Pedal-actuated radial engines, 'gasogene' fuel that produces onboard methane and hydrogen, and electromagnetic power.

weird, wonderful wheels of pebble's unorthodox propulsion class

For the last hundred years or so of the automobile, we’ve more or less accepted that internal combustion has been the one and only true propulsion system to make cars go down the road. It’s only recently that many people can even imagine that electric cars could really be the future of transportation. But at the dawn of the automotive age, things were very different.

“At one point there were vehicles on the road powered by gasoline, electricity, and steam side by side—plus some hybrids,” automotive historian Evan Ide, who co-curated the Unorthodox Propulsion class at this year’s Pebble Beach, said in the program for the Concours. “It was not unlike today’s battle between gas and electric!”

The idea was to show that there have always been different ideas about how to get a car rolling.

“When we came up with it, the idea was, ‘What about all these cars that have different systems of propelling them to what we’re accustomed to,'” said Martin Button, who was on the selection committee for the class. “Because for 90 years now, the main form of propulsion has been the internal-combustion engine. That, of course, is changing as the world is turning more and more to electric cars. Well, we had a lot of electric cars at the turn of the last century. In 1900 there were more than 100 manufacturers of electric cars.”

And soon there will be 100 more. But the Unorthodox Propulsion class was about more than just old EVs. There were radial engines—both hub-mounted and rear-mounted—a magneto engine that was like an early hybrid, and a Citroen that used “gasogene” to extract combustible methane and hydrogen by burning coal or even wood onboard.

Click on the video link above to see the cars, and perhaps spur your own thoughts about alternative propulsion, orthodox or not.

Mark Vaughn Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there.

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