Awareness of gyroscopic principles as observed in children’s spinning tops can be traced back to ancient times. Irish-born inventor Louis Brennan harnessed that energy when he created the mechanical marvel seen here in our photos today. Motive power for his 40 foot long 20 ton prototype came from an 80 HP gasoline engine. A second 20 HP unit powered a generator that drove electric motors which, in turn, drove the two gyroscopes that produced its gravity defying stability. But the vehicles perfection was not an easy or fast process. Brennan found that his prototype performed perfectly when moving in a straight line, but jumped the track at the first curve.
- The Brennan Patent – Demonstration with soldiers at Gillingham, Kent on November 10, 1909 – A drawing showing the machines general layout
This he overcame only after twelve years of study and experimentation made possible by income derived from an earlier invention, the steerable torpedo, which he had sold to the British government. By mechanically redirecting the natural force of the gyroscopes to right themselves to the opposite side of the car, he enabled it to lean into a curve rather than away from it and thus negotiate the bend.
He envisioned a passenger train consisting of six cars each with a two hundred foot long total length, with every car containing its own gyroscopic stabilizers, traveling at two hundred miles per hour, but his remarkable design never got beyond the prototype stage. You can find a more detailed contemporary description at the Catskill Archive and many more unusual features here on The Old Motor. Top and bottom photos courtesy of the Science Museum London.