Drop the Subject – (Part Two)

Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod. 

Library.cshl.edu/ Greenprophet.com

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

Travelgumbo.com/ Auta5p.eu

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.

Unattributed via Pinterest

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.

Unattributed via Pinterest

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.


Schlörwagen, 1939

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
of aluminium.

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.

Bubblemania.fr/ GTsupreme.com

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.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

17 thoughts on “Drop the Subject – (Part Two)”

  1. Good morning, Bruno and thank you for further expanding my knowledge. Out of this trio in the article, I only knew about the Schlörwagen.

  2. Another fascinating collection of automotive curios, thank you Bruno. The Lewis Airmobile, with its ‘flippers’ at the rear, looks like it would be more at home underwater!

    Regarding the three/four wheel issue with the Lightning Bug, that reminded me that the BMW Isetta bubble car was built in both three and four-wheel variants:

    My dad sold his Norton 500 motorbike for a four-wheel Isetta when my elder sister arrived. My arrival saw the Isetta traded in for a Renault Dauphine.

    1. Hello Daniel,
      Yes- the Airomobile certainly has a very “fishy” appearance when seen from the rear/above. Almost like a whale about to dive!
      The fact that Isettas were available with three or four wheels was not known to me- did the four wheel version come after the three wheel one or were they available concurrently?

    2. As far as I remember, the Isetta was available in both 4-wheeled and 3-wheeled versions. In some markets, 3-wheeled vehicles could be registered as motorbikes for tax purposes.

    3. Hi Bruno, Fred’s understanding is also mine, that hree and four-wheeled versions were available simultaneously (although the three-wheeler in the photo is an earlier model).

    4. Here’s the four-wheel version of the earlier model:

      And the ‘proper’ four-wheel BMW 600, with a wide rear track:

    5. The 600 was my parents’ first vehicle. It only had one door for the back row, which of course could not be locked childproof, and because I was older than my sister I was always allowed to sit at the door. Privileges. Responsibility. As a 4 or 5-year-old, you felt totally important.

  3. An excellent article Bruno. I can’t help thinking what chaos would be caused when trying to park a Schlörwagen in a standard parking bay of some 2.4metres wide.

  4. Does anyone remember an editorial by LJK Setright in Car, lecturing at length in his inimitable way about how a three wheeler layout (two at the front, one at the back) was the absolute ideal for a motor car? For various reasons to do with balance, as well as aero, if I remember correctly. How I wish I still had my huge stack of Car magazines. Thrown away decades ago, sadly.

    1. Ric: I recall the piece. It was from around 1984 or so – just before Car went to a hard spine format. Fellow DTW-er Daniel, has a cache of Car magazines going way back, so he might be capable of enlightening us. My ‘archive’ is resting in another country, unfortunately.

      While on the subject, I seem to recall VW building a three-wheeler concept around the same time. Can’t recall what it was called, but someone will remember, I’m certain.

  5. The ‘Acme Auto Paint Shop’ in the first picture caught my eye. Did they also sell anvils, I wonder.

    I like the Schlörwagen, especially the way the glass is very well integrated with the body. Here’s a short film of a model of it in a wind tunnel in the German Aerospace Centre. I think the subject of aerodynamics is fascinating.

    1. Charles,
      Thank you for adding the extra information on the Schlörwagen! The “ACME Auto Paint Shop” on the wall made me think of all those old Road Runner, Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons… The word acme means something like “absolute summit” in Latin I believe and had been used by quite a few legitimate (non-cartoon) companies. But all I see in my mind’s eye are Road Runner’s dust trails, “meep-meep!” and the coyote flattened or blown up for the umpteenth time 🙂

    2. Hi Charles and Bruno. Amazingly, there was a real US Acme Corporation that manufactured anvils:

      I’m sure the Roadrunner used an anvil (more than once) to see off the coyote!

    3. The contrast of inventiveness with the inevitability of the outcome in those cartoons still has me in hysterics. Coming back to the original topic, it occurred to me that the Citroën DS pretty much fits in to your teardrop design category.

    4. I still use the term, ‘checking the sky for falling anvils’ in daily discourse – a consequence of too many Roadrunner cartoons as a youngster.

      Charles: my thanks for the VW reference – I knew you chaps wouldn’t fail me. Thanks too for the Roadrunner cartoon. Marvellous.

  6. Ah, that brought some memories back, Acme, Roadrunner and Wil E Coyote, splendid!

    And once more some exceptional and unconventional uncoverings, Bruno – equally splendid.

    As to the Schlörwagen and the fitting of the rear engine/fan – the Russians often adapted any vehicle they could find to run with skis instead of wheels for winter manoeuvres. They were often powered by a similar fitting, almost hovercraft like in effect. Perhaps the German army had similar ideas? With the cars slippery shape you could fit a few troops in there but should the project have worked it would’ve been more likely to transport officers out of the area.

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