Steam Powered Car

bosi77bosi77 Member Posts: 37
edited April 2014 in General
Hi I am looking to build a modern steam car. Any suggestions are welcome. To build on a Rhoades car (4wheel bike) platform. Want to have it ready by april 2008.


  • ryan77300dryan77300d Member Posts: 64
    Are you still planning on building this car? I have a little bit of knowledge about these cars, I started building one a few years ago as a small project, but have since sold for spares. It was just a generic platform used entirely for experimenting.

    Great idea though, I'm very interested if you needed any opinion or anything.

  • bosi77bosi77 Member Posts: 37
    Actually I am not sure now, but any info you have about steam power would be appreciated.
  • ryan77300dryan77300d Member Posts: 64
    There's alot of resources about steam traction power, but that's not really what you're after. I'll condense anything I know about auto use right here.

    Bit of History

    The horseless carraige way back in the 1880's and 1890's were almost exclusively steam powered, with a few being electric, and some breaking ground with gasoline engines. Nearly 100 makes of steam car were on the market at the turn of the century.
    There were a few makes of steam car in the late teens and early 20's; and at that time was really the high point of automotive steam interest. White, Doble and Stanley are the makes that are best known today. Stanley cars, from the 'coffin nose' models (early) to the conventional models (later) all used basically the same boilers, engines and axels. The early cars had the unusual hood treatment because of thier lack of condenser in the front.
    Doble steam cars were conventionally styled and used flash boilers to make a full head of steam in about 3 minutes. This was one of Stanleys downfalls, the time it took to fire a stanley initally could take in excess of 15 minutes. Doble was the longest lasting steam car manufacturer, sticking it out until 1928.

    I know of a magazine article in Popular Science written in 1962 about a hobbyist turning an MG roadster into a steam car; the main motive being the feeling of "gliding" down the road. The boiler in that car was a flash type, and had a working pressure of 1200psi. (Stanley's had a working pressure of 650psi, Dobles around 900psi)


    Stanley boilers were a fire-tube design, and were wrapped with 300,000lb tensile-strength piano wire for safety. Doble boilers were a water-tube design, which is much safer at higher pressures. For higher pressures, increased safety and almost instant steam pressure, water-tube boilers are the way to go.


    Almost all previous steam cars have had conventional steam engine setups, with a steam chest for each cylinder, internal cross-slides, connecting rods coupled directly to a rear axle gear, etc. The basics are the same as a locomotive, just in a much smaller package. All cars were self-starting, because of the use of multi-clyinder engines, the norm being 2 cylinder. Generators were coupled directly to the rear axle, the only problem being you had to be driving at 15mph or more to get a good charge from it.


    Stanley cars had Kerosene burners, which had a pilot light not unlike a gas water heater. This pilot light had to burn all the time the car was not operated, and used around a gallon of fuel a night. (assuming you parked your car in the garage for the night). Doble cars, I'm pretty sure were fired with a spray of gasoline and a single spark plug, resulting in a WOOSH when the ignitor was pressed. I'm not sure about White steamers, but Kerosene burners were most likely fitted in them.
    If you're making a steam car today, I'd use a propane burner, just a giant version of something like on a BBQ. Propane's fairly safe, and alot easier to come by then kerosene. There wouldn't be any atomizing issues with propane fuel either, as there would be with and liquid fuel.

    As for valve gear, water pumps, water tanks, condensers (one could use just any radiator from a car) this would be entirely up to the builder, same going for the chassis, body, electrics etc.

    I personally love the idea of having something different like this, and with modern tools and manufacturing techniques, one could make a very reliable engine/boiler combo. The cars themselves can be extremely speedy and balanced when built right. A car to educate others about the rise and fall, and the great potential of steam power is a great engineering challenge. Some sort of tube-buggy could be made, anything really.

    This is only a touch on the subject, and more of a history, but it's the basics. Anything else you're curious about, or any further detail that's needed, just ask.

  • bosi77bosi77 Member Posts: 37
    Thanks for the info. Now I am going to check out costs and see what I can do.
  • airbikebobairbikebob Member Posts: 1
    Ryan: I enjoyed your history of the steam powered vehicles posted a couple of years ago. Do you know of any experiments with coal or wood used for fuel? I am wondering about gasified coal as a fuel. My dad drove a Stanley Steamer in the early years of last century and he loved it. I am also wondering about a turbine rather than a piston engine. We would probably convert a modern conventional vehicle. A small truck might lend its bed for fuel and water storage. Thanks, Bob
  • ray52ray52 Member Posts: 1
    Hi, just noticed the discussion on steam powered cars. I'm from "down under" (Torquay, 100k's sth west of Melbourne in Australia) and I can remember seeing steam powered car on TV within the last 5yrs or so, the inventor/creator died only recently. The man's name was 'Pritchard', I'm sure a Google search with the surname 'Pritchard' and 'steam powered car' would be rewarding.
    I'll watch the discusion with much interest.
  • greenneon2greenneon2 Member Posts: 1
    First, you need to view the four hour mini-series starring Tommy Lee Jones, entitled "The Amazing Howard Hughes" that aired on CBS decades ago, way back in 1977. Hughes once gave it a try, but thought it inpractical, because hot steam could escape in a collision, scalding the driver & any passengers. However, Mr. Stanley, of "Stanley Steamer" fame, did successfully test his vehicles in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The "Stanley Hotel" exists in Estes Park, CO today, and proudly displays a "Steamer" car in it's lobby.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Probably the best steam car of all time was the Doble. A Stanley is an old can that boils water compared to a Doble.

    Probably the biggest drawback to steam power is a) you have to use fossil fuel anyway and b) most modern drivers will probably blow themselves up.

    I guess the best combination is nuclear fuel + steam but that's not going to happen on a car.
  • bernie14bernie14 Member Posts: 1
    I am new to this forum. It is very interesting and I don't think to many people think about using steam to power a vehicle or a generator. There don't seem to be to much activity on this forum but I would like to see more on this subject. With all the discussion on EV's, which is not up to par as far as speed and distance goes, steam could be an advantage and I know it takes fuel to produce steam. BUT technology is plentiful today and with the price of gasoline it will push people to experiment with another power source. Here is a web site with maybe a better way to produce steam: I hope to see more experiments on this subject.
    Thanks for your time.
    Bernie ;)
  • mrx100mrx100 Member Posts: 1
    While I am not an engineer & do not play one on T.V. . Why is it that a steam car can't be powered by a system of batterys & a electric water heater? Like the water heater to heat ones home shower. With the current technology of batterys in electric cars. And a system of generators & solar pannels the car could run for practically free. Or am I just a dolt? :confuse:
  • stovebolterstovebolter Member Posts: 53
    A steam car could be powered by an electric boiler, but you'd be limited in range (batteries don't hold nearly as much energy as typical liquid fuels), and you'd be losing a lot in terms of efficiency - it's much easier to start with electricity and convert it directly to motion using a motor than it is to convert the electricity to heat, transfer the heat to water/steam, then run that energy through a steam piston. Each step has losses - particularly when you are dealing with high temperatures, so minimizing the steps helps conserve energy.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Maybe electricity could be used to PRE-HEAT a boiler but you'd be very late for the party waiting for electricity to create steam.
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