The first hydrogen car invented was not a fuel cell vehicle (FCV)
but rather an internal combustion engine. Swiss inventor Francois
Isaac de Rivaz in 1807 designed the first 4-wheel prototype (pictured)
that ran on hydrogen and oxygen gas. The hydrogen gas was contained
in a balloon and the ignition was an electrical Volta starter.
Half a century later in 1860, Frenchman Etienne Lenoir developed
the 3-wheel Hippomobile. The Lenoir Hippomobile was propelled
by a 1-cylinder, 2-stroke engine. The hydrogen was created for
the car by electrolyzing water and the resulting gas was run through
the horizontal engine.
The next hydrogen car invented was in 1933. Norway's Norsk Hydro
power company converted a small truck. The truck carried an ammonia
reformer that extracted hydrogen and then burned this in its internal
Leap forward to 1941 and World War II. Out of dire need Russia's
Boris Shelishch converted 200 GAZ-AA trucks to run on hydrogen.
Germany's Nazi army had surrounded Leningrad, Russia so Shelishch
converted the trucks to run on hydrogen gas, which burned cleaner
and ran longer than those which had run on gasoline.
Fast forward a bit to 1959 and Harry Karl Ihrig converted an Allis-Chalmers
farm tractor to create the first fuel cell vehicle in history. The
vehicle contained 1,008 tiny alkaline fuel cells and the tractor
is now harbored in the Smithsonian Institute.
In 1966 it was a banner year for both hydrogen internal combustion
engines and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Roger Billings converted
a Model A Ford to run on hydrogen with its internal combustion engine.
In addition, General Motors created the GM Electrovan fuel cell
vehicle, which is considered by many to be the first FCV passenger
automobile of record.
Since this time, both hydrogen internal combustion vehicles have
been created along with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In more recent
times, the industry has opted for FCV's since they can be up to
80-percent efficient (compared to 25-percent of a internal combustion
engine), are quiet running, and there are zero emissions (the
only byproduct is heat and steam).