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Father of the Teardroppers: Lyman Voelpel’s “Arrow Plane”

Based on the aerodynamic advances incorporated into airplane design in the 1920s and early-1930s wealthy Chicago resident Lyman Voelpel commissioned the Hill Auto Body Metal Company of Cincinnati to construct his “Arrow Plane” in 1932.

The unique coachwork was built on a 1932 Ford Model “B” chassis with the four-cylinder powerplant turned around and mounted in the rear. The engine was equipped with a Miller ohv conversion head and Winfield carburetors. The Ford transmission, driveshaft and torque tube transferred power to a Ford rear axle mounted in the front that was turned around and converted to steer the machine.

In 1933 Hill Auto Body constructed the first of six McQuay-Norris streamliners loosely based on the “Arrow Plane” design, the auto parts maker used the cars for testing its products. The Voelpel “Arrow Plane” has survived and can be viewed at Hemmings Daily.   

Share with us what you find of interest in this image, or any other information known about the “Arrow Plane.” The photograph is courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

17 responses to “Father of the Teardroppers: Lyman Voelpel’s “Arrow Plane”

    • Yes, definitely “shades of Buckminster (his first name was “Richard”) Fuller’s Dymaxion. Unlike the Arrow Plane, Bucky’s Dymaxion (which stands for “dynamic, maximum, and tension”) featured steering by its lone rear wheel. As noted by others here, a truly flawed feature, destined for tragic results at speeds beyond those attainable by a forklift. I think the Arrow Plane is hugely interesting as an automotive fossil which portrays the expression of innovative ideas inspired by the evolution of the automobile. With the addition of a modern backup camera and a small slit window in the rear easily viewed by the driver, the Arrow Plane might easily have gone another inning

    • Perry,

      No more difficult to back up than some of today’s cars where everything behind the bottom of the rear window is invisible. I have backed through the grass of my driveway many times because you can’t see anything closer than 30 feet.

  1. Rear wheel steering? Did I misread? That is incredibly dangerous, as known by anyone who has tried to drive a rear-wheeled steering garden tractor of fork lift truck faster than 25 mph.

  2. Didn’t someone put a Model A in a wind tunnel and found it to be more efficient going backwards? I always thought that was the inspiration for these types of cars.

  3. Voelpel is described in an anecdotal history of aviation as chief pilot for Warner Engine Company of Detroit, and he raced the Tilbury Flash at the 1933 International Air Races.

  4. Re Fred’s query about putting a Ford Model A in a wind tunnel and finding it more efficient going backward, I’d doubt it, since there is nothing aerodynamic about the Model A, front or back. I know, because a Model A was our family transport during WW II. After the war, my Dad brought home a 1941 Pontiac fastback ‘Torpedo’ and after the clattering A, it was sheer luxury. I remember reading sometime later that GM had taken one of the 40’s fastback bodies (Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac also had them) reversed it on the chassis (and no, I don’t know how they cooled the engine) took it out to the high-speed track at the GM proving grounds and sure enough, it went faster ‘backwards. Not hard to understand, really, with a much-reduced frontal area and a sort-of Kamm effect at the back.

    • I found a couple of stories about a backward Desoto but for some reason I haven’t been able to get a reply thru. So I’m trying for the 3rd time without links.

      • In the early 1930s Chrysler engineers, after testing several scale models in their newly built wind tunnel, mounted a then conventional sedan body backwards on a standard chassis of the day for road and track tests which led to the eventual development of the 1934 Airflow models of Chrusler, Desoto, and Plymouth.

        It is said that one or more of such vehicles were actually driven in city traffic, causing quite a stir wherever they went.

        The Airflow series, often referred to as a failure or worse, changed the geometry and weight distribution of all U.S. built automobiles that followed and ushered in the era of streamline design.

  5. I have not seen this in my nearly 60 years of automotive enthusiasm. If it wasn’t for the conventional headlights, and bumper at the front, with the addition of full wheel-covers on the front rims, I think this would be very low drag. The roof-line and plan-view are properly, very gradually tapered, maybe not enough depending on operating speed. A Kamm-tail would be appropriate near the back. That said, with the wing-chord-like shape, and resulting Coanda-effect, this could have lift problems. The other thing is the center of pressure with crosswind, as with the VW Type-2 van / micro bus. Nice effort though.

    • I seriously doubt the old ‘Model A’ four banger (even with the OHV setup) would run this rig fast enough to lift, especially with the engine weight rearward. You’d need a large (and very light) wing.

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