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Two-Wheel, Four-Wheel or…. One-Wheel Drive?

Buyers of new cars often weigh up the merits of two-wheel-drive vehicles, full-time four-wheel-drive vehicles and part-time four-wheel-drive vehicles (substitute all-wheel drive if you prefer in this last one). While this article won’t help you decide on which one, it might make you grateful that there isn’t another choice knocking about (or at least give you a good laugh). At one stage, inventors were toying with the idea of the one-wheel drive and considerable work was done in this in the University of Berkley in (you guessed it) the USA.

The one-wheel drive wasn’t some weird gizmo that had a drive train powering only one wheel while the other three sat there doing nothing. Instead, it was an even weirder gizmo that had just one wheel, with the motor and the driver (no room for passengers) balanced around the sides of the wheel, with the idea that the weight of the driver would counterbalance the weight of the motor (depends on the driver, I guess – some are heavier than others). The wheel itself was a large tractor-type tyre, so at least the thing could stand up by itself. It was intended as an all-terrain vehicle, presumably on the idea that one tyre takes up less space and can therefore go places that four wheels can’t.

Movie footage filmed when the gizmo (you can’t really call this thing a car) was being trialled shows that it is reasonably balanced. It can climb a hill at a speed that easily outstrips the bewildered dog that tries to chase it. It doesn’t tip over while doing S-bends along a gravel road, it steers reasonably well and it can get a moderate amount of acceleration when taking off from a standstill that probably wasn’t too bad for the 1950s. However, the gizmo does leave a little to be desired in the way of safety. True, the vehicle in the footage was a test vehicle, but there’s no sign of, say, seat belts, to say nothing of side intrusion beams (there are no sides), air bags or crumple zones.

The idea was trialled during the 1950s until being shelved in 1965 (I wonder why?). However, at least this gizmo allowed people to research new methods of stabilisation, some of which may have contributed to today’s modern stability programs that all new cars seem to be fitted with. When you look at the technical bits and pieces of how it worked, the inventor, Charles F. Taylor, seems to have been quite innovative in harnessing the torque of the engine to create a “moment” to even out road wobbles, even over bumps and through turns – the first active stability device. So while the one-wheel-drive vehicle was an idea that didn’t quite get off, the research put into it certainly would have helped make modern cars what they are.

Or do I speak too soon? Is someone going to re-work the design to create something for today that can compete with the motorbike? You never know…