The Interesting History of the Leyat Helica


The LeyatHelica is a peculiar vehicle, mainly because it uses propellers found in airplanes instead of engines to move forward. It was a unique idea that was conceptualized by the Leyatcompany’s founder, Marcel Leyat, who believes that the technology used in airplanes can also be applied to cars. Some people bought into his invention and purchased several units from him, but after realizing that there are not a lot of potential buyers for the vehicle, he easily moved on from the project in the 1930s. Today, the LeyatHelica is regarded as one of the rarest cars in the world due to its scarcity and its impact on the world of cars. To know more about the unique features of the propeller car, here is the interesting history of the LeyatHelica.

Origins of the Helica

It was in 1909 when Marcel Leyat designed and built his first airplane. Wanting to pursue a business in manufacturing planes, Leyat first tried inserting his company into the airplane market, but he was unable to find success there. Leyat then pursued to enter the automobile market and applied what he learned in building planes to building cars, hence the reason why his first attempt at creating a vehicle was the propeller car that he would soon call the “Helica.”

vintage propeller

The Helica was named after the Greek word for spiral, which is also the inspiration behind the terms “helix” and “helicopter.” The Helica, also known as the “Helicycle” and the “plane without wings,” has a chassis that closely resembles an aircraft, wherein the driver would sit at the front while the passenger sits behind him or her. The chassis has a teardrop-shaped exterior made of plywood for less weight, and its wheels are made of aluminum in order to support the weight of the massive wooden propeller at the front of the vehicle. The prototype of the Helica was deemed too unstable by Leyat, mainly because of its thin frame that supports the chassis and the wheels, so he replaced the thin parts with thicker and slightly heavier ones for increased stability.

Because most of the exterior found in the Helica is made of wood, it is considered to be one of the lightest cars in the 1920s, and it is a lot lighter than the most popular vehicle during that time, which was the Ford Model T. Its lightweight body, as well as it aerodynamic design, allows the Helica to run at incredible speeds. It was even reported that the Helica is able to run at the top speed of 106 miles per hour, and this is achieved by also adding an 8 horsepower Scorpion as its engine.

When Leyat finished building the unit that serves as the standard for the production model, he immediately showcased its capabilities and its look during the 1921 Paris Auto Show. It was reported that the LeyatHelica received positive feedback from that convention, with more than a hundred signing up in getting a unit of their own. However, the orders were too difficult for Leyat to fulfill, as they were already struggling financially even before the Helica was showcased. Nonetheless, Leyat was able to fulfill some orders, and the company was able to produce 30 Helica vehicles, albeit at a much slower pace since they build those units between 1921 and 1925.

In 1924, one particular Helica driver was filmed driving the vehicle, and it was in that video that people could see how dangerous it is to drive because of its speed and instability whenever it makes turns. In addition, because of the large propeller at the front, the driver has no clear view of the road ahead, and this obstruction could often lead to accidents. The propeller is also deemed unsafe for pedestrians because it is not covered by anything, so there is a high chance that bystanders can get caught by the propellers, which can cause their deaths. Despite the dangers of driving a propeller car, it was reported that Leyat had more than 500 orders for the Helica, but as previously mentioned, there were only 30 made, with only 23 being sold since the seven people who ordered backed out.

Leyat eventually gave up on manufacturing the Helica in 1925, but the model was revived in 1927 when a closed cabin version of it was used to win the race at the Montlhéry track. It was known that Leyat went to a new business venture after the failure of the Helica, and from building propeller cars, he went to building pianos and other musical instruments. Today, there are only two LeyatHelica vehicles that survived. One of the Helica cars was driven by Claude Gueniffey, the president of the HelicaFanclub, while the other Helica is currently on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, France.

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