The Schilovski Gyrocar
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The Wolseley Gyrocar out and about, balanced at the roaside while the photo is taken. Count Schilovski is on the far side of the car beside the driver.

 

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.


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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.


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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 report:

"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 it up.
      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!


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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 construction.

Much more detailed information on the Schilovski Gyrocar - including drawings and close-up photographs - can be found at:
www.dself.dsl.pipex.com/MUSEUM/TRANSPORT/gyrocars/schilovs.htm

Count Peter Schilovski did indeed survive the Great War and returned to live in south London with his wife and family.