Although Kenneth Brown proposed the concept of a two-wheeled gyrocar in his 1911 book “Two Boys in a Gyrocar – The Story of a New York to Paris Motor Race,” he never built one nor had one built. The first prototype of this massive, two-wheeled/self-balancing vehicle was designed by Russian Count Pyotr Shilovsky. He was from the Russian Royal Family and was also a lawyer, statesmen, and inventor.
While living in the UK, Shilovsky commissioned the build to Wolseley Tool & Motorcar Company in 1912. In 1914, the Shilovsky Gryocar, also referred to as the Wolseley Gyrocar, was finished and demonstrated in London. Even today, the majority of the public do not understand how gyroscopes work, but back then, it was understood even less, so people must have looked on in amazement.
The gyrocar was powered by a custom Wolseley C5 engine producing almost 20 hp. Although this was almost 2-2.5 times the horsepower of that era’s motorcycles, the gyrocar was also about 20 times heavier, weighing in at about 2.75 tons. When the additional five passengers were added, this made the gyrocar slow, to say the least.
Later that year, at the outbreak of World War I, Shilovsky returned to Russia. After Wolseley had not heard from him for an extended period of time, he assumed that he had been a killed. Needing the space for war production and not wanting to store the car or scrap it, he decided to bury it. This seems like a strange choice of what to do with a vehicle, but that is precisely what happened.
Over the years, a train switching yard was built on top of the ground where the gyrocar was buried. In 1938, the gyrocar was dug out, restored, and put on display at Wolesley’s company museum. Unfortunately, in 1948, it was scrapped.
Shilovsky had hopes that the gyrocar could be used in the war effort, believing that it could go where four-wheeled vehicles could not go and that it also could be used in mass transportation. The weight made both of these applications unrealistic.
Another problem trying to use the gyrocar was related to turning. It was not just that the vehicle was so long that it created a large turning radius, but since it was mounted on a gyroscope, it would not allow the vehicle to lean. Finally, it took three minutes for the gyroscopes to be at full speed so the vehicle could balance; this was also not practical. Because of the design limitations and the expense to rework the design, Schilovsky shelved working on gyrocars.
So what happened to Schilovsky? He returned to the UK after the War and worked on various applications for gyroscope technology. Since Schilovsky, others have tried to create gyrocars, but they have never gained popularity. Even though Schilovsky’s gyrocar never made it into production, the pictures are still very cool to see.