The 1896 Armstrong Phaeton is probably the world’s first hybrid car. Developed by Harry E. Dey and built by the Armstrong Company for the Roger Mechanical Carriage Company, it features a 6.5L 2-cylinder petrol engine and a dynamo flywheel connected to an on-board battery. The dynamo (and regenerative braking) is used to charge the battery, which provides the necessary power to start the engine. Impressively, this electric-start system pre-dates Cadillac’s innovative starter motor by 16 years.
In addition to helping charge the battery and start the car, the dynamo also serves to provide the ignition spark and powers the car’s electric lamps. Dey also gave the Armstrong a semi-automatic transmission, with three forward gears and a reverse gear that were changed via a selector on the steering column. When changing gears, an electric clutch automatically disengages and then re-engages, negating the need of a clutch pedal.
The Armstrong will be going up for auction at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance on March 10, 2016. It is expected to fetch somewhere between $175,000 and $275,000. While this fine automotive specimen of a bygone age (advanced though it was for its time) will fetch a pretty penny as it finds an appreciative new owner, the fact that is still exists at all is remarkable. That it is drivable is even more astounding.