A small, driver-guided, passenger-carrying motor vehicle; originally the automated version of the horse-drawn carriage, meant to convey people and their goods over streets and roads. Most are four-wheeled and have water-cooled, piston-type internal-combustion engines fueled by gasoline or diesel. Variations have existed for decades that use ingenious and often nonpolluting power plants, but the automobile industry long ago settled on this general formula for the consumer market. Experimental and sports models are streamlined, energy-efficient, and hand-built.
Although it is recorded that in 1479 Gilles de Dom was paid 25 livres by the treasurer of Antwerp in the Low Countries for supplying a self-propelled vehicle, the ancestor of the automobile is generally agreed to be the cumbersome steam carriage made by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725–1804) in 1769, still preserved in Paris. In 1808 England's Richard Trevithick built a working steam carriage. Steam was an attractive form of power to the English pioneers, and in the 19th century, practical steam coaches were used for public transport until stifled out of existence by the 4 mph/6.4 kph limit, punitive road tolls, and legislation that required someone to walk in front with a red flag by day and a red lantern by night.
In 1885 Benz built and ran the first gasoline-powered automobile. Panhard 1890 (front radiator, engine under hood, sliding-pinion gearbox, wooden ladder-chassis) and Mercedčs 1901 (honeycomb radiator, in-line four-cylinder chassis) set the pattern for the modern automobile. Emerging with Haynes and Duryea in the early 1890s, US demand was so fervent that 300 makers existed by 1895, but only 109 were left by 1900.
In England in 1896 Frederick Lanchester produced an advanced and reliable vehicle, later much copied. The period 1905–06 inaugurated a world automobile boom continuing to the present day.
Among the legendary automobiles of this century are De Dion Bouton, with the first practical high-speed engines; Mors, notable first for racing and later as a silent touring automobile; the incomparable Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce; the enduring Model T Ford; and the many types of Bugatti and Delage, from record-breakers to luxury touring automobiles.
After World War I popular motoring began with the era of inexpensive, light (baby) automobiles made by Citroën, Peugeot, and Renault (France); Austin 7, Morris, Clyno, and Swift (England); Fiat (Italy); Volkswagen (Germany); and the slightly bigger Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge (US). During the interwar years a great deal of racing took place, and the experience gained benefited the everyday motorist in improved efficiency, reliability, and safety. There was a divergence between the lighter, economical European automobile, with its good handling on small winding roads, and the heavier US automobile, cheap, rugged, and well adapted to long distances on straight roads at high speeds.
After World War II small European automobiles tended to fall into three categories: front engine and rear drive, the classic arrangement; front engine and front-wheel drive; rear engine and rear-wheel drive; in about equal numbers, although US automobiles got longer, lower, more powerful (V8 engines) and “styled” with fins.
Big automobiles with soft suspensions and low gasoline mileage became the average family’s Dreamcar until the OPEC oil crisis of 1973. Air conditioning was a 1950s new “option.” From the 1950s a creative resurgence produced in practical form automatic transmission, rubber suspension, transverse engine mounting, self-leveling ride, disk brakes, and safer wet-weather tires. The drive against pollution from the 1960s and the fuel crisis from the 1970s led to experiments for more ecologically responsible power plants, with steam automobiles (cumbersome), diesel engines (slow and heavy, although economical), and a more promising development, a hybrid automobile using both electricity and gasoline. Nevertheless, the auto industry produced for sale the stratified-charge gasoline engine, using fuel injection to achieve 20% improvement in gasoline consumption; weight reduction in the body by the use of aluminum, fiberglass, and plastics; and “slippery” body designs with low air resistance, or drag. Microprocessors wer.
E also developed to measure temperature, engine speed, pressure, and oxygen/CO2 content of exhaust gases, and to readjust engine function accordingly. Japanese and European models led the way for US automakers to follow (see also gasoline engine).
1. A motorized vehical, esp. a small passenger vehicle; car.
2. Any vehicle which provides its own form of locomotion, such as an electric motor or combusion engine.
To travel in an automobile.