Riding the Wind: The Helicron

O ne of the most unusual car museums in the country is the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn. The museum, which was started in 2002 by Jeff and Susan Lane, features more than 150 cars and motorcycles. The focus is on unusual European cars, including the more familiar makes such as Citroen, MG, Alvis, Renault, Morgan and Mercedes. When was the last time you saw a Trabant, Skoda, Steyr, Zaz or Zundapp? How about the one-off Helicron?

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More of an airplane without wings than an automobile for the open road, the Helicron features a large four-blade propeller, an open cockpit, a stabilizer fin and rear-wheel steering.

    All of the marques listed above, and many more, are on display at the Lane Motor Museum. The museum is also unusual in that virtually every vehicle in the collection runs, and many are driven regularly. The Lanes are regular participants at Amelia Island Concours, the Keeneland Concours, EuroAuto Festival and Keels & Wheels Concours with cars from the collection. Last year, Eve Hutcherson and Susan Lane participated in the women-only 1,500km Rallye des Princesses from Paris to Monaco driving a 1956 Thunderbird.

    Regular events are scheduled to start the museum cars, which draw crowds of appreciative patrons. Many additional events are held at the museum, including the annual Microcar Drive on April 28 and a stopover by The Great American Race 2007 on July 2.

    One of the most unusual cars in the collection has to be the propeller-driven 1931 Helicron, which was acquired in 2004. This one-off vehicle was discovered in a French barn in 2000. The Helicron is based on a Rosengart chassis turned 180 degrees. The Rosengart originated as a French version of the Austin 7 built under license. The front axle is solid without suspension, but the rear is sprung, and the car features four-wheel mechanical brakes. The coachwork is wood with a somewhat aeronautical flair, and the paint is an attractive French blue. The car was originally powered by an opposed ABC Scorpion engine, but is now powered by a Citroen GS 1.3-liter four-cylinder.

    Museum Director Jeff Lane reports that the Helicron is very loud and windy but can cruise at 30-40 mph on level ground, although acceleration is very slow. Top speed is estimated to be a gusty 60 mph. The brakes are reportedly quite good, due to the low 1,000-pound curb weight, but there is no reverse. Hill climbing is slow, and take-off on steep grades is challenging. Jeff and Susan participated in the 50-mile Amelia Island tour of White Oak Plantation while driving the Helicron in 2006.

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Jeff and Susan Lane, appropriately dressed in period aviation clothing, demonstrate the Helicron at a concours.

    The museum also features an in-house restoration shop presided over by Jeff Lane and Greg Coston. Some of the collection has been restored in the shop, including the Helicron. Preparing the Helicron for Amelia Island was quite challenging with many midnight hours by Jeff, Greg and other museum staff and volunteers.

    The Helicron is one of three propeller-driven vehicles in the Lane Motor Museum collection. There is also a 1929 Harley-Davidson-powered Wind Wagon and a L’eclair on loan from the Musee’ Regional de l’Air Museum in France. The Wind Wagon has an unusual provenance, having been constructed by Ted Jameson, the uncle of legendary racer and commentator Sam Posey.

    The Helicron will be exhibited at the 2007 Keels & Wheels Concours. The event will be held May 5-6 in Seabrook, Texas. Show information is available at www.keels-wheels.com. Information on the Lane Motor Museum and many cars from the collection can be seen at www.lanemotormuseum.org.

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