The Martin Stationette was pitched as the American economy car of the future. It was supposed to make our lives better, our roads clearer, but only one prototype was ever built. Thatā€™s probably for the best. On this weekā€™s episode of Jason DrivesĀ (I am writing the post for it because Jason is off doing stupid shit in Mexico) we found out that thereā€™s a lot wrong with the Stationetteā€”and thatā€™s leaving aside that itā€™s made entirely out of wood.

The Stationette was the last work by American automotive dreamer James V. Martin, who wanted to take aeroplane-style construction and aerodynamics and apply it to cars. This gets kind of confusing, as James Martin is not to be confused with Glenn Martin, the Martin of Lockheed-Martin, who was also working in planes at this time. Ahem.

In any case, Martinā€™s idea for the Stationette was to make a car a simply as possible and as space-efficiently as possible, so that suburban commuters wouldnā€™t take up unnecessary space, and thereā€™d be less traffic and more general happiness. This approach doesnā€™t exactly explain the execution.

Martin went for a unibody design. Great! Only he made it entirely out of wood. Not so great.

Advertisement

Martin went for a wind-cheating one-box design. Again, great! Only he made it so cramped that he had to put in flip-down theater-style seats and chop out the bottom third of the steering wheel so that anyone would fit. Again, not so great.

Complicating things more was that Martin used no shock absorbers whatsoever and only had something like bungee cords for suspension, Martin selected a stationary engine only really designed to sit at a single RPM to power the car, he stuck that very loud engine right behind the passenger compartment, he only gave the car a single rear wheel, which is the only wheel with any brakes, and also handles all of the power of the car running through Harley-Davidson running gear. Itā€™s sort of like a 1950s motorcycle with a generator engine driving around a small log cabin. The ride is troublingly bad, the steering wheel is a constant challenge, and the Harley sequential transmission (reverse-first-neutral-second-third) is not exactly user-friendly.

Though Martin wanted a large company to license his design to produce wooden economy cars for the everyman, the Stationette didnā€™t pick up any takers. Martin hoped that swathes of 1950s Americans would be buying Stationettes for $995, shifting gears with its oddly sexual leather-wrapped shifter, but only this one prototype was built.

Advertisement

It might be the most lovable-looking, instantly charming car ever made, what with al the wood and truly beautiful, adorable construction. But it was still terrible, and itā€™s probably for the best it didnā€™t make it.

(As always, thanks to our pals at the best motor museum in the world, the Lane!)