Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod.
Bridges Lightning Bug, 1936
Doctor Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938) did not have the background one would expect of a car designer. He was a highly respected geneticist who had contributed the first paper ever to the journal, Genetics and had invented the binocular dissecting microscope.
Bridges built his car in his spare time, machining many parts himself on a lathe. Being rather safety-conscious by the standards of the time the doctor used an early plastic named Pyralin instead of glass for the windows, a forced air ventilation system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and a steel and asbestos firewall between engine and passenger compartment. Unusually the front suspension was constructed of a motorcycle fork on each side.
Bridges had this to say about his Lightning Bug: “My whole aim was to show what could be done to attain safety, economy and roadability in a small car“. Light at just 700 pounds and with low wind resistance the three seater car reportedly performed well, had good traction (having the engine above the driven wheel helped of course) and brake performance was said to be 30% better compared to contemporary vehicles.
One somewhat mysterious aspect of the Lightning Bug is the question if it was a three or four wheeled car; some contemporary reports mention rear wheels, and in the only known short film clip of the vehicle in action it definitely has four wheels. On the other hand, in most photographs there seems to be just one rear wheel. Sadly, Bridges died unexpectedly in 1938 and his Lightning Bug has since disappeared without a trace so this question remains
Lewis Airomobile, 1937
A cheap, frugal and simple car to be sold at a low price, the three wheeled configuration Paul M. Lewis chose was driven by cost considerations and the now familiar raindrop shape followed almost naturally. Two engineers of the Franklin Motor Company that had recently gone out of business, Carl Doman and Edward Marks, contributed on Lewis’ new car as did car designer John Tjaarda of Lincoln Zephyr fame.
The chosen powerplant was an aircooled OHV flat four delivering 60 Hp, designed and built by the Skinner Motor Corporation. Wind-cheatingly styled and with a weight of 2200 pounds Lewis claimed his steel-bodied car was capable of speeds up to 80 Mph and an average fuel consumption of 43 Mpg.
Drive was by the front wheels through Spicer constant velocity joints that had been derived from Citroën. To gauge public interest and attract financial backing Lewis accumulated over 45,000 Miles while touring the country to demonstrate his car. To the Airomobile builders’ credit there were no major mishaps apart from the car getting its rear wheel very stuck in an Indianapolis trolley track.
Despite all his efforts Lewis failed to find the investors he needed which meant his Airomobile would remain a one-off. All was not lost however as the engine would see use later on in White Motor Company delivery trucks, and with an aluminium crankcase and cylinders, in several airplanes such as Piper and Aeronca.
The unique Airomobile has survived and is currently part of the National Automobile Museum collection in Reno, Nevada. Many years later, Paul Lewis would try his luck again with the Fascination – a vehicle so unbelievable (in more senses than one), it will get its own article at some future point.
In February of 1939, with just six months to go before the outbreak of the second World War, Munich engineer Karl Schlör (1911-1997) presented this aerodynamic concept named after him to the public at the Berlin motor show. A Mercedes-Benz 170H chassis and engine provided the platform for the vehicle; the slippery body with flush fitting windows and smooth floor was made entirely out
Wind tunnel tests of the finished car revealed an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.186, and despite being heavier than a standard Mercedes-Benz 170H, the Schlörwagen registered an 18% higher maximum speed, and consumed between 20 and 40% less fuel depending on the conditions.
The vehicle was unusually wide at 83 inches, this being a result of the body fully enclosing all four wheels. Real world testing revealed the Schlörwagen to be very sensitive to crosswinds because of its rear engine configuration and the aerodynamic properties of the bodywork, which was a potential hurdle for further development into a production vehicle.
Even though the Schlörwagen received plenty of attention from the media, public reaction was one of bemusement and perception of the Schlörwagen as bizarre and ugly despite its strong points concerning interior room, performance and fuel economy. When the war intervened the project was shelved, although in 1942 it was for some reason fitted with an extra outboard engine (from a captured Russian airplane) on its tail; one can only guess what they were trying to achieve or determine by doing this.
After the war Karl Schlör tried to re-obtain the Schlörwagen that had been confiscated by the British Military Administration, but in vain. It is believed that the car, which sustained serious damage during the war, was scrapped not long after. The DLR (German Aerospace Center) still has the original blueprints of the Schlörwagen and a non-profit organisation based in Hannover is planning to build a faithful and fully functional replica of the vehicle.
The series will conclude with part 3.