Skip to main content

Automobile Arguments

July 2024
1min read

I must point out one glaring omission from Brock Yates’s list. If not the “greatest automobile of all time,” certainly the crowning automotive achievement of its time and a uniquely American work of engineering is the Doble (preferably series E) of the late 1920s.

It was (and still is, for most of them survive to this day) quieter than a RollsRoyce, would outrun a Duesenberg, required no gearshifting, and could in its day be run for less than any other remotely comparable car. The Doble was warranted for one hundred thousand miles. It would run quite happily on kerosene, heating oil, or other unrationed fuels during World War II, which kept it in daily use when Duesenbergs were being scrapped.

Obviously the Doble was a little different. Unlike all the other cars of its time, except the cantankerous Stanley, the Doble was a steam car. It had a boiler and ran its “engine” on steam pressure instead of burning it in the cylinders. The steam was recondensed, so the car only needed water every few hundred miles. To start it, you just turned the switch and in a minute or so were ready to drive off.

The Doble was not a great car because it was a steamer—nor in spite of it. It was a great car because of its capabilities and its exquisite workmanship. But the fact that it is a steamer has seemingly consigned it to history as an oddity and a cult object for steam freaks.

I personally would without hesitation choose a Doble if I were offered a choice of any collector car. If a Doble was good enough for Howard Hughes, it’s just fine with me.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.