The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.
Of all the new car introductions at the 1948 Salon de L’Automobile de Paris, in those times held in the magnificent Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the Citroën 2CV is the car that will likely be most readily and widely remembered. There were, of course, several other premieres amongst the hundreds of voitures exhibited, many of which are now long forgotten, even though some were arguably at least as unusual and radical as the 2CV.
The Brandt Reine 1950 certainly qualifies in this regard. Looking like an elongated Isetta, but five years before that tiny ‘bubble car’ would first appear on the streets, the Reine 1950 was unorthodox in almost every way imaginable. It was only possible to enter the car from either the front or the rear for example, and it had a six-speed gearbox, plus a two-stroke opposed piston engine with four cylinders, but eight pistons.
The Reine 1950 was the end result of fifteen years of development by Jules Brandt (1882-1959), a French inventor and engineer of Alsatian origin and a contemporary of André Citroën. At the young age of 24, the brilliant Brandt had already risen to the rank of director of the French branch of the Edison Phone Company. At around 1906, he left Edison to start his own electrical equipment company in Paris.
When the First World War broke out, Brandt was sent to the front near Reims and was injured in October 1914. When he had recovered from his thigh injury, he was not sent back to the front, but was allowed to return to Paris where his brother, Edgar, had successfully filed a request for Jules to assist him in the development of a new type of Howitzer gun. In particular, Jules Brandt was instrumental in developing the innovative finned shells for the weapon. The two brothers filed several patents and started producing the Howitzers and shells in 1916.
After the Great War, Brandt spent time perfecting transformers and other special devices for lighting. His company developed and produced a wide range of electrical equipment, ranging from fuses to meters, switch disconnectors and contactors, lighting and illumination products. Brandt also fitted out the famous French liner ‘Normandie’ with all her electrical systems and fittings, and provided the electrical equipment for the construction of the Maginot Line of defences against invasion. His many achievements earned him the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil achievements.
It was with great pride that Jules Brandt personally presented his car at the Grand Palais, demonstrating repeatedly how to enter and exit the vehicle. The front-wheel-drive Reine 1950 weighed 550kg, was slightly over four metres long and seated four within its aerodynamic monocoque body. Entering was possible from the front via a side-hinged door, much as with the later Isetta, or in similar fashion from the rear. The four seats were separated in the middle by a narrow central corridor, while the roof was covered by a retractable canvas similar to that of the Citroën 2CV. The Reine 1950 was only ever displayed with its roof open, presumably because entry and exit would be more difficult with the roof closed.
The suspension was independent all round by deformable parallelograms and rubber elements and the hydraulic dual-circuit brakes provided a potential extra level of safety. Light-alloy wheels were another uncommon feature for the time, as was four-wheel steering.
But the most unusual feature of Brandt’s futuristic creation was its engine, a fuel-injected two-stroke opposed piston engine with a capacity of 935cc, placed transversely between the front wheels. The very compact barrel-shaped engine had four main cylinders but eight pistons. Being a two-stroke, there were no valves, and the crankcase was barely 30 centimetres long. Claimed power output was 75hp (56kW) at 3,400 rpm, allowing a top speed of 102mph (165km/h).
A six-speed gearbox with epicyclical gears and a magnetic clutch transmitted the power to the front wheels. Opposed piston engines are not very common, and unheard of in passenger car use. An example of another opposed piston engine is the Junkers Jumo 205, a two-stroke diesel used in the Junkers JU86 bomber of World War II. Another example is the Leyland L60, which powered the Chieftain tank. Neither, however, is barrel-shaped like the Reine’s engine. Unfortunately, there are no accounts to be found as to whether or not Brandt’s engine actually worked and, if so, if it was a realistic and viable concept.
Two final novelties were the absence of windshield wipers and unusual shape of the headlamp reflectors. It was claimed that the inclination and shape of the windshield would expel any rainwater falling on it while driving, while the headlamps used elliptic parabolic mirrors that were set back about 40 centimetres from the output plane, channelled by horizontal planes, the claimed benefit being that they would not blind or dazzle other road users.
The Reine 1950 was very much an inventors’ car: with so many unprecedented features, unproven ideas and its futuristic looks, it is perhaps not a great surprise that Jules Brandt failed to attract the industrial partners and financiers he needed to put the car into production. One can wonder – as is so often the case – what could have been, though.