With the recent reveal of the production-ready Terrafugia flying car, we thought it an appropriate time to take a quick look at propeller-driven automobiles. Not the kind that fly. The kind that drive. Hello, propcar! Run, pedestrians, run!
Photo Credit: Photo France
Left: The 2200-pound Argentine Aerocar, a prototype built in the mid-1950s. Fourteen feet long, a 97-inch wheelbase, and a prop just under five feet in length. It used a 90-hp Chevrolet straight six to produce a top speed of just over 100 mph. Right: An example of the French Leyat Airscrew, a variation of which was first offered as early as 1912. Front wheels did the braking, rear wheels were responsible for steering.
Image Credit: Hemmings/SIA
Another view of the Aerocar prototype, as seen in the October 1955 issue of Mechanix Illustrated.
Image Credit: Mechanix Illustrated/Google Books via Modern Mechanix
The 1915 Sizaire-Berwick Wind Wagon. An experiment by the British admiralty in 1915. That year, Royal Naval Air Service (the same people who produced these awesome armored cars) were being withdrawn from the western front and sent to regions where the terrain didn't suit ordinary cars. Only one example of the Wind Wagon was produced. It was not tested outside of England.
Photo Source: Fsu.edu
A pair of Leyat propeller-powered vehicles, this time featured in advertising photographs. Marcel Leyat, the man responsible, produced what is likely to be the greatest amount of prop-driven automobiles ever made, all of them before World War II. These vehicles, most of which were known as Hélicas, came in a variety of forms — some with cabins, some without, but almost all with the same steer-in-rear, brake-in-front configuration. Wikipedia claims some 30 examples were sold.
A 1921 Hélica at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. Note the twin-cylinder engine and four-bladed (twin two-blades, actually) prop. This configuration changed over the course of the Hélica's evolution.
Photo Credit: PHGCOM/Wikipedia
A 1922 Hélica in road trim at the 2000 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the same vehicle shown at the beginning of this gallery. Several sources claim that this is the sole surviving Hélica in running condition. The windowed cabin and glancing nods toward road usage — headlights, windows, fenders — belie the fact that it was still a relatively impractical vehicle. (To say nothing of pedestrian danger.)
Photo Credit: Goodwood-Festival.com
A concept for a propellor-driven monorail as illustrated in the June 1933 issue of Popular Science. The text claims a 155-mph speed from a 15-hp electric motor. Yep. Totally gonna happen. (While we're at it, where's my flying car already?
Image Credit: Popular Science/Google Books via Modern Mechanix
An experimental car developed in 1938 by the German automaker Maybach. (Yes, that Maybach. Well, not quite, given that the modern company draws little connection to the carmaker of old. But the same name and luxury focus.) The engine mounted on the rear deck is a seven-cylinder radial originally designed for aircraft use. Prop blades were adjustable for pitch. The body was likely by coachbuilder Spohn; the two firms had collaborated in the past.
Photo Credit: British National Motor Museum, Beaulieu
A 1932 French Helicron that famously made the Internet rounds a few years ago. It was discovered in a barn in 2000 after sitting dormant for approximately 70 years. The rear wheels are sprung but the fronts are not. The vehicle is currently powered by a Citroën GS four-cylinder. You can watch it (and hear it — oof!) here.
Photo Credit: Lane Motor Museum
This one is a bit of a cheat. This is Dave Majors's Aerocar, a 1959 BMW Isetta 600 with an electrically driven prop on its nose. The aircraft tail section on the roof is claimed to be "from a real airplane," and the tires are supposedly from a Beech jet. The dash features a working altimeter, airspeed indicator, and compass. This is kind of dorky. Even for us.
Photo Credit: Harrod Blank
This is something called the "L-5 Propeller Car," also built by Majors. It's powered by a six-cylinder Lycoming aircraft engine — the modern equivalent of the do-it-all radial, though considerably less awesome — and can apparently be set up to traverse either snow or dry pavement. You can watch it do its thing on asphalt here.
Ahh, the Russians. If you need something weird, you can always depend on the Russians. This is a snowcar/cat/mobile. It was based on the GAZ-M20, a.k.a. "Pobeda." In Soviet Russia, it snow-drove you, etc. You get the picture.
Last but not least, we have this. It's called the Jetstream. MAKE discovered it on eBay a few years ago. The seller had this to say about it:
This car was built in 1985. Body is built with fiberglass and urethane composite making it very light. Entire body can be lifted off with 2 people for easy access to frame and all other parts. Powered by 400 cubic inch Chevy small block, driving through a 2 to 1 reduction drive to a six blade, 54" propeller. As the propeller tips approach mach 1, she is extremely loud... I am a little leery on selling because of the sue happy society now adays... The Jetstream is no more or less dangerous than an airplane, but that is a six blade prop back there an anything that goes through it will...... well you understand. This is a serious running vehicle and is not a toy! I have had a lot of fun with her. Scares the hell out of chickens and is a blast on a dirt road!
Which pretty much explains it all. Chickens. Yes. Of course. (Wouldn't you?)
If you'd like to see more propeller-driven moving objects — bicycles, tricycles, and so on — please visit Dark Roasted Blend's prop-car gallery, from which much of the images here were taken.
Photo Source: eBay via MAKE