The following is from an article printed in the “Daily Telegraph” on Saturday April 23rd 2004. (page 17)
'Leonardo's Fiat' finally springs into life
By Bruce Johnston
Extraordinary invention of 1478 could have paved the way for Mars rovers, reports Bruce Johnston in Rome
Leonardo da Vinci was yesterday credited with anticipating the car when a model of one of his drawings was hailed as the first self-propelling vehicle conceived. The wooden 5ft by 5ft 6in model, featured in an exhibition at Florence's Science History Museum, is driven by springs. It is also the first projected vehicle with programmable steering.
Designed to operate as a robot, the car, which can travel a few yards at a time, has an unusual optional extra: a steering column.
"It's absolutely typical of Leonardo," said Prof Carlo Pedretti, one of the world's leading authorities on Leonardo (1452-1519). "He was always providing options with all his inventions." Beside being one of the greatest artists of his day, Leonardo dreamed up a variety of extraordinary inventions.
In his drawings he anticipated the aeroplane, the helicopter, the submarine, the steam engine, the tank and the bicycle, but never brought any of the ideas to fruition. Prof Pedretti said the artist's drawings for the car were probably for an idea he had to cause a sensation at some courtly function.
The model presented yesterday took seven years to make, after Prof Pedretti identified drawings of coiled springs concealed in drums beneath the car as its most likely source of power "It's a very sophisticated device," Prof Pedretti, the director of the Armand Hammer Centre of Leonardo Studies in Los Angeles, told the Telegraph.
"I think it was inspired by Lorenzo della Volpaia, who built the clock - destroyed a century later - for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. "As a result of my studies, I have found that Leonardo was in touch with Lorenzo."
While the drawings of the car, made in 1478, have long been known to scholars, understanding how it worked has been an enduring mystery.
Girolamo Calvi, the pioneer of modern Leonardo studies, found the drawings for the car in 1905, in the artist's Codex Atlanticus. The Italian academic would later jokingly refer to it as "Leonardo's Fiat".
Prof Pedretti said there were echoes of the design in one of the most modern man-made vehicles. "Our new model of Leonardo's car does look like the [Nasa] Spirit space vehicle used on Mars."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.