Automania

A two wheeled car?

Now I have been known to say that some of these tricked out Honda Gold-wings look like two wheeled cars, but that is just a joke. However, a two wheeled car did exist! This not well-known fact was passed on to me by Robin one of the readers in in Pattaya, so I followed it up.

The vehicle was made by the normally very staid Wolseley people, but this story shows what anyone will do for money (or rather, for people with money)! This was the Wolseley Gyro-car, and I am also indebted the Wolseley Register for much of the details. It is a tale of brilliance, engineering problems overcome, inexplicable decisions and ultimately short-sighted philistinism. Read on.

Even though it was made by Wolseley, its real name is the Schilovski Gyrocar, after Count Peter Schilovski, a member of the Russian Royal family in the early 1900’s.

In those early years of button-up boots, the Wolseley Tool and Motorcar Company had grown into a very large concern, already notable for their engineering expertise and their production of a wide range of motor vehicles. In fact, during the Edwardian period Wolseley was the leading producer of motorcars. Perhaps it was inevitable that, in 1912, the Russian Count Peter Schilovski should visit Wolseley and present them with his plans for a gyroscopically-stabilized motorcar running on only two wheels.

With possible military contracts in mind, the Count credited his yet-to-be-built invention with a number of exciting characteristics that he claimed would be superior to normal vehicles. For starters, would it be possible that a car would work with only two wheels?

Peopulsion was by a Wolseley 20hp engine mounted behind the front wheels and driving the rear wheels via an offset drive-shaft. This was not a very powerful engine for a vehicle weighing 2.75 tons but, again, anything that was sufficient to prove the theory would be deemed successful.

The gyroscope itself, was powered by a 1.25 hp electric motor, and was mounted in the middle and revolv-ed at between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. This is not quite a hybrid, as the gasoline engine provided the forward motion, while the electric motor kept the car upright, but as far as I can deduce, the petrol engine also turned the 110 volt dynamo to provide the electric current for the gyroscope.

Inertia/balance was maintained between the gyroscope and the body of the car through a rack and pinion system linked by cords to two pendulums. If the gyroscope was to stop, spragues automatically came down on each side to stop the car tipping over (like a motorcycle side stand, but with a small wheel on the end of it).

The first public demonstration is recorded as being in Regent’s Park in central London on April 28, 1914 and by all accounts it was a great success. A newspaper report at the time described how people could jump on and off the Gyrocar when it was driven slowly, and it would still maintain its balance - this must have been quite a sight to behold, especially as this was no small motor carriage.

At the time, a Wolseley employee reported that when out on one test run the engine stopped, and so naturally the car fell over on to the side stand. He wrote, “It was lifted by eight men, the engine restarted, and the car driven back to the experimental department, but it was supported by outside assistance as His Excellency did not attempt to balance the car in the street.”

Despite the initial success of the gyrosopic principle applied to a motor vehicle, the Gyrocar was put aside by Wolseley when the First World War broke out in 1914. The Count disappeared to return to Russia where he was involved in the production of a gyroscopically balanced monorail running from St. Petersburg, while Wolseley turned over to war work.

Reports were that for a number of years, even after the end of hostilities, the Gyrocar lay abandoned in the factory and eventually the Wolseley directors decided they needed to be rid of it. Not knowing what had happened to Count Schilovski - but mindful of the fact that he could therefore still reappear at any moment, they came up with the most incredible decision to bury the Gyrocar complete, instead of dismantling it.

Then in 1938 Wolseley had second thoughts and decided to resurrect the Gyrocar. By then a railway yard had been built on top of the site, but the tracks were lifted where need be, the car was unearthed and hauled out and it was restored by Wolseley to be displayed in the company’s own museum. This sounds like a much more fitting end to the gyrocar saga – but it wasn’t! The gyrocar was housed there for only a few years until the Wolseley directors came up with an even more incredible decision – it was broken up for scrap metal in 1948!


Alfa Spider returns

Alfa Romeo comes back with an all-new Spider, to be released at the Geneva Motor Show at the end of this month. Known as Project 946, the Alfa Spider comes with a choice of engines and transmissions. The ‘cooking’ model has the 2.2 JTS (190 bhp / 235 Nm) engine, while the performance model gets the 3.2 V6 JTS Q4 (260 bhp / 335 Nm ) motor, plus All Wheel Drive, with the predominance going to the rear wheels.

According to Alfa Romeo, the Alfa Spider recalls the glorious Alfa Romeo tradition in this sector (from the Giulietta Spider in the ‘50s to the Duetto and the Nineties model), and rolls out some cutting edge solutions in terms of mechanical specifications and engines.

The new Spider is a generously-sized two seater – 1,830 mm wide, 4,396 long and 1,367 high. The interior of the Alfa Spider is inviting and it has automatic dual-zone climate control, steering wheel mounted radio controls, from VDC to cruise control. With air-conditioning being standard, Alfa Romeo expects that the roof will be up for much of the time.

The Spider has high double wishbone suspension at the front and Multilink at the rear to complement theQ4 AWD. Alfa Romeo also say that the Spider will feature the most sophisticated electronic vehicle dynamic control devices. Let us also hope they have managed to stop the rust problems that have beset Alfa Romeo for many years!

Will Valentino go to Ferrari?

Many are predicting that two wheel star Valentino Rossi will switch from two wheels to four at the end of 2006, when his contract with Yamaha runs out. I would suggest that all the pointers would have to agree.

He is undertaking “testing” with Ferrari all this year, and he would not be doing this if there was no intention of ever racing an F1 car. If it were just a passing whim, then he would have stopped after experiencing it the first time. “OK, I’ve done that, what’s next?” sort of thing. But no, he has continued to test, and recently at the same time as other F1 drivers.

Rossi recently took part in a three-day test program with Ferrari at Valencia. It started off badly when he spun on lap 1 in the rain, but by the end of the three days, even Michael Schumacher was heaping praise on the motorcycle champion.

According to Schumacher, Rossi’s first day spin was explainable. “That mistake was understandable,” he told the French newspaper L’Equipe. “When a driver sets off with wet tyres they cool down straight away on the first lap and so it’s easy to skid. For him it would have been like driving on ice.”

By the end of the three days, Rossi was lapping only one second slower than Schumacher, and faster than many of the current F1 drivers at Valencia. Schumacher believes that Rossi could make it in F1. “He has enough talent to succeed. It’s entirely possible for him. I’d even say it’s easier to go from motorbikes to cars than the reverse. And when, like Valentino, you have this special feeling on two wheels, you can easily use that with four.”

With many predicting that Schumacher will hang up his helmet at the end of the year, would Ferrari take on Rossi? Of course they would. An Italian in an Italian car is the publicist’s dream combination.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that the pre-war Opel Kadett resurfaced in 1947 in another country, and called the “Son of XXXXXX”. I asked by what name was it known as in the rest of the world? The answer was the Moskvich, which apparently means “Son of Moscow”.

So to this week. An easy one. What was the engine in the Hurrycane coupe?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!


Now a one wheeled motorcycle!

Again I am indebted to a reader (and an old friend) John English, my partner in the race team for many years, who dug up this photograph. The thing is a motorcycle, complete with handlebars and the engine simply turns the outside ring. As it spins, the whole contraption will then move forwards. I don’t think it will catch on, as it can’t carry the requisite family of four as per the Honda 125 in this country!


Thailand Hondas to Australia

Go-Auto in Australia reports that the Honda management Down-under is looking to double its market share by the end of this decade, and that 75 percent of its vehicle line-up will be coming from Thailand. This must be good news for the Thai auto industry.

Honda Australia is looking for the new Civic to boost their market share this year as they believe they will have a significant price advantage with the Thai-sourced cars, compared to their competitors sourcing vehicles from Japan, South Africa and Europe. There will also be the face-lifted Accord due out mid-year which will have new cabin trim, a restyled rear end and bumper changes.

The Jazz that is sold in Australia is currently being built in Japan, but the new model, due out 2008, will also be manufactured in Thailand and exported to Australia from here, with cost advantages against the similar models from Suzuki and Mazda.

By the way, the spied have it that the Honda NSX super coupe will
return in 2008 with a V10 engine, Ferrari-beating performance, and even a hybrid model to make it popular with the environmental lobby.