Now that he’s retired, Jay Leno can spend his time in his massive car collection, where he gets to play with cars like the 1925 Noble E-20 steam-powered car. One of Jay’s longer videos, you can really get a sense of the passion he has for classic cars most of us have never heard of.
In Jay’s words, nobody ever built a better steam car than Abner Noble. By 1925, steam powered automobiles were dead, replaced by the internal combustion engine and electric starter, but the Noble E-20 managed to remain competitive with combustion engines thanks to excellent engineering. No two cars were exactly the same, according to Leno, as he slowly and carefully goes over every detail of this unique vehicle.
Leno goes beyond just showing us his steam car though, taking us to a Noble frame to better display the engine technology of this cutting-edge car. The extent of Jay’s knowledge is almost intimidating to be frank, as this steam engine has almost nothing in common with anything you might know about combustion engines. With temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees, the superheated steam is injected into a unique engine that is all power strokes; steam pushes the piston up AND down. There’s no transmission either, with a direct-drive system sending power directly to the axle.
Keep in mind, this car is approaching a hundred years old, and “starting” the Noble takes just 13 steps…and a few minutes of your time. This car is the literal epitome of steampunk, but when it gets going it can keep up with almost any modern car on the road, if you can believe it. That said, Leno made some pretty big upgrades, including disc brakes and a plasma-coated heat shield that lets him see when the car is up to operating temperatures. Very cool. The car is whisper quiet too, making it easy to hear Leno over the steam engine, though he claims it makes an incredible amount of torque.
Why am I still writing though? Grab a drink and stick around for this video, because it’s absolutely fascinating from start to finish. If only it didn’t take ten minutes to start.