It seems like everyone’s talking about that woman who fired up her Difference Engine and keyed in a long, self-satisfied story about how she and her husband live like it’s 1880. That’s fine by me. But, while reading more about them, I found references to a “truck.” That just won’t do. But I’m not here to judge — I’m here to help.
First, let me be clear, I’m not trying to talk these people out of living how they want; no matter how affected or goofy or ridiculous it may seem to many of us, they have every right to do it.
But as someone who genuinely loves automobiles of their 1800s larval-stage, I can’t bear the idea that these people think it’s okay to have a re-built penny-farthing and wind-up their clocks and pour paraffin in their heaters and yet not use a period-correct steam vehicle (or even electric, or gas, really) for their transportation needs.
I mean, really, this is just one long, tedious cosplay without the car-angle covered here. They must feel it every time they load their expensive hand-made bicycles and tricycles into their modern (presumably - they don’t go into what kind or how old a truck it is, but I guaran-fucking-tee you we’d hear about it if it was period-correct in any way) truck.
I mean, if you’re going to do this to the degree that they are, where they’re defining their whole lives by their Victorian fetishism, I think you really need to get all the components together. And the proper motor vehicle is key.
The good news for them is that the period they seem to have settled on as their ‘acceptable’ era is around the 1880s. That’s good news because by the 1880s, all three major types of motor vehicle — steam, gasoline, and electric — were available, even if they were in quite early stages.
Steam vehicles were by far, the most mature. The first automobile designed from the ground up to carry passengers, the 1803 London Steam Carriage, can be thought of as a beginning, and by the 1830s steam omnibus service was relatively common in England. The first series-produced automobile (about 50 were built), Amédée Bollée’s La Mancelle was available in 1878. If these crazy wool-bathing-suit-lovers really wanted to step up, a replica of a Bollée could certainly be built, and even be modified to carry their bikes in place of that painfully modern truck.
Steam power, of course, takes some work. Which, frankly, they should embrace, if they really want to feel what Victorian life was like. I feel like if you’re not shoveling coal into a boiler of some kind, you’re really missing out on a key part of Victorian tech culture. At least, that’s what the magic lantern slides of late-1800s TEDx talks I’ve seen say.
But it doesn’t have to be coal, as stereotypically perfect as that would be. If they won’t mind using modern-generated electricity (they already say they’ll use vintage-reproduction electric lights when they have company, so I think this is a safe conclusion) then they could take the much easier route of an electric vehicle.
In 1881, Gustave Trouve built an electric tricycle, and a few years later, in England, Thomas Parker built a number of practical electric cars. These cars were quite simple to use and drive, and a modern equivalent could be built that used, basically, golf cart parts and still be reasonably historically accurate. Just stick to heavy old lead-acid batteries and simple DC motors, and maybe use an old Amish buggy for the body.
I don’t think you’d be able to expect more than, say, 25 miles of range and about the same number of miles per hour, but it would certainly work as a general-use city car. And I bet it could carry those bikes if need be, too.
They could even be totally conventional and use a gasoline-powered car, like the famous (but despite what always seems to be said, not the “first car ever” by a long shot) Benz Patent-Motorwagen of 1886. There were 25 of these built (with various model improvements) between 1886 and 1893 — well within the target scope of our neo-Vickies.
There’s been many Patent Motorwagen replicas built already, and a simple vehicle that generally fits within the technological parameters of the time could be constructed, the level of how accurate they want to be dictating the price. On the cheap side, a little lawnmower engine on a tube-frame body with bicycle wheels and other vintage-style bicycle parts would give a very close experience to the orginal Benz, and if they wanted to spend more money, I’m sure they can find a shop to make a real open-crankshaft, horizontal cylinder engine like the original Benz.
The whole point here is that if these chronically overdressed people are really, really serious about what they’re doing — which it seems they are — they need to go all out and get a period-correct motor vehicle.
The original Victorians generally embraced new technologies. Just look at famous Victorian-era time-citizen Mark Twain, who was an early adopter of the Spotify of 1897, the Tellharmonium. A Victorian probably would find the idea of deliberately shunning any sort of technological advance pretty silly.
But, if they’re going to do this, they may as well make themselves available to every Victorian technology they can, especially if it means ditching the 3,000lbs of anachronism that is whatever truck they now have.
My vote is for a copy of the La Mancelle, but I think from a practical standpoint, they should just go for a simple electric car. I’m available for consultation on this matter if the Chrismans are interested; just telegraph me care of Jalopnik.