In 1769, seven years before the American Revolution, Nicholas Joseph Cugnot assembled the first self-propelled vehicle for the French military. This cugnot fardier (flatbed truck), was reproduced in detail by the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum.French Army captain Cugnot was one of the first to successfully employ a device for converting the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into a rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement.
The vehicle was reported to have been very unstable owing to poor weight distribution, a serious disadvantage for a vehicle intended to be able to traverse rough terrain and climb steep hills. In addition, boiler performance was also particularly poor, even by the standards of the day.
The vehicle’s fire needed to be relit, and its steam raised again, every quarter of an hour or so, which considerably reduced its overall speed and distance.After running a small number of trials, variously described as being between Paris and Vincennes and at Meudon, the project was abandoned.
This ended the French Army’s first experiment with mechanical vehicles. Even so, in 1772, King Louis XV granted Cugnot a pension of 600 livres a year for his innovative work, and the experiment was judged interesting enough for the fardier to be kept at the arsenal.