Lord K's Garage - #33. Leyat Hélica

Today, a really unusual, propeller-driven car.

Presented at recent Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, it is an exact replica of the 1919 Hélica built by Marcel Leyat (1885-1986), a French aircraft engineer and entrepreneur.

Monsieur Leyat built his first aeromobile prototype - the Heliocycle 3-wheeler powered by 8HP engine, with a plywood body - in 1913.

Here's a 1914 photograph:

During the Great War he designed and built airplanes, and after the Armistice returned to his prewar idea. Now the car was more 'conventional', it had four wheels and open cockpit.

There were other people who also shared Leyat’s belief about propeller power, but Leyat spent years trying to develop a viable 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. If you look at the Leyat closely, you can see how exquisite the engineering is. Leyat 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 was also reduced to a minimum by using a full monocoque chassis and many aluminum parts to obtain a total vehicle weight of 625 lbs

Powered by 30HP 2-cylinder engine, the lightweight Hélica easily achieved the speed of 80 km/h and more.

It was advertised as 'a plane without wings'.

Leyat's car existed in different body styles - from a single-seated roadster to enclosed sedan.

Leyat showed his car at the 1921 Paris Auto Show and claimed to have received 600 orders. 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 production of about 25 units.

In 1927, his Hélica racer achieved the speed of 171 km/h at the Monthlery circuit:

Some of Leyat's cars are preserved in the museums (like Arts and Crafts Museum) in Paris:

and private collections:

The replica belongs to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee:

Browse the Hélica album for more images or enjoy the slideshow:

Find more photos like this on Tarrantry


French Leyat Hélica Society website (EN)

Special thanks to Supercars

  • Piper Williams

    remarkable.. a part of me wonders what would have happened if he'd gotten the funding and was actually able to pump out a full 600 units.. the possibilities are endless. .