During the first years of the 20th century,
the Wolseley Tool and Motorcar Company had grown into a very
large concern, already notable for their engineering expertise
and their production of a wide range of motor vehicles. In fact,
during the Edwardian period Wolseley was the leading producer
of motorcars. Perhaps it was ineviatble that, in 1912, the Russian
Count Peter Schilovski should visit Wolseley and present them
with his plans for a gyroscopically-stabilised motorcar running
on only two wheels.
With possible military contracts
in mind, the Count credited his yet-to-be-built invention with
a number of exciting characteristics that he claimed would be
superior to normal vehicles. Inevitably, once the Gyrocar was
built, it proved to be a rather ponderous machine according to
contemporary accounts, but perhaps this is of little importance
against the fact that the principle of a gyroscopically-balanced
vehicle was proved workable.
The Gyrocar without its bodywork but
with makeshift rear decking.
The Gyrocar was driven by a Wolseley (approx.)
20hp engine mounted behind the front wheel and driving the rear
wheel via an offset driveshaft. This would seem to be a rather
feeble engine for a vehicle weighing 2.75 tons but, again, anything
that was sufficient to prove the theory would be deemed successful.
The gyroscope itself, powered by a 1.25p electric motor, was
mounted amidships and revolved at between 2,000 and 3,000rpm.
Inertia / balance was maintained between the gyroscope and the
body of the car through a rack-and-pinion system linked by cords
to two pendulums. If the gyroscope was to stop, sprags automatically
lowered on each side to stop the car tipping over, though there
is no mention of such provision if the car was to tilt too much
with the gyroscope still spinning.
The first public demonstration
is recorded as being in Regent's Park in central London on 28
April, 1914 and by all accounts it was a great success. A newspaper
report at the time described how people could jump on and off
the Gyrocar when it was driven slowly, and it would still maintain
its balance - this must have
been quite a sight to behold.
Although this picture is of poor quality
it does show the Gyrocar out in public, under the gaze of a (possibly
bemused) crowd. The two genteel ladies in the back are meant
to emphasise the 'risk free' qualities of this unusual transport.
At the time, a Wolseley employee wrote this
"On November 27th, 1913, I made an effort
to move the car, which was successful, no derangement of the
governing gear taking place. 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. We
then moved the car partially round a radius to the left, backwards
and forwards. Eventually we drove the car the whole length of
the works, backwards and forwards, with four passengers.
Then His Excellency decided
to take the machine over on to the track, impressing me that
we must go very gently. We drove onto the Arden Road, making
two stops on the curve, and we had to reverse so that we should
not use full lock. I then drove the car steadily up the Arden
Road, going as slowly as possible and slipping the clutch in
first gear all the time. We took a wide sweep into the Bordesley
Green Road and suddenly, when opposite the Directors' mess room,
the vehicle heeled to the near side and dropped on its sprag.
It was lifted by eight men, the engine restarted, and the car
driven back to the experimental department, but it was supported
by outside assistance as His Excellency did not attempt to balance
the car in the street."
Despite the initial success of the gyrosopic
principle applied to a motor vehicle, the Gyrocar was put aside
by Wolseley when the First World War broke out in 1914. The Count
disappeared, possibly to return to Russia, while Wolseley naturally
enough turned over to war work their considerable facilities
and all-round engineering know-how.
For a number of years, even after the
end of hostilities, the Gyrocar lay abandoned in the factory
and eventually the Wolseley directors decided they needed to
be rid of it. Not knowing what had happened to Count Schilovski -
but mindful of the fact that he could therefore still reappear
at any moment - it was decided
to bury the Gyrocar complete, instead of dismantling it or breaking
In 1938 Wolseley had second
thoughts and decided to resurrect the Gyrocar. By then a railway
yard had been built on top of the site, but the tracks were lifted
where need be, the car was unearthed and hauled out and it was
restored by Wolseley to be displayed in the company's own museum.
And there it stayed for a few short
years until - astonishingly -
Wolseley broke it up for scrap metal in 1948!
Lifting the Gyrocar. Moreso than the
other pictures, which are predominantly taken from the side,
this view gives some idea of the bulky nature of the Gyrocar's
Much more detailed information on
the Schilovski Gyrocar - including
drawings and close-up photographs -
can be found at:
Count Peter Schilovski did indeed
survive the Great War and returned to live in south London with
his wife and family.