Car: Schilovski Gyrocar, 1912

Recently described by Stephen Vokins of Britain’s National Motor Museum as “a fantastic answer to a question no-one had asked,” the Gyrocar was an attempt to marry car and motorcycle. To make up for the balance usually bestowed on a two-wheeler by its rider, the Gyrocar used a huge gyroscope to keep it upright—quite a task for the 2.7-ton five-seater contraption.

This Gyrocar is standing up on two wheels with four people on board, but its huge turning circle was something of a hindrance when parking.
This Gyrocar is standing up on two wheels with four people on board, but its huge turning circle was something of a hindrance when parking.

It was the brainchild of Russian aristocrat and lawyer Count Peter Schilovski, who contracted Britain’s Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Company to build it. Some 10 percent of the engine’s output was devoted to powering a dynamo and electric motor. This kept the substantial, 40in- (102cm-) diameter gyroscope spinning at between 2–3,000rpm. An alarm bell rang if rotating speed dropped too low to keep the “car” upright, and tiny support wheels were automatically lowered either side to stop it toppling over.

1912 model car Schilovski Gyrocar

Despite a vast turning circle, model of the car Schilovski Gyrocar worked, and could reverse and partly maneuver like any conventional four-wheeler. It caused a sensation when demonstrated to crowds in London’s Regent’s Park in April 1914.

Improbably, the Count planned to sell his patented Gyrocar technology to the Russian Army, claiming such vehicles could cross rough ground far faster than a four-wheeler, and use less fuel to do so. However, mistakenly thinking the Count had perished in the Russian Revolution (he actually settled in London), Wolseley directors made the bizarre decision to bury the Gyrocar.

“We drove the car backwards and forwards for a distance of about six feet many times. During these tests it was noticeable that one could stand on the side of the car and step into the body without any disturbance of balance.”

From a report by A. W. Dring, wolseley chief experimental engineer

Video model of the car Schilovski Gyrocar

Specification model of the car Schilovski Gyrocar

  • YEAR REVEALED: 1912
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Birmingham, UK
  • HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
  • ENGINE: four-cylinder, 188ci (3,080cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER: 20bhp
  • LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheel
  • BODYWORK: five-seater open tourer
  • TOP SPEED: unknown
  • NUMBER BUILT: one