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World's oldest car for sale

Steam-powered 1884 car will be auctioned at Pebble Beach in August.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- A steam-powered car, billed as the oldest car in the world that still runs, will be sold in a Pebble Beach, Calif., auction in August.

The car was built in France in 1884, about a year before Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz of Germany built their first experimental gasoline-powered cars. (The two were working independently of one another.) Henry Ford, the man many Americans mistakenly believe invented the automobile, built his first car 12 years after this one.

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The four-wheeled De Dion-Bouton et Trepardoux, nicknamed "La Marquise," was originally built for the French Count De Dion, one of the founders of the company. The car has had only two other owners since, according to auction house Gooding & Company, which is handling the sale.

In an 1887 demonstration drive, the car covered a 19 mile course at an average speed of 26 miles per hour. The following year, it won the world's first car race, according to Gooding, beating a three-wheeled steam-powered De Dion-Bouton.

Fueled by coal, wood and bits of paper, the car takes about a half-hour to work up enough steam to drive. Top speed is 38 miles per hour.

"That's as fast as you want to go," said David Gooding, founder of the auction company. "It feels like going 80 or 90 miles per hour in a newer automobile. And, by newer, I mean 1910."

The car runs on thin tires of solid rubber wrapped around metal wheels.

Bob Casey, curator of transportation for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, agreed that the De Dion-Bouton is, quite possibly, the oldest running automobile. (The definition of "automobile," in this case, excludes large steam-powered carriages that were, essentially, rail cars without rails.) Casey's museum has an American-made steamer dating from the 1860s but it's no longer safe to drive and probably wasn't even when Henry Ford bought it in 1930.

Gooding estimates the car's value at between $1. 5 million and $2 million. It will be auctioned on August 19 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

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