top of page

1770 Fardier de Cugnot: Tampa Bay Automobile Museum's Replica of the First Automobile

The Tampa Bay Automobile Museum, renowned for its dedication to automotive history, embarked on an ambitious project to build a replica of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot- the first automobile. Completed in 2010, this functional reproduction brought Nicolas Cugnot’s groundbreaking invention back to life, making it the first time in over 200 years that the Fardier has run. The engineers from Polypack and the museum have succeeded in recreating this historic vehicle with meticulous attention to detail and historical accuracy.

Extensive Research and Expert Consultation

The project began with an in-depth exploration of the original Fardier de Cugnot. The museum's team delved into historical documents, drawings, and descriptions, including "Les Éléments de l'Art Militaire Ancien et Moderne" by Cugnot himself. They also examined analyses by historians and engineers to grasp the design and operational principles of the vehicle.

Existing replicas, particularly the one constructed by the Deutsche Bahn Museum in 1935, provided valuable insights. However, the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum aimed to go beyond a visual reproduction to create a fully functional model that replicated the original vehicle's performance.

To ensure historical accuracy and technical feasibility, the museum consulted with experts in steam engineering, historical vehicle restoration, and 18th-century engineering practices. This collaboration informed decisions about materials, construction techniques, and necessary modifications to achieve a working model.

The Construction Process

The construction of the Fardier de Cugnot involved recreating the steam engine's cylinders and pistons according to General de Gribeauval's original specifications. The team produced detailed plans in both imperial and metric measurements, using the "Chatelet toise" for certain dimensions to ensure historical accuracy. The cylinders were cast using sand molding techniques in Tampa, Florida, and machined to precise tolerances in the museum's workshop.

Boiler Design and Safety Enhancements

One of the most challenging aspects was the boiler. The original design's inefficiencies and safety concerns necessitated a modern approach. The museum opted for a tubular boiler design with steel tubes running through the water to maximize heat exchange. This design increased steam production efficiency and enhanced safety. Brass tubes were used for water flow, and a safety valve was added, respecting historical design while ensuring operational safety.

Distributor and Valve Mechanism

Recreating the distributor and valve mechanism was intricate. The museum relied on early 19th-century drawings and incorporated a spring mechanism to accelerate the valve's rotation. This dual-timing system, essential for smooth engine operation, was meticulously reconstructed to match Cugnot's innovative design.

Chassis, Frame, and Wheels

The steel chassis, wooden frame, and wheels were constructed to match the original specifications. Plans were drawn in inches, and hex bolts were used for historical accuracy. The museum ensured that the various parts fit together securely, replicating the robust construction techniques of the 18th century.

Testing and Refinements

Initial tests were conducted with compressed air to verify piston motion and distributor operation without the risks of high-pressure steam. These tests revealed minor adjustments needed for smooth and efficient operation. Following successful compressed air tests, the team moved on to steam trials. The modern tubular boiler performed admirably, generating sufficient steam to power the vehicle. The Fardier replica moved smoothly, validating the team's design choices and construction methods.

Public Display and Educational Outreach

The completed replica of the Fardier de Cugnot now serves as a centerpiece at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. It demonstrates the ingenuity and foresight of early automotive engineering. Integrated into the museum's educational programs, the Fardier replica teaches visitors about the history of steam power, the evolution of automotive technology, and the challenges faced by early inventors like Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot.

The Fardier de Cugnot replica is more than just a historical artifact; it is a testament to the dedication and expertise of the engineers at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum and Polypack. This project not only honors Cugnot's legacy but also inspires future generations to appreciate and continue the pursuit of innovation.


Become an archive member for exclusive access to photos, videos and historical documents about the museum's car collection.

bottom of page