Is this 1896 horseless carriage the world's very first hybrid car?


1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

Enlarge Photo

The Toyota Prius may have started the era of modern hybrid cars when it debuted in Japan in 1997, but it was far from the first hybrid vehicle.

Ferdinand Porsche actually designed a handful of hybrid and electric cars with Vienna-based carriage builder Jacob Lohner and Company, starting in 1898.

But there's another vehicle that predates even that effort.

DON'T MISS: First-Ever Porsche Turns Out To Be An Electric Car (Jan 2014)

It's this 1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid, which resurfaced at the Bonhams car auction during the recent Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance—and may be the world's first hybrid.

That hybrid horseless carriage was designed by Harry E. Dey, and built by the Armstrong Manufacturing Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, according a Hemmings blog post detailing the car.

Dey was an advocate of electric cars, and produced a design for one in 1895, which brought him to the attention of the Rogers Mechanical Carriage Company.

1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

Enlarge Photo

Rogers had been importing cars from France and wanted a homegrown design, but wouldn't accept an all-electric car because of concerns over range limitations.

So Dey designed his hybrid system, which include a 6.5-liter boxer-twin gasoline engine and a flywheel.

The flywheel served as an electric motor when the car was underway, drawing power from onboard batteries.

ALSO SEE: 1917 Detroit Electric Vs 2014 BMW i3: A Century Of Electric Cars (Sep 2015)

But it could also help start the car, a remarkable feature in the era of hand cranks.

It also served as a generator, recharging the batteries, powering onboard accessories like lights, and even providing a degree of regenerative braking.

The flywheel was even reportedly powerful enough to power the carriage by itself for short distances.

1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

1896 Armstrong phaeton hybrid

Enlarge Photo

Armstrong was contracted to build the prototype, which appeared in an 1896 issue of Horseless Age magazine (presumably the Motor Trend of its day).

Rogers formed the American Horseless Carriage Company to market the car, but neither entity survived past 1896.

MORE: 1899 Vintage Electric Car Sells For Record-Breaking $550,000 In Auction (Aug 2011)

Armstrong took custody of the prototype, which sat in a corner of its factory until 1963. It then passed through the hands of several collectors and was eventually restored.

It sold for $483,400 at the Bonhams Amelia Island auction—not bad for such an obscure machine.

Few people may have heard of it, but all of today's hybrid drivers may owe Harry E. Dey and his car a tip of the hat.

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