Over the ages, many thousands of vehicles have been designed. Some of these designs have made it into production and become very successful vehicles. On the other hand, many of these designs lacked an element to become a modern marvel of the time, and thus, never had the chance to reach true cardom once released to the public. While this is often unfortunate, there are cars that have failed even more miserably. These wretched designs never even graduated from a concept into production. The following vehicles have been chosen carefully from a huge list of awkward, misshapen, dangerous, and/or inefficient vehicles and put together in my short four car list of wacky automobiles. While some of them are not complete failures, they stick out like a sore thumb when put next to today’s vehicles. And in no particular order I present to you the…
1.) Leyat Helica
This particularly fascinating vehicle was first designed and produced around 1922 by a French gentleman named Marcel Leyat. As you might have guessed, the design originates from the basic construction of a 1920s airplane. Oddly enough, Marcel was building airplanes prior to designing and crafting this ingenious automobile. The Helica, although a failure by all statistical terms, was a brilliantly planned vehicle. It had everything you could possibly want in a car; speed. More specifically a speed of 106 mph. Because of its incredibly lightweight frame (550 lbs), aerodynamic body, and roaring engine, which cranked out a whopping 8 bhp, it was indeed built for speed. Of course you really can’t take it out for groceries, but then again, who needs groceries when you have a blindingly quick airplane car.
The car could seat only two people in an arrangement similar to that of an airplane’s cockpit; one person behind the other. The Helica was steered by the two rear wheels and powered by a giant propeller which varied between two and four blades. Because of the crafty prop design, the car did not need a gearbox, which only added to its simple design. Sadly enough, the auspicious airplane-impersonating Helica wasn’t so auspicious after all and was thrown away like a useless byproduct, and as a result Marcel only sold around thirty Helicas during the few years he made them. Below is a video of the Helica in action so you can see for yourself how awesome this ride is.
My next car is one that doesn’t pretend to be an airplane…thank goodness.
2.) Reliant Robin
The above picture features the famous, or maybe more infamous, Reliant Robin. This position of extreme helplessness was very natural for the Robin due to it’s imbalance created by the uniquely ineffective three-wheeled design. Reliant Motor Company was the manufacturer of this atrocious vehicle, and it seems as though they believe, somehow, that it was cool and innovative. The first run by Robin, beginning in 1973 and lasting until 1981 was one that introduced a new concept to the automobile world, and was also eight years too long. The original Robin was powered by a 750 cc engine with a top speed around 80 mph and an acceleration comparable to a tortoise. In ’75 the engine was given an extra 100 cc and slightly increased top end. Reliant stopped production for a glorious eight years and then began to trudge down the road to failure again when, in 1989, they revived the fallen Robin. It was supposedly revamped with a lighter fiberglass body and higher-output engine, but the bird still wouldn’t fly.
Now it is quite rare to see a Robin in this upright position with all three wheels on the ground, but I have searched long and hard to find this photo so you could see one in its full glory, however little that is. From 1989 to 2001 Reliant continued to make the Robin until in February, 2001 they announced that their run was finally over.
Now I have made quite a bit of fun of the Robin and it really is quite enjoyable to share a good laugh with a friend whilst pointing at the awkward looking motorcar, but in all reality, it wasn’t such a bad car. Sure it looks like the designer was drunk when he drew it up, sure it is perpetually tipped over on one side, sure its top speed was only 80 mph, but it was in production for a total of 20 years, so how bad could it be? Pretty bad actually. However, it did have a few ups to counteract all of its horrible downs. Firstly, it was able to be counted as a motorcycle for all taxation and insurance reasons which saved money for the buyer. Okay well that’s about it so really just one up to counteract the downs. As terrible and misshapen as this vehicle is though, it will compel even the best driver to pay full attention to the road. In fact one particular English survey stated that Robin drivers were actually the most cautious drivers in England. The Reliant Robin is a staple in every Englishman’s knowledge base because of the dreadfully long time it was in production, but hopefully you all can forget it even exists and go on with your perfect Robin-free lives.
Leaving the wannabe motorcycle group we approach a more reason invoked vehicle.
3.) Persu Streamliner
This was a car like the Helica in that it was a brilliant idea in theory, but when turned out into the public, it crashed and burned. The Streamliner never caught on although it did receive a bit of well deserved attention when it first appeared. The car was designed about the year 1922 by a Romanian engineer by the name of Aurel Persu. Persu had it in his mind to design and produce the most aerodynamic vehicle possible. To do this, he modeled his car off of the shape of a raindrop, which is the most aerodynamic shape. The raindrop design gives the car a look that isn’t very appealing to the eyes, but then of course that isn’t what he was going for.
Aurel really was quite genius with his design firstly that it was shaped like a raindrop, but even more importantly that the wheels were inside of the streamline. This meaning that the wheels were within the body of the car rather than sticking out from the sides. If you examine the above picture you can see what this looks like. Strategically placing the wheels as he did allowed the Streamliner to achieve an incredibly low drag coefficient of o.22. To compare to a vehicle you know, the most unpopular SUV known to man, the Hummer, has a drag coefficient of approximately o.57. That’s a huge difference in terms of aerodynamics, and even modern day cars like the Porsche Carrera don’t beat out this little rounded car when it comes to aerodynamics. Along with mimicking a raindrop, the Streamliner had a little 1.4L four cylinder engine to compliment the already efficient car, allowing it to achieve up to five times the gas mileage of other cars at that time. Quite impressive for a 1920s car I would say.
Though this car wasn’t a success as a production vehicle, it achieved the goal that it was designed for. It was so effective, that it could corner at extremely high speeds. Well, not really, but it could do about 50 mph if you pushed it. Persu even drove his Streamliner for about 75,000 miles before he generously donated it to the Dimitrie Leonida Technical Museum.
Lastly is a car that has trouble deciding what it really is. I guess you could say it’s two-faced.
This……is the Amphicar. Welcome to the first major carboat. Manufactured from 1961 to 1965 by the Quandt Group, this car was primarily sold in the US where it had moderate success as a amphibious vehicle. The brains of the frog-like car came from Hanns Trippel, a German designer who wanted a car that was equally as good on land as it was in the water. As equal as its performance in and out of water was, it wasn’t actually a good performance. The Amphicar was decent at floating in the water and decent at rolling along a road, but that’s about it.
This hefty car weighed in at 2,300 lbs despite its petite size. This was due to the stiffened and thickened metal construction that allowed the boat to stay afloat in the water. A relatively popular engine from the Triumph Herald powered it using 43 hp which came from the nearly 1150 cc it displaced. Able to achieve speeds of almost 65 mph on land and 10 mph in the water, it didn’t exactly have a track record. Awkwardly shaped is the name of the game for the Amphicar, although somehow it keeps drawing my attention. It has a steeply sloped front end and high clearance (like every compensating man’s dream 4×4) to allow easy entrance and exit from lakes, ponds, or very deep puddles. Twin props beneath the bumper slowly pushed the car through water, while the rear mounted, four cylinder, previously mentioned engine slowly pushed it on land.
Although when this car first came out it was hyped up, it never amounted to much partially because of its poor performance and standout looks, and partially because of the steep price tag of $3,395 which could have bought you a nice convertible mustang. Take your pick I guess, but I know where my vote lands between those two! As tacky as this car is it also has an appeal that can only be described as sheer desire for convenience. Who wants to buy a boat AND a car? That’s way to much trouble when you could just purchase a carboat. I think this is actually what Trippel was aiming for, but it is clear to see that his arrow fell short of its mark.
Please take part in the polls below, I am curious to see what you all think about these four cars!