Steam-powered cars are exceedingly rare, with only a few of the original vehicles still hanging around. That means unless you're Jay Leno or another wealthy collector with resources to keep the primitive cars running, you probably don't have one in your garage. But, some people don't want to settle, which is why we're talking about this: A hand-built, six-wheeled, boattail steam roadster up for auction on Bring a Trailer.
This barebones steam machine was custom-fabricated by the seller, who finished the project a little over four years ago. Despite its recent build and modern quality, this car isn't likely to be your daily driver. Something about the fact that there’s minimal bodywork, along with the tedious process that takes 45 minutes to warm the boiler, may make the whole thing a bit impractical. Oh, and then there’s the biggest problem: The range. The car can only travel about three miles before needing a top-off with water.
Don’t let that deter you from this beast, though, because there’s plenty of cool stuff to ogle at. The seller built the car on a modified 1928 Ford Model A frame that was narrowed and stretched to accommodate the oversized two-cylinder powerplant. It uses a completely custom steam piping system with dual 400,000-BTU burners, a period-correct lantern, and even a steam whistle.
Copper and steel panels give the car a steampunk look (pun intended), as do all the exposed chains, two of which run to the back and power the rear wheels directly. The driver straddles these chains and uses a handbrake to control the single Model A drum that takes on the courageous effort of stopping the boattail roadster.
The throttle is controlled by a wheel that was originally taken off a lathe, and it toggles between four settings. Vintage-style gauges help keep an eye on all the car's various systems and doo-hickeys, though there isn't an odometer. Not to worry, because that extremely limited range means this is one low-mile creation.
A total-loss oil system is in place to maintain the unique powerplant's high operating temperatures, and the Olfelt-style boiler holds 3.5 gallons of water with 21 gallons of reserve. All in all, it produces around five horsepower.
Steam’s heyday passed well over 100 years ago, as some of the earliest cars were powered by the technology. Things changed quickly as the electric starter ushered in the era of the internal combustion engine. That being said, the car we’re talking about here was built purely as a novelty and was never intended to serve as an actual method of transportation, though it can seat two.
The Bring a Trailer auction has reached $30,000 at the time of this article, though there’s three days left for that price to grow considerably. There's no reserve, so someone will be going home with this special piece of modern history.
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