Unusual Vehicles focuses on a bizarre vehicle and examines the story behind how it was created. We’ve covered unconventional cars like the Oeuf Electrique and Isetta, but there are even stranger machines out there. One of the weirdest of all time is the Shilovsky Gyrocar, a vehicle that looked like a cross between a motorbike and a car. But what exactly was it and was it ever able to take off with the public?
A two-wheeled car
The earliest example of a gyrocar was part of a 1911 fiction story called ‘Two Boys in a Gyrocar: The story of a New York to Paris Motor Race.’ The concept involved a two-wheeled car that was different to a bicycle or motorbike. The gyrocar was different because balance came from the gyroscope as opposed to the front wheel.
The first prototype was commissioned in 1912 by the Russian Count Pyotr Shilovsky. As a member of the Russian royal family, he had the money to finance the project. The car was manufactured by the Wolseley Tool and Motorcar Company in 1914 and appeared to the public in London.
Powered by a modified Wolseley C5 engine, the gyrocar made use of two gyroscopes. The steering worked via a system of shafts, ratchets and pendulums working together to stabilise the car. The rear wheel came through a conventional clutch and gearbox, but there wasn’t any brakes on the wheels. The vehicle weighed 2.75 tonnes, yet it could support up to six people.
A reporter from The New York Times was present at the London reveal. He described the scene. “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the long car, with the single steering wheel set bicycle fashion in front of the shoe-shaped bonnet that covers the 16-20 horsepower engine, with a dashboard form of cooler behind it and two electrical fans to induce a draught of air to the radiators, came into Portman Square at a walking pace.”
“The inventor sat beside the driver while the car made several circuits of the square, sometimes at slower than walking pace, the curves being negotiated without difficulty at that rate, and, of course, always with the vehicle of an even keel, as distinct from inclining it in the manner in which a cyclist rides around a curve.”
Shilovsky returned to Russia during WW1 and Wolseley didn’t hear from him again, so they buried the car in the ground. It stayed like that until 1938 when it was dug out of a train switching yard. After being restored, the gyrocar became a part of the Wolseley museum. However, it was taken apart for scrap in 1948.
The Shilovsky gyrocar might not have been successful with the public, but it went on to inspire several other gyrocars