Category: Automobiles

Propeller-Driven Speedsters


Another unusual streamlined model air car is shown here for the reader’s interest. Notice that the engine is installed inverted. This can be duplicated on the model described in this chapter if desired, but the only advantage on our model would be improved appearance. Model-car enthusiasts will be glad to know that many articles and contraction features on model cars of all types appear in Young Men Magazine.


Building And Operating Model Cars, by Walter A. Musciano (1956)  was a book I discovered in the public library when I was a boy of perhaps 10 or so.

It had a chapter on how to build a propeller-driven speedster. This was the age of small gas-powered, single-cylinder hobby motors (think flying model airplanes of that era) and so naturally these cars were powered by these small engines — pushed in fact by small model airplane propellers. In fact most of the parts to assemble these small racers came also from the model airplane field: the wheels are the same ones used for the landing gear of model aircraft of the era, even model aircraft landing struts were sometimes used.

Like their “control line” model aircraft contemporaries they were fixed to always travel in a circle by a bridle on one side of the car where a tether of some length could be looped over a stake in the ground. Unlike control-line airplanes though, it seems there was nothing for the “operator” to do but watch the car until the gas ran out.

They look like fun though if only in the inventiveness of creating one.


Here is an unusual all-metal propeller-driven air car which attained a speed of over fifty-one miles per hour. Note that the wheel struts are made of sheet Dural, as on the car we describe in this chapter. The body on this design is made from a piece of aluminum tubing and two aluminum model airplane spinners.

I wonder however  if two cars could run at the same time — assuming you allowed for the one with the longer tether to pass their line over the spinning propeller of the car on the inside lane.

I guess they could race until a certain number of laps are completed (or one runs out of gas a little early and loses that way).

In considering that the one on the inside lane has the advantage of a smaller circumference, it occurs to me that a mechanism might be employed that would, at regularly timed intervals, reel in one model’s tether while letting out the other. In order to give the car with the outside lane disadvantage the inside lane for a period.

In such a scenario I imagine both cars would need to have the propellor in the rear of the car and perhaps a sort of simple single stiff wire (like a simplified cow-guard on old trains) that would allow the pursuing car to lift their opponents line up and over the pursuing car’s propeller.

The bigger danger comes at that moment the mechanism’s timer starts to invert the radii of the cars: if they should be passing one another at that time there would be a collision.

One safety mechanism might be a kill switch built into each car if there is a loss of tension from the bridle (meaning the car has been cut loose and is no longer being pulled into a circle by centripetal force).

Also, the timed mechanism that switches the car lanes could have a manual override such that a referee delays the lane change until the two cars are no longer in danger of colliding. Or perhaps it is a manual operation completely — requiring someone to operate the lane change manually.


Composed only of the bare essentials required for an air car, this experimental vehicle is designed to test various types of fuel tanks. The tank shown here is of the pressure balloon type claimed by many to have qualities superior to the conventional type.

Anyway, just some musings and the fond memories of little book that caught my attention when I was a young boy.

“Building and Operating Model Cars”, “DaviT”

“Building and Operating Model Cars” was a book published in 1956. That means it was likely already 20 or so years old when I, as a boy, discovered it in some library somewhere.

Libraries were magical places to me growing up. My interests were so narrow however that I generally headed straight to the 500’s or 600’s looking for books on space, rockets, models, etc. School libraries, the public libraries my mom would take me to — I enjoyed them all.

From time to time as an adult, I re-discover an old book that I recognize as one I pored over as a boy. This book was one.

I confess however that I was easily drawn to the photos and illustrations in books (perhaps I still am) and often read little more than the caption beneath the photos. Perhaps for a lot of the books I was interested in this was just as well.


A streamlined radio-controlled space vehicle won a third prize in Ford Motor Company’s 1954 Industrial Arts Awards program for David Swinder of Warren, Ohio. Using the instruments on his control console, David demonstrates the operation of the six-foot vehicle to Al Esper, Ford’s chief test driver.
Description of a radio-controlled vehicle is included in this volume and will be found in chapter Eleven.
The Industrial Arts Awards Competition is not restricted to vehicles. Boats, machines, and other craft are eligible.

This photo of a model car for example fascinated me as a boy, and I think the text of the chapter was not directly related to it. I mean the text on this page describes “industrial arts” awards, where and what prizes are offered, where they are judged. No doubt the above was a design winner. But 12-year-old me would have wanted to learn more about “DaviT”, not about a corporate award program.

A lot going on just in the photo. Looks like a standard auto headlight. The body appears to be sheet-metal — the bullet shape shows its seams between the headlight and front wheel. Love that streamlined shape though. Skirt along the bottom hides the rear wheel(s)….

Antennae as well appear to be from an automobile. And look at that console behind the two men! I suspect the controller the younger man is holding is simply a remote, like a game controller, connected to that massive radio-desk.

It would be sort of fun to recreate the “space vehicle” with modern components. Of course, no need to make it as large as it is….

White-van Speaker Scam

That was weird! I stumbled upon something called the “White-van Speaker Scam” and knew immediately that I had fallen victim to a scam of sorts like this all the way back in 1984 or so.

I had a crappy ($400) car back then and a job making pizzas at a pizza parlor. I was hanging out in the parking lot when someone came by (in a van maybe?) and he had some car stereo speakers to sell — cheap! The price was something I could afford (I don’t remember what it was, but I would be surprised if they were more than $10 each since that would be about what I could swing back then). Somehow I had decided that for the price I could wire them into my car myself and they could only improve the sound quality (right?). So I bought a pair.

I did install them and I don’t think I noticed any real difference in sound quality. They worked though.

But I suppose in the back of my mind ever since I have been wondering — what just happened? Random speaker sale in a parking lot I guess. Okay.

So then I see this Wikipedia article:

White van speaker scam

…The speaker scam was common in the 1980s…

…To find suitable targets, the van operators set up their con in moderately-trafficked areas, such as parking lots…”

Wait, what? This was a thing?

For varying reasons they need to dispose of the speakers quickly and are willing to get rid of them at “well below retail” prices.

I guess I don’t feel too stupid. As I said, I’d be surprised if I paid more than $10 each — how much could the guy have been scamming me then?

So kids, I have learned to be highly suspect of anyone approaching me to sell something.

If you want a thing, seek it out. If a thing comes seeking you, just politely say, “Sorry, I’m broke.”

The Automobile Transmission

Especially with the popularity of cars with automatic transmissions, many drivers today may forget that there are complicated systems of gears that transmit power from the car’s engine to the car’s wheels. Drivers that can work a clutch and a stick shift are certainly aware of a cars gearing but may be clueless as to how it all goes together.

An educational film from 1936 shows how an automobile’s gearing is put together.

When the film begins, it describes the lever and its mechanical advantage. Soon however the subject turns to gears and the modern (for 1936) automotive transmission.

The gearbox they detail, which was standard at that time, is merely a three speed transmission (plus reverse) and yet it is already fairly complex. It boggles the mind what a modern seven speed gearbox must resemble.

I don’t believe it is the case any longer that public schools offer vocational classes. I remember in middle school (junior high) I took a wood shop class. I enjoyed that experience a great deal. They offered metal shop and automotive shop classes as well.

I imagine the following film might have been shown in an automotive class. It’s wonderful how it describes the problem and then the solution that differential gearing provides in a way most students can probably understand.

An educational look at how things work. More films like this, please.
(The actual education content begins about 1:55 into the film.)

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