If you think that the Toyota Prius, that was first debuted in Japan in 1997, was the first ever hybrid car, you are so wrong! Rewind to a century before the time of Prius to the late 19th century, and you will hear about Ferdinand Porsche who had successfully designed hybrid and electric cars with Vienna-based carriage builder Jacob Lohner and Company in 1898.
Wow! The truth is that the hybrid car we are going to talk about was born even before that. The 1896 Armstrong Phaeton hybrid, which was recently unveiled at the Bonhams car auction during the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, could very well be the world’s first hybrid.
The car was designed by Harry E. Dey and built by the Armstrong Manufacturing Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Dey could very well be the father of hybrid cars! Dey was also the advocate of electric cars, and produced a design in 1895, that brought him to the attention of the Rogers Mechanical Carriage Company.
Rogers began its relationship with cars as an importer. The company imported cars from France, before deciding to take a more indigenous approach. However, the company wasn’t a fan of a completely hybrid cars for they feared its range limitations. Dey’s design though was that of a hybrid.
This hybrid came with a 6.5-liter boxer-twin gasoline engine and a flywheel. The flywheel worked as an electric motor that powered the car using its onboard batteries and also helped start the car – a revolutionary mechanism in an era of hand cranks!
The flywheel also worked as a generator, powering the headlamps, and even providing a degree of regenerative breaking. The flywheel was reportedly strong enough to power the car by itself for short distances. The car was definitely way ahead of its time and was an ingenious creation.
Armstrong was pulled in to build the prototype and the car appeared in the 1896 issue of “Horseless Age” magazine. Rogers founded the American Horseless Carriage Company to market the car, but unfortunately, neither entities survived past the initial public interest nor did the company survive past 1896. Armstrong took custody of the prototype and the car remained in its factory until 1963. Post 1963, the car moved through the hands of several collectors before being restored.
It was eventually auctioned off for $483,400 at the Bonhams Amelia Island Auction. Some may of heard of this car, some may not have. The world however, needs to clink its glasses to Harry Dey and toast him for what was the first ever hybrid car to hit the automobile market!