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The steam-powered car is considered an old-fashioned relic in today's age, but in his latest video showing off his 1925 Doble E-20, Jay Leno demonstrates that at its best, steam provided a realistic challenge to the internal combustion engine. This car has some real provenance too. Famous industrialist Howard Hughes is counted among its owners, and Leno claims he liked it so much because it was the only car that performed as well as his Duesenberg.

While the Doble's four-cylinder compound engine makes only 150 horsepower, it produces a staggering 1,000 pound-feet of torque, according to Leno. That much power means that a transmission isn't necessary, and it directly drives the rear end.

For much of the video, Leno puts on his teacher's cap and explains step-by-step how the Doble's advanced steam engine works, and it's a very complicated piece of machinery, especially if your are used to internal combustion engines. One of the most interesting parts is the system's efficiency, because after being used in the engine, the gas is condensed back into water and heated again.

If you're a fan of engineering or mechanical systems, this is a fascinating video to watch, and it's amazing how functional the Doble makes steam power appear. In fact, it's almost possible to see steam as a realistic alternative to modern engines. Scroll down to watch Professor Leno give you an inside look at his idea of the pinnacle of the steam-powered automobile.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 34 Comments
      JaredN
      • 11 Months Ago
      That's cool.
      BipDBo
      • 11 Months Ago
      Why is this on Autoblog Green?
        zepeda1
        • 11 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        I agree! A dynamic, interesting vehicle has no place on autoblog green!
        Fazzster
        • 11 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        The bigger question is, why is there an Autoblog Green?
          justgoawaymad
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Fazzster
          Because in reality it's a perfect oxymoron. But don't tell the green Nazis there is no way they will get it. They have to feel good because to be really green they would only walk or ride a bike. But that's not going to happen. Hence we have supposed green cars, back to the beginning it's the perfect oxymoron.
          GoodCheer
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Fazzster
          "they would only walk or ride a bike" Ah, digital thinking.
          Bernard
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Fazzster
          @GoodCheer As a software engineer with a CE degree (not too far from EE), I cringe every time I hear people misuse the word digital... :-(
          Marco Polo
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Fazzster
          @ justgoawaymad Don't go away mad,..just go away !
        Krazeecain
        • 11 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        Steam cars can burn any kind of fuel. Even eco-friendly, renewable fuels. A steam car running on clean renewable fuel is just as environmentally friendly as an ev...
          BipDBo
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Krazeecain
          Completely untrue. To heat water into steam, you need to burn a fuel. Even environmental fuels like ethanol, rapeseed oil or even unicorn farts will generate pollutants such as CO2 and particulates. Doing so in your car rather from the power plant, you'll be doing it much less efficiently and with a lot more weight in machinery and water storage. You can burn those fuels more efficiently using an internal combustion engine and much more efficiently, at the power plant through an EV.
          justgoawaymad
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Krazeecain
          I have to disagree. If you look at ALL factors ill bet a modern steam car would be MORE environmentally friendly than an ev. But that would not support the Chinese lithium manufacturing machine. So I'm pretty sure "our" politicians wouldn't support it.
          Torque
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Krazeecain
          BigDBO - the fuel (which as pointed out can be bio-diesel or even WVO - which can be carbon neutral) is burned so completely there essentially is nearly zero emissions. I don't think any steam this has been CARB emissions tested, but I would be very interested in the results. I think you'd find the emissions would classify this as an ULEV
          ckm
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Krazeecain
          @bipdbo Where do you think the vast majority of electricity comes from? Yup, that's right - buring crap to make steam.....
        JaredN
        • 11 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        Typical response from an enviro-nazi-- instant condemnation of anything which does not meet your eco-orthodoxy.
        BipDBo
        • 11 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        I say this because it's a big, heavy, inefficient (even for 1925 standards) fossil fuel burner. Sure it can burn other fuels, but with a little bit of work, so can internal combustion engines. Other "steam powered" cars have made it onto ABG, which makes me wonder if the AB writers really think that they run on steam rather than burning a fuel.
          EVnerdGene
          • 11 Months Ago
          @BipDBo
          EVs - where do you get the electric power ? FCEVs - where do you get the hydrogen ? Steam - what fuel do you use to make the steam ? I ask these questions often. People often have a glazed-over look in their eyes like they're smoking pot. Usually a waste of time to try and splainit.
          Bernard
          • 11 Months Ago
          @BipDBo
          @EVnerdGene The source is simple, whatever power source you connect your EV too. How green that is all depends on the electric company. Fortunately, they can upgrade at anytime and instantly benefit every single one of their customers. They also benefit from many efficiencies of scale and consistent load that ICE vehicles simply cannot compete with.
      Willy
      • 11 Months Ago
      Always been a proponent for the use of steam power in personal mobility applications. Although not as thermally efficient as an ICE, but w/ more R&D and using alternative fuels (even lemon oil) should make it more favorable. Even this 5000+lb 1920-era can pass California emissions. No catalytic converters, emission controls, particulate filters, a transmission, chemical batteries... Simplicity is there. Or it can even be a range extender for electric hybrids. I mean electric cars are good too, but problems w toxic/heavy metal and where/how electricity comes from is a problem. I wish we can electrified our streets, then there's no need for batteries!.
        itsme38269
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Willy
        Lithium Ion batteries are non-toxic, and can even be landfilled, so that is not a problem. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery#Environmental_concerns_and_recycling Also, electricity is cleaner no matter where it comes from, see this study: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/smart-transportation-solutions/advanced-vehicle-technologies/electric-cars/emissions-and-charging-costs-electric-cars.html Also, the grid continues to get cleaner, and if you install solar, then your EV is completely clean, because the electricity comes straight from your roof. However, even if you don't, EVs are cleaner than similar gas cars.
      Camaro Kid
      • 11 Months Ago
      I might be asking a stupid question, but how do you back it up? Loved the Video!!!
      Bernard
      • 11 Months Ago
      Now that's an awesome piece of history right there. Although I'm guessing the original did not have that window with the laser applied plasma coating... Oh well, they probably just listened, watched the temp guage, and waited. But that window is a nice touch.
        justgoawaymad
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        The window is original. The plasma coating is the nod to modern materials.
          Swamp Yankee
          • 11 Months Ago
          @justgoawaymad
          Leno is passionate about resto-mods - he spends a lot of money engineering modern safety and reliability improvements to keep cars drivable and on the road. Not many of his favorite pieces would take home the trophy at a Concours - but they all look gorgeous, operate as their original engineers intended and can be safely driven on public roads. In addition to the plasma-coating, he put disc brakes on it (as he does almost all his cars.)
          Bernard
          • 11 Months Ago
          @justgoawaymad
          Are you saying that the original did not hold up to it's own heat?
      Mike Evans
      • 11 Months Ago
      Wow, Jay, What an engineering marvel! I love living vicariously through YouTube, particularly when you share such awesome rarities. Always been a car nut myself, even built my own electric cars. I really do appreciate you sharing your knowledge and your private collection publicly so we can all see.
      bengtl
      • 11 Months Ago
      Wow. That's one of best Youtube videos I've ever seen.
      DBuben
      • 11 Months Ago
      A couple years ago, Hemmings posted a SIA Flashback about another Doble Model E. The article gave more detail about Doble's history as an automaker and some of the finer mechanical points. http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2010/06/20/sia-flashback-1924-doble-most-sophisticated-steamer-ever-built/ It's interesting to see something that turns our modern automotive world completely on its head.
      Krazeecain
      • 11 Months Ago
      Such a fascinating vehicle. When I first found out about it a few years ago, it got me obsessed about the viability of steam powered cars today. I think with computers and modern materials, they could potentially compete with ICE's... But they'd probably be too expensive. Perhaps in a hypothetical future with a failing electrical grid and a cheap, renewable and burnable fuel (that otherwise wouldn't perform well in a gas or diesel type engine) the steam car may have a future...
      Hybridnetics
      • 11 Months Ago
      I am so impressed at the fact that this car's "throttle" is a little steering wheel within the one that turns the wheels. I've always wondered if there were easier ways to apply power to a vehicle, kind of like the way cruise control can accerate and coast.
      Lionel Scott
      • 11 Months Ago
      I am a retired machinist , millwright and repaired steam turbines , now work on home heating boilers . The Doble steam car should have been the car for the past 80 years and we may have prevented the rapid global warming .Cyclone Power is trying to bring the steam engine back . I noticed in the video there was a lot of steam escaping from the underside of the boiler which I would think is not normal .May be a safety valve opening due to too high a boiler pressure .I loved the video and yes the wrench throwing shows are terrible, Keep up the good work. Lionel
      Technoir
      • 11 Months Ago
      Awesome video and explanation. Thumbs up, really well done.
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