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Da Vinci: Inventor of the Car?
Updated: 2004-04-25 08:47

Leonardo da Vinci is revered around the world as a master of Renaissance painting and an ingenious engineer, but few have thought of him as the father of the modern car.

But on Friday, the Museum of History and Science in Florence -- the heart of Renaissance Italy -- unveiled the first "automobile" built based on some of the sketches from da Vinci's famous notebooks.

"This has been a big adventure which has also helped us to develop tools to help people unaware of Leonardo's scholarship understand this complex device," said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the museum.

The primitive-looking contraption runs on springs instead of petrol and was probably intended to produce special effects at courtly events, but it was still the world's first self-propelled "vehicle," the experts said.

The "automobile" -- which in fact looks more like a wagon -- is by no means the first invention discovered in da Vinci's mysterious manuscripts, which include flying machines, helicopters, submarines, military tanks and bicycles.

Born near Florence in 1452, da Vinci is thought of as the original "Renaissance Man" -- a talented painter, sculptor, engineer and musician.

Many of his ideas were recorded in notebooks now housed in museums and enjoying unprecedented popularity due to the best-selling novel the "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown.

In 1905, Girolamo Calvi, one of the pioneers of da Vinci studies, noted the links between da Vinci's designs and the first motor cars which were beginning to take to the roads.

In 1936, Calvi referred to da Vinci's sketches as "Leonardo's Fiat" but it wasn't until very recently that scientists correctly interpreted his design and the models on display in Florence are the first reconstructions.

Three "car" models, copies of da Vinci's sketches and an interactive digital simulation can be seen at the museum (http:/www.imss.fi.it/news/eautomobile.html) until June 5.

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