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Flying Cars of the Past - When Car Companies Were Serious About Developing Hover Cars

Courtesy of Colouring the Past (which I believe is a Facebook Interest group for people who like restoring and coloring black and white images and film footage from history) this image of Ford's, 1959 Levacar Mach 1 concept vehicle came through my newsfeed and sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole.

Ford Levacar Mach 1 Concept Vehicle (1959)
The Ford Levacar Mach 1 Concept Vehicle (1959) and the toy model kit the public could buy.
Image source: Colouring the Past.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my interest in the promise of 'flying cars' which, if the film Back to the Future II is to be believed (yes I know it's not a documentary), we should've had by 2015. It's at least fascinating to learn that Ford founder, Henry Ford, thought hovercars might be the next evolution of personal transport.

Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.

- Henry Ford 1940.

How Ford's Levapads work.
How Ford's Levapads work.

The Ford Levacar did actually work, in that it was capable of floating a few inches above the ground on cushions of air pushed through its Levapads at high speed. It was fitted with turbo jet engines that, theoretically, could propel it up to 500mph (which would get you to the shops before you'd even shut the canopy - probably).

As near as I can tell the Levacar concept never got past the demonstration phase where it was guided around a circular track on a large armature to demonstrate its hovering capability. You can see a video of it in action here on Getty Images.

Despite being cartoonishly small and only a single seater vehicle it definitely reflected the retro futurism of the era. It's a shame Ford didn't keep developing the car.

The Air Car 2500 Gem (Ground Effects Machine) (1959)

Curtiss-Wright 2500 GEM Hover Car.
Curtiss-Wright 2500 GEM Hover Car (1959).

One company that did have a red hot go at bringing hover cars to the masses is aircraft component manufacturer Curtiss-Wright. They spent millions developing a functional hover car for sale to the public, even producing a few working prototypes.

The Curtiss-Wright Air Car 2500 Gem appears to be as close as they got to a prototype that could have gone into production.

It was demonstrated at numerous car shows and did actually work, hovering several inches above the ground, with its two giant fans in the front and back. 

Near as I can tell it wasn't particularly practical, was very noisy, and not particularly fuel efficient.

There's a video of it in action on in their article When Cars Flew (which is my main source of information on both this and the Ford Levacar).

A four seater version of the GEM was expected to retail for around US$15,000 with the two seater at less than half that for $6000.

The World's First Flying Car

While we're on the subject of flying cars from the past I should give a shout out to the world's first flying car, 1949’s Aerocar. 

It's inventor, Moulton Taylor, tried his hardest to get it into production after he proved it worked with several successful prototypes (one of which was up for sale for nearly a million dollars in 2013).

Aerocar (1949)
Image: Daily News

Let's face it though, attaching wings and a propeller to a car so it 'transforms' into a plane is no one's idea of a flying car when they think of flying cars. We basically think of a regular car that doesn't have wheels, that can either fly, or at least hover above the ground.

Howard Stark's Hover Car (1943)

Yes I know Tony Stark's dad, Howard Stark is a fictional character but so long as I'm giving shout outs, I have to give a special mention to the hover car he demonstrated at the World Exposition of Tomorrow in 1943.

Imagine if that was based on an actual technology of the day? Admittedly his car malfunctioned but it did work for a red hot minute, so who knows, we could've been driving hover cars long before now!

Stark Hovercar Mark I - World Expo 1943
Image: Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

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