electric motor, powered by the car’s onboard batteries to act as a revolutionary “self-starter,” addressing the hand-cranking concern of early motorists. Once underway, the flywheel acted as a generator, charging the onboard storage batteries, providing spark and delivering power to the lights; as with modern hybrids, it also supplied a degree of regenerative braking. Remarkably, the motor was said to be powerful enough to propel the carriage limited distances under battery power alone.”
So, not only was it a hybrid in today’s sense of the word, but it had electric starting 16 years before Cadillac introduced the “first” such system. It was, unfortunately, the only one of its kind built. By the way, the Hemmings article was also about the sale of this car at the Bonhams auction in Amelia Island, Florida in March, 2016. The sale price? All in it was $483,400. According to the Chasing Classic Cars episode the winning bidder was Evert Louwman, owner of the famous Louwman Museum in the Netherlands. Fittingly, this museum has the world’s largest collection of cars built in 1910 or earlier.
Live and learn; I cherish that idea. What about you?
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