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Leyat Hélica 2H Series D21: Robbi, Tobbi and the Fliewatüüt

Frank Herzog
Leyat Hélica 2H series D21
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S o a fliewatüüt is a fine thing: That The universal vehicle designed by little Robbi (3rd grade elementary school) and the not much larger robot Tobbi (3rd grade robot school), with which the two heroes of the children's book classic reveal the secret of the triangular castle Plumpudding Castle, can fly as well as swim and drive normally on the road. And it's content with Aunt Paula's raspberry juice, if necessary with cod liver oil.

Marcel Leyat's slogan: 'No gearbox, no clutch and no differential necessary'

The Helica, designed by the French Marcel Leyat and manufactured from 1919 onwards, can not fly at all, and probably cannot, despite the propeller don't swim long. And he doesn't want to drive at the moment either. 'Must be the damp weather,' murmurs Jean-François Bouzanquet and pulls the rope again, which starts the two-cylinder boxer engine in the same way as a lawnmower. But the All British Engine Company's engine, built in Byfleet, England, doesn't even cough alibi from its short exhaust stubs. Bouzanquet adjusts the ignition and mixture again, wipes a mixture of sweat and rain from her forehead and tries again.

Perhaps the strange vehicle's lack of willingness to work is also due to the fact that it has spent the past twelve months in a gloomy garage in the Paris district of Issy and is now accordingly indisposed. We transported the Leyat Hélica to the nearby Paris city park on a trailer - although the vehicle has been street legal since June 19, 1921. 'Driving across today's Paris would not be a good idea', says Bouzanquet, 'the traffic is just grueling.'

That was different in the early twentieth century when Marcel Leyat built his revolutionary vehicles. Born on March 26, 1885 (and thus a year before the Benz motor vehicle) in the small town of Die in the Drôme department, Leyat was actually an aircraft engineer and also took to the air in 1909 with his own glider pilot. But he dreamed of transferring some of the design principles of aviation to the road: 'No gearbox, no clutch and no differential required', so in 1913 he advertised his first propeller-driven vehicle called Hélicocycle. This essentially corresponded to the later Hélica, but only had one rear wheelwhich was also steered - and accordingly often fell over. Which is why Monsieur Leyat then mounted a second wheel on the rear axle and first set off to the front with the Hélicocycle for the 42nd Battalion of the 1st Artillery Regiment.

The first propeller car: 250 kilograms light, up to 100 km /h fast

Back from the war, Marcel Leyat really got going at Paris' Quai de Grenelle 27 not far from the Eiffel Tower and presented in 1919 the Leyat Hélica 2H type. In addition to Anzani units, built-in engines from the A.B.C. were used as the drive, producing almost 30 hp from 1,200 cubic centimeters. The body, either closed or open, consisted of a wooden frame with plywood paneling. A thin rigid axle suspended from leaf springs was attached to the front and a rigid axle to the rear that was steered by means of cables. The axle of the Leyat Hélica hung on a single coil spring and two wishbones.

The whole thing weighed no more than 250 kilograms, a good hundredweight less than a current Harley-Davidson. And when the 1.40-meter-wide propeller shoveled wind at its maximum speed of 1,800 rpm, the thing chased through Paris at up to 100 km /h. That was hellish speed back then. No wonder, then, that Bouzanquet's grandfather Jean-Jacques Peugeot was very enthusiastic about the new mode of transport and ordered a Leyat Hélica from Marcel Leyat for 5,900 francs. 'The delivery was delayed, however, which is why Leyat finally released his own copy with the chassis number 004 at my grandfather's insistence,' says Jean-François Bouzanquet, whose shirt, which was once pure white, is now black up to the elbows. But the engine is still not running.

Occasionally the engine spits fire

At least the engine of the Leyat Hélica now coughs occasionally, a good sign. Until suddenly flames burst out of the carburetor, which is installed in the footwell directly in front of the gas pedal, and half the footwell suddenly burns due to small gasoline leaks. Startled, I put out the fire with a few rags, but Bouzanquet remains calm: 'That happens occasionally; luckily you have the gas foot right in front of it and you can tell when it's warm,' says the 56-year-old. Somehow it is not surprising that his grandmother Jacqueline was not as enthusiastic about the revolutionary propeller car at the time as her husband and insisted on buying a normal car, for example an Amilcar instead of the Leyat Hélica. And because women are also in charge in France, Leyat Hélica number 004 disappeared in a family-owned shed.

30 Leyat Hélica have been built, only two are still known

It is possible that other wives intervened at the time, but the Leyat Hélica did not become a bestseller. Marcel Leyat produced 30 copies by 1925, making him the only one to ever have oneSeries production of propeller-driven vehicles succeeded. In 1927 he even celebrated a speed record in Montlhéry, where a Leyat Hélica was measured at an impressive 170 km /h. Subsequently, Leyat returned to the construction of real airplanes and finally died in 1986 at the age of 101.

There is no trace of 28 of the cars produced today. One was made available to the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris by its owner Gustave Courau in 1935, where visitors have been able to admire it ever since. And number 004 spent a peaceful 20 years in his shed until German soldiers spotted him and wanted to see if he was still driving. 'However, they couldn't handle the rear-wheel steering, landed in a tree and smashed the propeller,' says Bouzanquet.

This continued the construction's deep sleep. It was not until the 1990s, when Jean-François Bouzanquet took over the Leyat Hélica from his grandfather, that he restored the family heirloom and proceeded with great care. 'I wanted to keep as much substance of the Leyat Hélica as possible, the body and interior are still completely original, as is the paintwork,' he says - and has finally persuaded the A.B.C. boxer to run, at least a little.

Flying hammock - here the term fits like a fist on the eye

The sitting position in the hammock-like leather chairs of the Leyat Hélica is strange, a bit like a duck hanging right in front of the nose the thick steering wheel that controls the rear axle via two pulls. To the right of the steering wheel are the adjustment levers for ignition and mixture, there are no instruments. The accelerator pedal of the Leyat Hélica is in the middle in front of the flame-friendly carburetor, to the right and left of it one pedal controls one brake shoe each in the two front drums - for maximum deceleration the pilot has to press both pedals against the wooden floor. The Leyat Hélica does not brake at the rear.

The acceleration takes place with a slight time delay to accelerate and is rather mild; the maximum possible speed will probably only be reached at the end of the Bois de Boulogne. In return, wheels spinning on gravel roads are logically not an issue. The brake system of the Leyat Hélica matches the engine, the really difficult thing about the Leyat Hélica is in fact the rear-wheel steering: Try to drive backwards at a higher speed while staying in the right direction.

'Once you get used to it, it's basically fine, and when the weather is nice, it goes better,' says Jean-François Bouzanquet - I would like to believe that. In any case, the Leyat Hélica is one of the most fascinating things I've ever experienced. It may be a good thing that the idea didn't catch on, but it's wonderful that someone tried it. And inThe propeller car is almost up-to-date in one respect: on average, it does not require more than six liters per 100 kilometers - petrol station fuel, however, and no raspberry juice from Aunt Paula.


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