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When he was only 19, Doble surprised the Stanley brothers, of Stanley Steamer fame, by inventing a modern condenser for his first steam car. The car uses 525 ft. of steel coil (the height of a 50-story office building) and one spark plug. Turn the key and an electric motor forces air up through a venturi, then through a carburetor, which throws gasoline in the middle of the huge coil, and the spark ignites it. The real genius is that in the bottom of the boiler there's a metal tray with a row of quartz rods. As heat increases, the tray expands, pushing the rods forward and shutting off the burner. As everything cools, the quartz rods contract and the burner cycles on again. It's dead reliable. Thanks to the Doble's astronomical torque, something like 1000 lb.-ft., there's no need for a clutch or transmission, and the car can go nearly 100 mph. And — get this — my Doble even meets today's emissions standards. Because it's a closed system, with 2 million BTU, combustion is complete: It burns everything.
People ask me what I think is the future of the automobile. Well, let's see what's out there. Hybrids are interesting because they make their own electricity and use it at the point of generation. But a hybrid has to carry two drive systems, which adds weight and complexity and seems counter to the whole purpose.
I'm not too bullish on electric cars as the way of the future. Modern electric cars go roughly 100 miles on a charge, about the same as my Baker; so I don't see much progress there. I think electricity is a great power source for a car. But the problem is, how do you get it?
Thomas Edison invented the alkaline battery. My Baker still has some original alkaline batteries. These have lead plates and use acid; we wash them out and refill them regularly and I'll use them indefinitely. But even Edison realized the future of the automobile was elsewhere. Legend has it that back in 1896, at a dinner party, he passed a note to his friend Henry Ford. Essentially it said, "The electric car is dead."
How prophetic was that?
By Jay Leno
Photographs by John Lamm
Via: Published in the May 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics.