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Engine History

A Benz internal combustion engineIt’s easy to think that classic cars and bikes have always relied on internal combustion petrol engines, but that’s only because it quickly became the obvious choice for most production vehicles. However, in the early days of motoring, there were different ideas being tried without a clear winner.

Steam engines had become commonplace with both use in industry and transport, so were an obvious choice for early cars. In fact steam gave us our first automobiles, before the commonly recognised “first car” powered by an internal combustion engine.

Less obvious was the electric motor, with many thinking of this as a more contemporary or future option. However, right at the foundation of motoring, the electric motor was being used with its advantages of simplicity and usability. In fact, there were cars and bikes designed with electric motors before internal combustion engines.

Over the years, different engines have been developed and experimented with, from jet engines, through to hybrids.

Why build engines?

Put simply, engines were built to make life easier and more efficient. In the 17th century the western world was developing and needed new ways of pumping, pulling, lifting and carrying.

This lead to steam engines first being invented to help pump water out of mines; with internal combustions engine and electric motors being invented over the next 100 years. As these engines developed, their uses grew; from initial industrial use, through to domestic use.

This development of the engine, in all shapes, not only allowed work to be completed more efficiently than man or animal powered equivalents, but the use, power and portability could be much more scalable. This led to engines that created mass power, mass transport and mass production.

The invention of the engine helped make possible the industrial revolution in Europe and brought about a period of development that arguably rated greater than at any other time in history.

Of course the automobile was a huge part of this development, both in domestic and commercial form. It not only gave fun, luxury and easy travel to many, it also hugely improved the distribution lines for the growing manufacturing and trade industry.

Classic car & motorcycle engines

There are four main categories of engines that we look at here used for classic cars and motorcycles. Each have their own history, advantages and drawbacks.

The steam engine

The beginning of it all. Leading the very first development of engines both for industrial use and in the foundations of automobiles. Continue reading>>

The electric motor

With electricity harnessed and with simplicity in design, the electric motor provided an early power source for both cars and motorcycles. Continue reading>>

The internal combustion engine

The big step forward. Once developed into a useable form it soon became the dominant option for both cars and motorcycles. Continue reading>>


A bit of this and a bit of that to get the best of both worlds. Is it really such a new concept? Continue reading>>

Engine History for cars and motorcycles


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