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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 April, 2004, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Da Vinci 'car' is brought to life
By Frances Kennedy
BBC correspondent in Rome

Journalists study the model of the car at Florence's Science Museum
The car was built to amuse the court, rather than as a means of transport
Five centuries after his death Italian scientists have finally managed to interpret the design for a car by Leonardo da Vinci and recreate it.

It is considered to be a precursor to the modern automobile.

The design of a self-propelling cart in Leonardo's Atlanticus Codex has always perplexed scholars, partly because the documentation was incomplete.

Now experts in Florence have been able to recreate the car envisaged by the Renaissance master - and make it work.

The carriage is on show in Florence until June.

False interpretation

For more than a century, modern Leonardo scholars have grappled with page 812R of the Atlanticus Codex.

Other pages contained astounding inventions, from a bicycle to a submarine.

A variety of models were built, based on da Vinci's wooden cart, but no one was ever able to make them work, because of an error of interpretation.

They all thought that the motor apparatus came from two leaf springs.

The breakthrough came when leading scholar, Carlo Pedretti, had a hunch that the mechanism to propel the cart came from two completely different springs inside drums beneath the wagon.

The leaf springs that the engineers had always focused on were, in fact, a rudimentary steering system.

Dr Pedretti worked for years with an American robotic scientist to create dynamic digital models of Leonardo's car and fine-tune the mechanisms.

Prop

The result is a wooden cart one metre (3 feet, 4 inches) long that can move by itself and is on display at the Museum of Science History in Florence.

Dr Pedretti believes the vehicle was probably designed as a moving prop at a courtly renaissance feast, often a showcase for artists and engineers.

Even in such a frivolous setting Leonardo's striving for innovation was unrivalled, leading him tantalisingly close to the idea of a motor vehicle - centuries before it was invented.


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