Danish Delights #8: 1888 Hammelvognen

With some four years delay, I have finally got around to some collecting some more photos and written text to go along with it. This is the first of another four Danish Delights.

You know that friend or colleague who argues that he or she drives a new car instead of a 12 years old Focus like you (well, me) because they worry about reliability of a 12 year old car? Consider this a story for that person.

This is a very special car: It is, according to the Danish Museum of Science and Technology in Elsinore where it resides, the oldest drivable car in the world, and certainly the oldest driveable car would never beat this one by more than two years.

It gets exercised a couple of times a year. The car is called Hammelvognen – the Hammel Car in English. Hammel refers to the factory where it was created – not where it was created though there is a Danish town called Hammel. And this creation took place in 1888, a mere two years after the first car was introduced.

The car was built by car mechanic (technically, since that occupation did not really exist at the time) and blacksmith (officially) Hans Urban Johansen at the factory of Albert F. Hammel in Copenhagen.

Hans Urban Johansen in Hammelvognen around 1890. Photo from info poster at the museum.

The engine is a 4-stroke 2-cylinder contraption with glowrod ignition. I am not sure that is the correct term but it ignites the fuel-air mixture through heated steel rods. Displacement is 2.7 liters for a whopping 1.1 bhp per liter. Top speed equivalent to a brisk walk: 5.6 mph.

An interesting note, that is analogous to the issues of electric car charging today, is that when this car was new, gasoline was only sold in pharmacies. This meant that you had to plan ahead if you were going anywhere. You would have to call pharmacies in advance to have them stock gasoline. Did I say “call”. I meant “write”. The first telephones in Denmark were introduced in 1882 and on a limited network of 22 very wealthy folks, so when the Hammel car was introduced six years later, pen and paper would still be the way to order fuel. Talk about range anxiety!

In 1954 the car completed the London Brighton Race and there is a video of it here.

I asked about reliability of a car like this, and the custodian told me that there is really not much to maintain. He seemed hardly impressed with the car being fully operational 130+ years after its creation. That’s really impressive. It may not be the mileage king, but surely it is eligbile for some sort of durability award.

Previous installments here:

Danish Delights #1: 1950 Sommer S1

Danish Delights #2: 1960 Volvo Special

Danish Delights #3: 1972 Sommer Joker

Danish Delights #4: 1981 OScar

Danish Delights #5: 1967 SVJ 1000 GT

Danish Delights #6: 1987 Ellert

Danish Delights #7: 1998 Kewet