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An Everyday Journey Through Motoring History, Facts & Trivia

Belt up and enjoy this 365-day ride as you cruise past the most momentous motoring events in history. Packed with fascinating facts about races, motorists and the history of the mighty engine, this is a must-visit web site for any car enthusiast.

On This Day


Saturday 12th January 1822

195 years ago

Belgian engineer Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir was born in Mussy-la-Ville (then in Luxembourg, part of the Belgian Province of Luxembourg since 1839). He developed the first commercially successful internal combustion engine, a single-cylinder two-stroke engine which burnt a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping spark" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil, which he patented in 1860. The engine differed from more modern two-stroke engines in that the charge was not compressed before ignition, with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder. Although the engine was operational it was not economical or efficient enough to be used commercially. By 1859, Lenoir's experimentation with electricity led him to develop the first internal combustion engine which burned a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping sparks" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil, and which he patented in 1860. The engine was a steam engine converted to burn gaseous fuel and thus pushed in both directions. The fuel mixture was not compressed before ignition (a system invented in 1801 by Philippe LeBon who developed the use of illuminating gas to light Paris), which was quiet but inefficient, with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.In 1863 the Hippomobile with a hydrogen gas fueled one cylinder internal combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont: top speed about 9 km in ~3 hours. Lenoir was an engineer at Petiene et Cie (Petiene & Company) who supported him in his founding of the companies of Corporation Lenoir-Gautier et Cie engines Paris and Société des Moteurs Lenoir in Paris in 1859, with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette, to develop the engine, and a three-wheeled carriage constructed using it. Although it ran reasonably well, the engine was fuel inefficient, extremely noisy, tended to overheat and, if sufficient cooling water was not applied, seize up. Nevertheless, Scientific American advised in September 1860 the Parisian newspaper Cosmos had pronounced the steam age over, and by 1865, 143 had been sold in Paris alone, and production by Reading Gas Works for Lenoir Gas Engines in London had begun. Lenoir had completed work on his engine in 1859 and had a grand unveiling on January 23, 1860 for 20 guests. In his speech to his audience he said ""If it works, I will add carburetor heating and constant level in which introduce either petrol, or gasoline, or tar or shale or resin any". He turned on the gas (illuminating gas) value and pushed the flywheel and the engine came to life. In 1860 Lenoir received a patent for "an air motor expanded by gas combustion" from Conservatoire National Des Arts Et Métiers number N.43624 Dates vary from 1860 to 1863 on when Lenoir built his automobiles. It is apparent that he built a small carriage with his engine around 1860. His automobile of 1862 was capable of 3 kilometers per hour. In 1861 he also put one of his engines in a boat.In 1863 Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, the Hippomobile, little more than a wagon body set atop a tricycle platform. It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in) 1.5 hp "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor which was patented in 1886. It successfully covered the 11 km (7 mi) from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about ninety minutes each way, an average speed less than that of a walking man (though doubtless there were breakdowns). This succeeded in attracting the attention of tsar Alexander II, and one was sent to Russia, where it vanished. Lenoir himself was not pleased, however; in 1863, he sold his patents to Compagnie parisienne de gaz and turned to motorboats, instead, building a naptha (Ligroin) fueled four-cycle in 1888. Most applications of the Lenoir engine were as a stationary power plant powering printing presses, water pumps, and machine tools. They "proved to be rough and noisy after prolonged use", however. Other engineers, especially Nikolaus Otto, began making improvements in internal combustion technology which soon rendered the Lenoir design obsolete. Less than 500 Lenoir engines of between 6 and 20 hp were built, including some under license in Germany. In 1865 Lenoir returned to Electrical Engineering. He developed a new type of automatic telegraph device that could send information in written form. This device was of great value during the Franco-Prussian War. He installed an improved version of his engine in a 12 meter long boat for a Mr. Dalloz who used it on the Seine for two years. Lenoir was granted French citizenship in 1870 for assistance during the Franco-Prussian War, and awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1881 (not for the engine, but for developments in telegraphy), Lenoir's later years were impoverished despite his engine's success. On July 16, 1900 not long before his death Lenoir received an award from the ACF (Automobile Club de France) which was a vermeil plate with the announcement, "In recognition of his great merits as an inventor of the gas engine and builder of the first car in the world "

Étienne Lenoir

Étienne Lenoir

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