Cars with Propellers, Part 1

"QUANTUM SHOT" #516(rev)
Link - article by Avi Abrams

If you ever wanted to shred air (and pedestrians) in your wake, here is your chance.

Why attach the propeller to a perfectly normal car? Firstly, because you can! Second, because you can rid your car of transmission, clutch, brakes and many other conventional systems. Because you can utilize air power and powerful aircraft engines, gain lots of traction and never have to worry about wheelspin or getting stuck in snow or mud.

Some of these cars are seen functioning and even running at the shows even today (with onlookers keeping a respectable distance). Most of these vehicles feature sluggish low-speed acceleration (0 to 40mph), pretty good maximum speed (up to 170mph), not so good fuel economy and a loud sustained noise from propellers. None of these shortcomings, however, seem to take away from the awesomeness of owing a propeller-driven land beast.

(521 Leyat Helicar (1922), photo by Robert Knight)

(images via)

In the early 1900s some rather crazy-looking armored vehicles were used by the millitary - here is the "Sizaire-Berwick Wind Wagon" from 1905 (and some nameless model shown below it):

Here Count Bertrand de Lesseps demonstrates his Auto Aero in 1912:

(photo: National Photo Museum, Beaulieu, via

French engineer Marcel Leyat designed many "Helica" propeller-powered cars between 1913 and 1926 (all in all thirty were built, with two still existing today). Some models featured an open, unprotected propeller, good for shredding everything that might be unfortunate enough to come close to it. Later models gained a wooden protective shroud, which made them at least somewhat roadworthy (that is, roadworthy only in France):

Photos via Anthony Smith and Claude Guéniffey)

With the kind permission of Claude Guéniffey, here are some rare images of this fantastic contraption:

Advertising and postcard images c.1926

Some Helicas were built for speed, and one particular version even broke the speed record on Montlhéry racetrack in 1927 - 170km/h.

Sport version, 1921 - photo by J. Borgé & N. Viasnoff - and 1924 version

Here is a little baby Helica! (one of the cutest images I've seen all year) -

Some surviving Helicas still look great showcased among other vintage cars (even vintage sports cars) and, in my opinion, represent the quintessential steampunk transportation:

The great-condition 1922 Helica (owner: Jean-François Bouzanquet) can be actually driven in Paris

See them running under their own power! -

And, if all else fails, you could strip these propeller-driven cars of wheels and hang them from a monorail:

(image credit: modernmechanix)

Many Soviet snowmobiles during World War One and Two were powered by propellers - see our article, covering the full range of such models.

Come the 1930s... and the revival of the Imperial Propeller-Mobile

The idea of a streamlined propeller car proved to be quite irresistible to the imperial-minded Germans. Here is a 1938 Maybach Experimental, with a seven-cylinder radial aircraft engine mounted at the back:

(images by National Photo Museum, Beaulieu)

The "Helicron" (1932) is an interesting example discovered in France not long ago, hidden in a barn. It was completely restored; the original horizontally opposed two-cylinder four-stroke engine was replaced with a four-cylinder air-cooled Citroen GS engine (with the propeller coupled directly to the crankshaft). It was deemed safe for French roads, and can reach a top speed of 75mph.

(images top, left Matt Ewalt)

This 1932 model may seem pretty ugly, but it does have a maximum speed of 80mph:

(image credit: modernmechanix.com)

Modern Ideas Keep the Propeller Car Alive

... And many engineers still dream about owing one. FOr example, here is Dave Major presenting his "Aero Car" (more info) -

(images by Harrod Blank, Blert.net)

Dave Major also made "Aerocar 2" (or "Propellor Car") - more great pics here.

(images by Paul McRae and MaxAir2Air)

A propeller-driven Messerschmitt has proved to be quite a novelty (see a lot more Messerschmitts on this page) -

(image credit: Mike Farrenkopf)

Here is another cute one: "Taylor AeroCar III" (1965) -

(image credit: Aerofiles)

This 1955 Argentinian Aerocar (powered by a Chevrolet six-cylinder engine) at one time was even considered for mass-production in California, however, after realizing that its fully-exposed propeller may seriously decimate the amount of pedestrians (and potential customers) in California, these plans never got off the ground.

(image credit: Modern Mechanix)

Over in Russia, more than a hundred propeller-driven snowmobiles Sever were made in the 1960s, based on the good old "Pobeda" car chassis:

(image credit: dotsfam)

German-made air-driven sledges helped a lot in the Arctic:

(image credit: The Alfred Wegener Institute)

Shown below are other rarely-seen streamlined versions, including a bizarre "Road Zeppelin" from one Iowa designer:

(images via)

Also check out this air-car built in 1985 and put out for sale on eBay for $10,000 -

(images via)

The "Chimera" is an advanced tactical concept vehicle developed for special operations and infiltration missions -

(image credit: Altair Aerospace)

Propeller Bikes & Trikes

Here is the propeller trike made by MIT student Damon Vander Lind. As DIY as such projects come, this contraption will bring you to the mall, and will fly clear over it, if you are not careful:

(image credit: Popular Mechanics)

Something more conventional, or more weird, depending on how you look at it, is a propeller-driven bicycle, conceived in 1936:

(image credit: ModernMechanix, via)

This thing will kill not only every pedestrian that would pass by, but also every dog that would dare to jump at it.

A similar idea powered the Alessandro Anzani's cycle, one of the first of its kind, back in 1906:

(image credit: Musée de l' Air et de l'Espace de Paris-Le Bourget, via)

This one looks downright sinister:

(image credit: Bob Hanson)

The idea itself lives on today, even if only in the hands of homegrown inventors and tinkerers:

This hybrid thing was spotted in Huntsville, Alabama (and it does have propeller in the back, albeit a small one) -

(image credit: Eric Atkins)

Finally, let's get away from all this engineering foolhardiness (and some will say ugliness) and dream a little - imagine how a perfect vintage air-car might look like with a propeller (or no propeller).

Colin Smith at Photoshop Cafe presents this vision (sporting a wondrous form of Alfa Romeo BAT series - see our article) - Blast off!

(image credit: Colin Smith)

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.




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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a bicycle driven by an aerial paddlewheel?


This contraption appeared in "Flight" magazine, 22nd Jan 1910, on page 66.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might want to add this beautiful Tatra V885 snowmobile: http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatra_V_855

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This indeed needs more Tatra Aerosled:


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