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*Update* La Roue Élastique: c’est la Vie – The Elastic Wheel: This is the Life

  • Wheel1
  • A Gauthier coil-sprung wheel with a tire mounted to a link-chain, 1906

By Ariejan Bos:

In the early days of the automobile, the pneumatic tire suffered from punctures, rapid wear and blowouts that could cause serious accidents. At that point in time, the future of this type of tire was not at all certain. In 1906, pneumatic tires would last for around two thousand miles if fitted to a standard sized touring car. However, if fitted to a heavy limousine or sedan which could weigh more than 2 tons, the life span of the tires might decrease to only about two hundred miles. Moreover, the price of tires in the early days was considerable and formed a large part of the yearly operating expenses of a car. Consequently, other solutions were sought to secure comfortable and safe driving without the worries of regular tire repairs and replacements.

  •  Wheel3       Wheel4      Wheel5
  • L to R: Garchey wheel – Halle wheel- Anthonie Fokker wheel

One of the solutions at the time seemed to be the elastic or resilient wheel. The first person who worked in this field was actually the inventor of the pneumatic tire, the Scottish born Robert William Thompson. His patent dates from 1845 and an example of his aerial wheel can be seen at the Science Museum. Technology, however, was not advanced enough yet to produce reliable thin wall rubber inner tubes and out of frustration Thompson started to develop elastic rubber tires for road locomotives. At the end of the 19th century, the pneumatic tire returned, first for the bicycle and later for the automobile. Despite it’s potential, the earlier mentioned drawbacks of the pneumatic tire were the cause of a continuous stream of elastic wheel inventions, like the well-known one invented by the Count De Cardegnan, mounted here (below) on a circa 1903 Bardon.


Finall, in 1906, the French magazine L’Auto decided to organize a contest for elastic wheel inventors and producers to investigate the potential of the available elastic wheels and tires. They could be roughly be divided into flexible metal systems (with metal springs), wheels based on elastic rubber and those using the combination of rubber and springs. The first contest was a reliability test from Paris to Nice and back (1337 miles) lasting 10 days. The interest in this contest was international and reports can be found in all major French and international magazines of the period.

  • Car4       Car2       Car5
  • L to R: Garchey wheels on a De Dion-Bouton – Gauthier wheel- Loraine-Dietrich

There were 10 contestants of which only 3 reached the finish in Paris. The winner was the E.L. wheel developed by engineer Edmond Levy that was based on an inner and outer metal rim with elastic rubber rings in between. Similar contests were organized in 1907 and 1908 and in both years, L’Automatique Ducasble, a type of massive rubber tire with air chambers, took away the first prize. It soon became clear that resilient wheels based on elasticity using metal springs were not satisfactory, although they looked like a possible solution to the tire problem at the time.

  • Af1       Af2      Af3
  • Lipkowski Wheel, 1910 – Ideal Wheel 1913 – German Protos, 1916

After 1909 interest seems to have diminished, although the elastic wheel idea was not abandoned completely. Even as late as 1913, as seen above, an American ad promoted the Ideal resilient wheel with the certainty that there will be no tire troubles, no punctures, blow-outs, rim cuts or leaky valves. In Germany during the First World War, there was a revival of the resilient wheel caused by a rubber shortage that was the result of the Allies’ naval blockade.

  • Sus1      Sus2      Sus3
  • A Compound Suspension unit with a sprung and dampened hub, 1910.

For heavy vehicles like trucks however, the use of these wheels would continue until the early ’20’s when satisfactory pneumatic tires would start to become available. Until that time, elastic solid tires like L’Automatique Ducasble were commonly used, but still some inventors put their energy in the development of the metal elastic wheel alternative such as the Lipkowski wheel or the Suspension Compound, as it was called seen above and below. More resilient wheels can be seen here on The Old Motor and also at Hemmings Daily.

  • Bus
  • *Update* It appears that this is a Pipe that was made in Belgium. The wild coach work is by French coach builder Henri Labourdette, 1910

Editors Note: Ariejan Bos of the Netherlands, who authored this post, is very knowledgeable about the subject of early cars from all around the world. He is a frequent contributor here on The Old Motor, identifies many mystery cars and often provides his expert input. He is a member of Conam a society of automotive historians from the Netherlands.

9 responses to “*Update* La Roue Élastique: c’est la Vie – The Elastic Wheel: This is the Life

  1. It doesn’t take an engineer to see that spring loaded tyres were a very bad idea. I doubt the patent office got any more applications for that genre later than 1918! I’m trying to visualize their flying apart at speed (above 30mph) Perhaps applicable to some low speed trucks of the pre-WWl era.

  2. I’m constantly amazed about the depth of Ariejan Bos’s knowledge
    of automotive history! I wonder how he acquired it and what started
    him in this direction? What research facility does he have at hand?
    Does he have much hands on experience with the cars he has
    knowledge of? I appreciate his passion for preserving automotive
    history for future generations.

    • So don’t we, he does an amazing job at research and is one of the best at unraveling a mystery.

      Ariejan, Please tell us more about yourself and your involvement with cars, their history and your research.

      • Hi, Tony, thank you for your compliments! However, I always say: you can do it too, if you have lots of spare time available, but it helps if you were infected with the car-virus as a child. That’s what happened. I was involved professionally in coachbuilding for some years, have been a passenger on a series of very old cars in the past, but never owned an old car myself. Then there was a moment that I realized that I’m more a researcher and a digger. I started long ago with local and regional car history in The Netherlands (I still write regularly articles for our Conam-magazine), but as our country only had a small car industry, many cars came from abroad. Identification often proved to be difficult, so I decided about ten years ago to build a large archive both in paper and digital (I must admit: there is more info in that than in my head!) and subsequently organised it to access the information in an efficient way. My interest is entirely pre-1918, indeed worldwide and the archive covers all aspects of car industry and motoring in general. With it I try to help, add, identify and correct wherever I can. You can always contact me by asking David my mail-address.

          • I did metal work (forming, welding etc.) and wood work on all kind of cars from the ’20s to the ’70s: Alfa, Mercedes-Benz, Horch, Peugeot, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and more. Though I’m glad I did it (and I believe I was not without talent), I never reached my ultimate dream: working on the true coachbuilt car of the early 20th century. For that I should have started as a youngster, not at middle-age! I stopped around 2004, when the crisis had made my work too expensive for the middle class car segment I worked in by then.

  3. Spring wheels began in 1810 and continue to be developed and used today. More info here:

  4. I used to have a book from my Grandmother’s attic–published in the 1910’s– that had a long chapter on the relative merits of solid rubber versus pneumatic tires.

    Although I haven’t seen it since I was a child, I think the consensus was that while solid rubber tires wouldn’t leave you with a flat, they easily got cut to pieces by rocks.

    It’s hard to say how well the “elastic wheel” would deal with that.

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