The turn of last century must have been a fascinating period to live in.

Within the last quarter century or so, the car itself had been invented by Karl Benz. Virtually every automotive advancement changed the direction of the automobile, and--perhaps more significantly than anything else--nobody had quite decided what cars should run on.

Steam was one option, as steam-powered vehicles had been driving around for many decades. They weren't always practical though, and with high-pressure boilers, not always safe. Gasoline was finding fans too--cheap and energy dense.

Then there was electricity. Several had experimented with electric cars, including Thomas Edison. It was clean and quiet, and potentially more reliable than the alternatives too.

But even back then, electricity had range limitations. Most understood that you could travel for longer on a tank full of combustible fuel. Even hybrids, of which Porsche was the first to develop, didn't persist.

Woods Interurban

In the early 20th Century, the Woods Motor Vehicle Company offered an alternative--swapping the entire drivetrain.

As Jalopnik reports, the Chicago-based automaker was already making electric cars and hybrids, but it was the Woods Interurban which proved most intriguing.

It was an electric car, but also a gasoline one--depending on what you needed it for. Driving a few miles down the road? Electric would be most suitable. Driving to the next city? You'd best hook up the gasoline engine.

Only ever built as a prototype, the electric motor could be replaced with an 8-horsepower, two-cylinder gasoline engine in an entirely reasonable-sounding 15 minutes. That's about as speedy as a quick charge these days, so not too bad for an entire drivetrain swap.

The more things change...

There are few details remaining on the car, and it seems the idea never took off--though there are echoes of it today in the Better Place battery-swapping system.

Alternatively, another modern interpretation could be today's range-extended cars and plug-in hybrids. They carry both methods of propulsion on board, but tend to use whichever is most suitable for the journey.

Jalopnik goes on to suggest a similar drivetrain-swapping method could work today, though we're not so sure. The logistics and cost might be a bit of a nightmare, apart from on particularly simple cars--perhaps like the Elio Motors 3-wheeler.

As it turns out, with gasoline, diesel, biofuel, natural gas, hybrid, range-extended and battery-electric cars to choose from today, and hydrogen fuel cells still waiting in the wings, it's equally as fascinating being around today, to see how our cars will be powered in the future


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