Engineers have been tinkering with alternative fuels since Henry Ford put America on wheels with the Model T. That car, which was designed for gasoline fuel, also could tolerate other sources of power such as kerosene. However, steam was often tinkered with, too.
In the 1960s, smog really became a problem, especially in California. By the end of the decade, the U.S. government told automakers to try their best to solve the smog and emissions problem in the country. General Motors took a crack at it with what you see here: a 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle powered by steam.
According to Road and Track, Bill Besler, who purchased the remains of steam engine company Doble, was invited to GM and tasked with building a steam-powered car. So, he did just that, and created the SE-124.
The Chevelle had its V8 engine sawed in half and the rear portion was left attached to the bell housing. The block was then replumbed to handle steam, and became a double-acting compound engine. As the original report explains, the right side of the vee housed a high-pressure cylinder. The steam is then routed to the other side in a low-pressure cylinder. It’s then exhausted through a condenser before the process starts all over again.
As previously mentioned, kerosene was the fuel of choice for the SE-124, which provided a much cleaner burn than gasoline. When all was said and done, the steam-powered car could reach 65 mph and returned 15 mpg—an impressive number for the time period.
But, GM gave the SE-124 back to Besler when the project was completed. Since then, the car exchanged hands a few times before sitting in a private collection. It currently doesn’t run, but one day, the owner hopes to have it moving on its own accord again.