Queen Without a Crown

The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.

Image: Life Magazine

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.

Jules Brandt. Image: musee.chevau.org

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.

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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.

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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.

Author: brrrruno

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

14 thoughts on “Queen Without a Crown”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. What a great find you brought us today, another man and another car I had no idea about. I like the opposed piston engine. Never seen this particular arrangement before.

    I can understand the investors. With so much new and unproven technology there’s a lot of money to be invested and lost.

    1. Many such designs are invented/presented as a power source but end as compressors like Citroen’s swash plate hydraulic pump.

    2. Gooddog, I had that site bookmarked ages ago. It’s been ago since I last visited, obviously 😉

  2. Good morning Bruno. What a great example of left-field thinking you have unearthed for us today. The Brandt Reine is the sort of thing that could only have been dreamt up by a talented engineer from outside the automotive industry and one who is not at all concerned about orthodoxies. I’m not sure how many (if any) of the ideas would have been viable for production, but these exercises are always worthwhile, in case they turn up something brilliant.

    The aerodynamic self-clearing windscreen is one of those ideas that particularly interests me. Traditional windscreen wipers always seem to me to be a rather prosaic and very low-tech solution, but they are still universal. One wonders why there isn’t a water and dirt-repellent coating to do the job instead? (That said, I’ve observed that so-called self-cleaning glass in buildings always seems to be pretty ineffective.)

    1. 20 years ago, one ambitious mechanical engineering student in Greece, dreamt of a wiping system to replace the ubiquitous and antiquated wiper arms and blades. He came up (on paper) with a deep and wide air vent located in the scuttle drain, which -aided with a small vacuum fan and heating element- would scoop air from the intake grill, heat it and create a low pressure cushion atop the windshield, thus maintaining a pressure difference between incoming air molecules and heated air from the vent. When the vehicle would be stationary, the fan speed would decrease (speed-sensitive), whereas in higher speeds the element, equipped with an outside temperature sensor would turn off to compensate the temperature difference. Sadly, the system remained in theory since then.
      Another idea (again, in theory) was to replace the traditional headlamps (back in 2002, LEDs were not yet implemented in automotive applications, save for few examples) with light diodes, with a small parabolic lens inside the bodywork. The light beam would be emitted from small apertures, while the lens would be controlled by a small stepper motor, changing the attack angle and thus the beam, making the need for different bulbs and large headlight area redundant.

      Still kicking myself for not pursuing these ideas…

    2. … which brings to mind this memorable attempt to replace not only the wipers with pressurized air but also the windscreen.

  3. It’s worth mentioning that this appears to have been an axial engine, which makes it even cooler. That gives it its barrel shape.
    Very interesting car i hadn’t heard of until now.

  4. In the 1970s a neighbor and fellow car collector was a retired engineer with the Anderson Company, makers of ANCO windshield wipers. I remember our talks about attempts to come up with better ways to keep windshields clear of water and debris. Still working as a private consultant, he had a device that mimics water drops hitting a windshield, and one afternoon he showed me what kind of forces were involved when water droplets hit a windshield at different vehicle speeds.

    Most of us don’t realize that in calculating the speed of the water striking the glass, we need to add the vehicle speed to the speed of the falling rain, often wind driven in the opposite direction of the vehicle. So when a car driving 70 mph encounters gale force wind-driven rain already moving at 100mph, that water droplet has an impact equal to 170 mph as it strikes the glass. While ducted airflow can be effective at lower speeds with smaller droplets, moving much of the water away from the windshield, there are too many situations where pressurized air flow cannot prevent droplets from reaching the glass surface.

    Now consider the Reine 1950 car without a wiper system. What do you do with the water on the windshield left over from a recent rain? What about raindrops that accumulate on the glass while stopped at a red light? Even if a driver won’t need a wiper system for light rain at lower speeds thanks to a ducted air system, there will still be situations that require the ability to clear the glass of existing water. When we consider the fact that drivers need a way to clean the glass without having to stop and get out of the vehicle, we still need a windshield washing device, and how do you dry the glass once cleaned? As for the inclination of the glass eliminating the need for wipers, I would mention that even those supercars with almost horizontal windshields still have a wiper/wash system.

    Now about that motor: Most successful 2-stroke engines have a way of pressurizing the fuel/air mixture prior to introduction to the cylinder. Manufacturers like SAAB and DKW used the crankcase to slightly pressurize the mix, and other 2-strokes use a low-pressure supercharger, a very successful example is the Detroit Diesel V6 bus and truck engines. I would think that the Brandt motor could be hard to start in very cold weather, requiring an extended cranking effort to induce proper airflow. Brandt seems to have partially solved the issue by using fuel injection, but the need is still there to induce proper airflow.

    I would suggest the Reine 1950 was the product of a single engineer who was focused on the innovative drive line and the overall shape of the body, rather than a group of design engineers familiar with the various requirements to produce a workable vehicle. Had the vehicle gone through some real-time testing with typical drivers and passengers, those engineers would quickly realize the car would be unacceptable to the public, as it would be terribly difficult to enter the vehicle with the canvas top closed. Once seated, a driver who has a hard time starting the motor will be less inclined to buy the car. And that situation would be evident long before the driver realized he couldn’t see thru the windshield when wet or dirty.

    In my opinion, Brandt should have developed the motor into something that could be shopped around to various manufacturers, and stopped trying to sell investors on making a complete vehicle. The very compact size of this 4 cylinder, 6-speed, drive line “complete to the wheels”, could have done wonders for several European car companies. Had Sir Alec Issigonis and Jules Brandt worked together on a new car, the Mini could have been a foot shorter in length!

  5. Amazing – thanks, Bruno – Brandt makes Citroën look conservative. Re windscreen wipers, the great advantage is that they can clean the screen, of course. Someone once pointed out to me that it must be a good concept, as our eyes use something similar through blinking.

    The engine’s interesting – someone suggested that it operated as a primitive form of turbo charging.

    I must buy a 2CV one day.

  6. Well, thanks to Gooddog’s link, I now finally know what the unidentified axial piston engine in display at the US Air Force museum is: Almen A-4 of 1921! Thanks!

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