1 Purves Dynasphere (1932)
Who said you had to have at least two wheels to ride in style? Dr John Purves, following designs originally drawn up by Leonardo da Vinci, invented the Dynasphere — a monowheel electric vehicle — in the early 1930s.
Dr Purves took to the beaches of Weston-Super-Mare to demonstrate his contraption, which was capable of reaching speeds of 25mph. If that does not sound too impressive, bear in mind the Dynasphere’s inability to brake or steer to any great effect would have made it quite the challenge to pilot.
Accounts report that trying to brake with anything other than the gentlest of pressure would result in a phenomenon known as “gerbilling”, where the rider would begin rotating within the wheel without the capacity to stop.
2 Waterman Arrowbile (1937)
Soon after the Wright Brothers seminal flight landed safely, inventors began thinking of ways to combine aircrafts and automobiles.
One such man was Waldo Waterman, a designer who specialised in the early push to develop a “flivver” — an affordable aircraft. His was a car that could also take to the air.
In the end, Waterman only ever produced five Arrowbiles, meaning that this motoring oddity is as rare as it is unique.
3 Parallel Parking Car (1927)
A trip to the local high street can tell you that many drivers wouldn’t be able to call themselves experts at parking, and the most loathed manoeuvre — the parallel park— can leave even the most self-assured motorists longing for a self-driving car.
In fact, when searching for a spot, drivers are happy to travel almost 100m further than necessary to find an easier place, if the first space looks a bit tight for a parallel park.
It may come as a surprise to many but a solution was invented 91 years ago. In 1927, the parallel parking car was first seen on Parisian streets. The car’s front wheels would turn 90 degrees, allowing the car to to swing in or out of an empty space like a door on hinges, making parking in tight spots look easy.
The fact that it never took off suggests the system was flawed in other ways, perhaps lacking the robustness required for everyday driving, badly impacting on handling characteristics, or limiting options when it came front-end packaging and design.
4 Propeller Car (1955)
During the 1950s, Clifford Robbins, like many mechanically inclined young men of his time, decided to build his own car. What emerged from Robbins’ Somerset workshop in 1955 was a car like none before.
His Propeller Car dispensed with a traditional drivetrain; instead, thrust was provided by a large fan at the rear, much like a wheeled hovercraft. The contraption was a one-off and reportedly took Robbins six months to build.
5 Streamline Cars R-100 (1930)
Sir Charles Dennistoun Burney was many things during his distinguished life: a politician, a businessman, an inventor and an aeronautical engineer to name four. His work as the latter saw him come up with the ‘Paravane’ anti-mine device during world war one, before he moved on to Vickers, a defunct British engineering company, resulting in the R100 and R101 airships.
In the 1930s, he used his knowledge of aerodynamics to set up Streamline Cars Ltd, building high tech aerodynamically advanced rear-engined vehicles. That work inspired the creation of the ovoid R-100 car which was only reproduced 12 times. The Prince of Wales bought one of the streamliners in 1930. Only two of the cars are believed to survive today.