You don’t see something like this every day. We found this 1919 Leyat Helico at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. It was built by a Frenchman named Marcel Leyat, an engineer and airplane enthusiast who designed, built, and flew his first plane in 1909.
See this car and hundreds more at the museum, a great RV Short Stop.
Leyat believed that propeller-driven vehicles were the wave of the future, and in 1913, built his first propeller-driven car. His theory was that the cars would be simpler (no transmission, rear axle, or clutch) and lighter, therefore they would be able to obtain better fuel economy. He paid very close attention to aerodynamics and weight.
The body, resembling an airplane, is fully streamlined – as is the front axle – to reduce drag. Instead of using traditional wheels, Leyat built his own with aluminum discs, and integrated the brakes to further reduce the drag. Weight is also reduced to a minimum by using a full monocoque chassis and many aluminum parts to obtain a total vehicle weight of 625 pounds. Leyat showed his car at the 1921 Paris Auto Show and claimed to have received 600 inquiries. Unfortunately, he was never able to get funding to go into large-scale production. But he continued to build propeller-driven cars until about 1926, with a total output of about 25.
The cost of the Leyat Helico in 1919, without tires, was $818. In 2009 it was worth $16,195.
The Lane Motor Museum is wonderful, especially the hundred or so micro cars. The parking lot is fairly small, so visit with a car and not a big RV.