The Locomobile: A Car That Ran On Water

Now if we were to tell you that there were once cars that ran on water instead of gasoline, you would probably say that we must be, well….loco. But the term doesn’t just refer to someone who has lost their marbles; it is also a shortened form of the word “locomotive,” and indeed, there were once cars that ran on steam just like trains did. One of the them was called the Locomobile.

Stanley Steamer

The Locomobile company started out in 1899 when a fellow named John Walker saw the future, only he may gotten a slightly blurry vision. There were a couple of brothers named Francis and Freelan Stanley who came up with a design for a steam powered car in the late 1890s. During the years 1898 and 1899, the Stanley automobile was the highest selling car in America; the only problem was, total sales for the two years were only about 200 cars. They sold this design to Walker, who used it to produce the first Locomobiles.

In these days it was expensive and time intensive to produce even a single car, and they were indeed a novelty that many people were still wary of. However, Locomobile was the top selling automobile in the United States in 1901, when they sold 1,500 units, and then again in 1902, when sales nearly doubled to 2,750.

Meanwhile, the Stanley Brothers went on to form their own firm, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1902, and they offered another steam-powered car, the Stanley Steamer. However, advances were being made with the internal combustion engine, and by 1903 Locomobile had abandoned the steam engines in favor of gasoline powered cars.

The down side to the Locomobile steam engines was the fact that they were somewhat unreliable and fickle, and they needed to be refilled with water every twenty miles or so. The boiler was heavy and it weighed down the car, and these were the days before lightweight automotive body materials.

The 1904 gasoline powered Locomobile Touring Car was powered by a four-cyliner engine that was capable of generating 16 horsepower. The thing to remember about these early vehicles is that they were not being mass produced, and the technology was advanced for the day, so they were expensive. The 1904 Locomobile cost $4,500, no small sum in that era and clearly more than the working person could afford.

Locomobile developed a reputation as a powerful and opulent, finely engineered vehicle over the ensuing years until the company was sold to Durant Motors in 1922. Durant used the name until 1929 when the Locomobile moniker drifted into the annals of United States automaking history. Collectors can note the fact that a 1900 steam-powered Locomobile was purchased at RM Auctions in Elkhart, Indiana for $49,500 late in 2004.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer

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