The 36th annual Retromobile on Feb. 2-6, 2011, will focus on the creation of the automobile — the meaning of this word comes from to greek auto (by itself) and from latin mobilis (that’s move) — and includes such displays as the first self-propelled vehicle in the world: the fardier de Cugnot.
242 years ago, the very first carriage auto-mobile was being ran through its first pace, starting the history of modern locomotion. Its creator, a French military engineer and a visionary, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot paved the way for a great automobile adventure.
An answer to the transportation of cannons
Sponsored by the Duc de Choiseul, Defense Minister for the French King Louis XV, and also by the General Vacquette de Gribeauval, chief inspector for the artillery, the project of Cugnot offered a solution for moving heavy cannons.
The first tests in October 1769 are encouraging. Cugnot increases the capacity of the cylinders, completes his project with a boiler fitted with all accessories from the time: level control, safety valve, feed-in pump to replenish the boiler with fresh water without a loss of steam pressure.
In 1771, the fardier is involved in an accident and accidents will already be as old as the automobiles. Circumstances are not known but it is possible to imagine a human error. A worker starts the motion of the fardier by mistake and terrified by the fire machine (its name in the 18th century) he does not know how to stop it and the fardier crashed in a wall.
The Duc de Choiseul was fired by the king and the general de Gribeauval will have to wait in his country mansion for better days. The project is dead. The fardier will stay with the army for 30 years before joining the collections of Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers where it is on display.
The man who keeps the fardier rolling
Alain Cerf, a French national but living in the USA, enjoys vintage cars and is at the origin of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum ln Florida. He initiated the project to make a replica of a fardier as close as possible to the 1770 model. The original fardier is a historical monument. It is fragile, the boiler is out of order and it cannot be run.
A glimpse in the history of the fardier
In October 1769, the 23rd to be precise, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot is very active working on a large carriage. A big copper kettle warmed by a wood fire stands where the horses should be.
The Prime Minister, the Duc de Choiseul, the General de Gribeauval and well-dressed people look from afar to the beast as the smoke billows in the sky and the boiling water is wheezing. Nicolas Joseph Cugnot jumps on the carriage, takes his place on a wooden bench, seizes a long lever, waits for a few seconds and all of a sudden opens a valve which lets the steam out. The beast starts moving, half hidden by the smoke from the fire wood and the steam escaping from the cylinders.
There is a cry: "The fire machine is moving, the fire machine is moving by itself!"
The fardier will be available to the Feb. 2-6, 2011. For more information and a complete schedule, visit www.retromobile.fr
- Classic car price guides, research, books, back issues of Old Cars Weekly & more
- Get expert restoration advice for your classic car
- Get car pricing, data and history all in one place
- Sign up for Old Cars Weekly’s FREE email newsletter
- Need to buy or sell your classic car? Looking for parts or memorabilia? Search our huge online classified marketplace