Motoring’s 3 Oldest Classics
There are classic cars, and there are cars pulled from motoring’s fossil record, like the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trapardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout. In 2011, the vehicle, purported to be the world’s oldest running car, sold at RM Auctions’ Hershey, Pennsylvania event for $4.62 million. The now 130-year-old motor is one of a select class of just 805 vehicles worldwide which were built pre-1905. There are other vehicles older than the La Marquise, but the De Dion vehicle is believed to be the oldest road-going original car in the world. This amazing antique inspired us to try and discover the world’s oldest functioning cars. Here’s what we dug up…
#3 1904 Wolseley 6
Britain’s oldest car is a two-seater Wolseley 6 built in 1904. The car, which is now 110 years old, ‘runs like a dream’, according to owner Brian Caseley, and has never broken down – a stroke of luck, really, since it was built before the AA had even been established. The car has a top speed of 29mph, but no one knows its mileage since it was built before milometers were installed in British cars. The vehicle still sports its original ‘CJ 164’ registration plate, and has just passed an MOT. Its 65-year-old owner claims that he still regularly drives it around town. The car, originally owned by Mr EH Greenly of Titley Court, Herefordshire in 1905, recently completed the Brighton Run. It was designed by Herbert Austin who founded the Austin Motor Company.
#2 1896 Roberts Electric
The 1896 Roberts Electric is the world’s oldest running electric car. In 1896, its creator, Charles Roberts, had his friend, the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, build him a stable. The horses Roberts housed there soon had company; a carriage with nowhere to hook the whiffletree, no provision on the tall Stanhope for traces or shafts, and no iron on the dash to support the reins. Yet it moved.
One day, Roberts climbed up into it and drove away. He must have been a peculiar figure. Your first thought upon seeing the vehicle would be to wonder where the horse was, for the car is ludicrously tall and spindly, the driver’s head riding higher than it would be if he was standing, and most closely resembles a horseless carriage. There is no sign of an engine, no engine noise nor anywhere one could go. Power came from twin two-horsepower, 60-volt motors in the back, carried in front by the rear axle. Ganged rigidly together, they feature a pinion gear on each end of a shaft. This meshes with a big gear that drives each rear wheel directly, allowing the vehicle to achieve a top speed of around 25mph.
Charles Roberts’ name won’t be found on any list of notable automakers or any list of automakers at all, for he was an industrialist and an inventor. There is no lasting evidence, except for this strange, ungainly 118-year-old vehicle, to suggest that this early pioneer was ever involved in car manufacture.
#1 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trapardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout
A year before Gottlieb Daimler began pottering about on his big-bang-theory-propelled ‘motorcycle’ and Carl Benz was seen perambulating about the neighbourhood in his similarly internal-combustion-powered-three-wheeler, French Comte de Dion was twisting open the throttle valve on a four-wheeled contraption grandly named La Marquise and steaming through the streets of Paris.
La Marquise looks somewhat like a Victorian-era hot-dog vendor’s cart. Now a remarkable 130-years-old, she is still capable of being brought to the ‘boil’, making her the oldest still operating motor car in the world. At the time she was built, the De Dion was among the first vehicles with ‘modern’ car attributes such as four wheels and four-passenger (back-to-back) seating. There is no steering wheel, only a tiller that looks like the handle of a shovel. When new, it had a top speed of 38mph, clocking a top speed of 37mph when it ran in the world’s first auto race.
These three examples, all over a century old, are only the ones we know about, which have been publicised on the internet or immortalised in print. Now think of all the other treasures which could be hiding away in barns and garages, long-forgotten, or hoarded away by private collectors, just waiting to be restored…
History in Focus: The First Cars Ever Produced