Yesteryear Genius: Doble Steam Cars

3 years 4 days ago - 3 years 4 days ago #1159 by JP
JP created the topic: Yesteryear Genius: Doble Steam Cars

Doble E22 1925 Delux Runabout

Doble Steam Motors Corporation, Emeryville, California

1924 Doble most sophicated

The Doble steam car was primarily a car of the 1920s. Production was small even then, and only a handful of Dobles-the Model Fs-were built in 1930-31. Still, there is reason to overlook this fact and take a close look at the Doble. The then state of the art was the need for an alternative to the internal-combustion engine, which burned rapidly dwindling supplies of fossil fuel, i.e., gasoline, gave credibility to the idea that an advanced steam car just might be a welcomed development at the time.

Doble steam car old

Thus, as the story goes, the Doble was considered by many to be the most advanced steam car ever conceived, and in view of today's growing energy problems, it may still provide inspiration for a modern equivalent.


Abner Doble at the Wheel

Abner Doble was a San Francisco technician of fastidious character-a perfectionist to the core. Fascinated with steam cars at an early age, he built his first one as a high school student using old “Locomobile” parts. Doble knew the famous Stanley brothers, but he was not impressed with their car. To him it was appallingly crude: It needed a better condenser and the capability of being started easily from cold. The first car Doble built from the ground up used a water-tube boiler to raise steam quickly and a special radiator which condensed all steam exhaust. The engine started fast, yet showed no escaping steam while operating. Doble demonstrated this car to the Stanleys, and within three years their cars had an efficient steam condenser, too.

1924 Doble E10 displayed in Caister Castle Museum England.

Abner Doble formed and reformed several eastern companies between 1910 and 1920, none of which were successful. Moving to California in 1920, he sank his resources into a new factory and protracted research on his vision. Ultimately, this culminated in the 1924 Series E.

1914 Doble engine schematic

Doble Model D chasis

In achieving this, Doble made use of a burner connected to an electric blower which blended air with gasoline or a gas-kerosene mixture. Ignition was by battery, coil, and spark. Since steamers require intermittent ignition, Doble designed an automatic device which switched the ignition on and off, and thus controlled the operation of the burner according to the needs of the driver. To start the car, the driver first flicked on the ignition to activate the blower. The blower sucked in air and mixed it with the fuel; the mixture was then ignited by a single spark plug. At the end of this cycle, the ignition automatically switched off, while the blower continued revolving. Fuel burning continued until the steam boiler reached maximum pressure, at which point the burner switched off automatically. What all this amounted to was a combination of steam and internal combustion principles-the best of both worlds.

(And we’re impressed with cell phones! Every generation has its geniuses. Some catch on and a lot don’t. But the visionaries are the fuel behind this marvelous country we call America!)

Doble dashboard

The Model E Doble four-cylinder engine had a 213 cubic-inch displacement and developed 125 horsepower at a mere 1300 rpm. The car's cruising speed was 75 mph and a top speed was close to 100. Against the competition of the mid '20s and early '30s, its performance was staggering. The Type H6B Hispano­Suiza, then one of the fastest production cars in the world, had a cruising speed 10-15 mph below the Doble.

1925 Doble E22 Delux Runabout owned by Barry Herbert. Once owned by Howard Hughs, seen here on the 2009 Cotswolds Tour.

Leno in a Doble once owned by Howard Hughes.

Jay Leno's Garage "1925 Doble E-20 Steam Car"

Together with its technological sophistication, the Doble offered luxury. Bodies, most often supplied by Murphy, spanned a wide variety of styles. However, oops, the price of these cars was equal to their obscure character-up to $12,000. In that time the market was about three people with that kind of cash to spend.

Abner Doble's E-24 Coupe in UK 1934

The last Doble was the Model F, launched in 1929 and sold through 1931 amidst corporate misfortune. The F was little changed from the Model E. The main alteration was a higher-pressure firebox surrounded with cooling water. Really, by 1930, the Doble had long been perfected. (Let us all read this again…the word is perfected…by 1930. By the way, this around the time the brainiacs found a conversion process that made gasoline for military use from coal. Bill Gates, ah…Bill Who? Hats off to this generation of thinkers) However, as illustrated above, there was still a problem to solve. The problem was not the product, but the company.

In the mid '20s, stock manipulators were a common breed of crook (this seems to sound familiar; the mid’20s, ‘80s and whenever), and unfortunately, Doble was one of their victims. One company went broke just after its stock was traded for Doble stock. When the first company's stock was found to be worthless, the manipulators had already sold the acquired Doble stock at a 1000-percent profit. Doble, of course, received no money from the sale. Its own stock issues were held up by the authorities, and Doble finally had to settle the claims of those who had been defrauded. Hmmm. Dare I say what I’m thinking?

The firm was already on the brink of bankruptcy in 1926; the Great Crash of 1929 merely provided the final push into the financial abyss. Abner Doble persisted with steam engine designs for airplanes, boats, and light industrial engines. His last automobile involvement was with Robert Paxton McCulloch on the stillborn Paxton steam car of 1954, which was not produced due to lack of adequate capital. Doble died in 1961 but his principles live on, and may yet become the basis on which we build a steam car of the future. The Doble cars which survive today are certainly collector's items, and all are rated as Classics. A Series E was sold in 1976, it brought $18,000-a fairly small sum for technological perfection.

Doble 1924 Model E11

Glad you hung in there to read this article. This is one of the most interesting stories behind the automotive industries’ long history in America.

Thanks for checking in. Post your comments by logging in first and then let everyone know your thoughts about this subject. Thanks. JP

(About JP: He is the author of the book, Terrorism Defeated: God’s Plan to Win the War on Terror which was released in 2008. He loves the classic car community and has made a commitment to partner with his brother to bring you a website that is a worldwide swap meet you can visit every day on your computer to find classic car parts, cars to buy or sell, or the opportunity to link your automotive needs to one of the website's advertisers and/or experts.)

Cheers, Fast Eddie, Founder, Ed's Swap
Last Edit: 3 years 4 days ago by JP.

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2 years 11 months ago #1183 by Rambler
Rambler replied the topic: Yesteryear Genius: Doble Steam Cars
I really didn't know steam had gotten this far with cars. Wow.

Good article. I went to school today.

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