N-Wheeled Cars

Gallery opened 6 Mar 2018

Updated: 18 Sept 2018

Three wheels: more on the Harper Runabout

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There is very little doubt that in almost all circumstances the correct number of wheels for a car is four. That has of course not stopped keen inventors from trying either more or less, and here you see some of the results.

This page is strictly limited to cars; goods vehicles with six or more wheels are of course very common.


ONE WHEEL

I don't think there is any rational way you could call a vehicle with one wheel a car. The Museum has an extensive collection of monowheels, but very few of them have any form of bodywork and the majority can only carry one person. A possible candidate might be the monowheel tank (preferably as the civilian version).

Left: A civilian version of the monowheel tank: 1933

This design's claim to be a one-wheeled car is somewhat undermined by the two hefty stabiliser wheels at the back. It appears however that these can be raised by a lever once you've got up speed. Other objections are that the steering is by handlebars rather than a steering-wheel, and that it seems to be strictly a one-seater.

Anyhow, that's the best I can do for the moment, but I suspect that a trawl through the covers of Popular Science and similiar journals would soon throw up something that could claim more plausibly to be a one-wheeled car.

This is an artist's impression and it is extremely unlikely that it was ever built.


2 WHEELS

If we permit ourselves the luxury of two wheels for a car, then we find ourselves with a good number of genuine candidates.

Two-wheeled cars with gyroscopes are dealt with here and here.

Two-wheeled cars without gyroscopes are dealt with on the 2-wheeled car page. These cars all have one wheel at the front and one at the back.

If you have two wheels side-by-side then you have a diwheel.

Left: The Bryant diwheel: 1938

The Museum has a large collection of diwheels, but this artist's impression is the nearest it gets to an actual car. This design (which I am quite sure no one attempted to build) certainly has bodywork and clearly seats at least two people; probably more judging by the windows halfway along the cabin. Note the rudder at the back for high-speed steering. You can read more this vehicle on this page.

It is far from clear how you would change a wheel should you suffer a puncture. This design has not been tested for practicality.


There have been a huge number of three-wheeled cars. Here only a few especially significant or odd designs are displayed.

3 WHEELS: A C SOCIABLE: 1911

Left: The A C Sociable: 1907-14

The A C Sociable was a very successful early three-wheeler. It adopted what is usually considered to be the most stable configuration- two wheels in front and one at the back, like the Morgan. Driver and passenger sat side-by-side, making conversation easier, and so this was called the 'sociable' configuration. The original name was Auto Carriers Ltd.

It had a 5.5 HP 631 cc air-cooled side-valve single-cylinder engine, and a two-speed epicyclic gearbox, with no reverse gear; final drive was by chain to the rear wheel. The front axle was solid with semi-elliptic leaf springs, while the single rear wheel had dual quarter-elliptic leaf springs. Brakes operated on the transmission and the rear wheel. The wheelbase was 70 inches.

The A C Sociable has an entry on the A C Wikipedia page.

Left: The A C Sociable: 1907-14

An A C Sociable from the other side.

Left: The A C Sociable: 1907-14

Economical motoring. Date of picture unknown.

3 WHEELS: HARPER RUNABOUT: 1921

The Harper Runabout was developed by Robert O Harper, and manufactured by Avro produced from 1921 to 1926. (Around this time Avro were experimenting with two-wheeled cars)

The Harper Runabout has a Wikipedia page but it has little information.

Left: The Harper runabout: 1921-24

The engine was a single-cylinder two-stroke Villiers of 269cc, which developed 2.5 HP, and drove the rear wheels by chain, via a three-speed gearbox. Starting was accomplished by a pull-up lever on the left hand side of the driver, which could be operated from a sitting position. This lever also functioned as a ratchet hand brake.

There were quarter-elliptical springs on all three wheels, which were of pressed steel. Remarkably for the time, there were disc brakes on all three wheels. It was capable of an economical 100 mpg running at 40 mph.

A common complaint was that the Harper looked a bit too much like a bath chair. (a contemporary invalid carriage)

A total of about 500 machines were produced. This example from 1921 is in the Science Museum collection.

Left: Advert for The Harper runabout

The 'Brief Specification' gives some more technical details of the Harper. Note the acetylene lighting with an intriguing 'shaking grid generator'. I would like to know more about that... but Google is silent on the subject.

And it is NOT a camouflaged motorcycle!

Left: The Harper runabout

This seems to be some sort of entry in a trade catalogue rather than an impartial article.

The 'emergency extra seat', which somehow does not sound too alluring, allowed a passenger to sit behind the driver, facing backwards.

3 WHEELS: THE SCOTT SOCIABLE: 1921-25

The Scott Sociable was a very odd sort of three-wheeled car manufactured from 1921 to 1925 by the Scott Autocar Company of Bradford, Yorkshire. This was an offshoot of the well-known and respected Scott Motorcycle Company.

In the course of World War I Alfred Scott developed sidecar machine gun carriers. They were not very successful. After the war he tried a similiar configuration for civilian transport. There emerged a highly asymmetrical three-wheel car with two wheels in line, with a third wheel out to the side and slightly behind the other rear wheel. (Overcoming the puncture drawback noted just above), though that was not the reason)The configuration resembled that of a motorcycle and sidecar combination, but looked very wrong. It looked just like a car with a wheel missing, and apparently handled like one. It was originally announced in 1916 as the Sociable, but production was postponed until 1921. About 200 were made before production stopped in 1924. The cost of a complete Sociable was £273 in 1921, falling to £135 by 1924.

Driver and passenger sat side-by-side; and this was called the 'sociable' configuration.

Left: The Scott Sociable: 1921-25

This picture demonstrates all too clearly that the Scott Sociable just looked wrong, as if it was poised on the point of falling on its nose.

The Sociable had a triangulated tubular steel frame, and a proper steering wheel acting by rack and pinion on the front wheel. It was powered the Scott Company's own water-cooled 578 cc twin-cylinder two-stroke engine driving through a three-speed gearbox to the offside rear wheel only, by shaft; there was no differential, and no reverse gear. It has been recorded that turning was dangerous at speed; I'll bet it was.

There are many, many, three-wheeled vehicles in the world. This may be the oddest.

Left: The Scott Sociable: 1922

This Scott clearly dates from 1922.

According to Timothy Jacobs, author of Lemons- The World's Worst Cars, "It had some of the characteristics of a motorcycle-and-sidecar arrangement, but without the flexibility, and could be extraordinarily treacherous to drive." I believe it.

3 WHEELS: RELIANT ROBIN

Three-wheeled cars are not considered very unusual in Great Britain at least, though they are now becoming rare. Historically, three-wheeler production was encouraged by lower road tax than four-wheel cars, and because they could be legally driven with a motorcycle licence. (The latter legal situation changed recently)

The major 3-wheeler manufacturers in Great Britain were Reliant and Bond. Ultimately Reliant bought out Bond, and it was Reliant that produced the famous Bond Bug.

Left: A Reliant Robin: 2018

The Reliant Robin had a water-cooled engine (originally only 750cc) under the hatch at the front, driving the back axle via a conventional propshaft and differential. The last Robin came off the production lines in 2002, the last batch of 65 having leather seats, alloy wheels, and walnut dashboards. Now that is class.

This Reliant lives a couple of steets away from me, and there is (or was) another living only half a mile away. I see one driving around occasionally, but have not so far been alert enough to spot which it is.

The crash-worthiness of a fibreglass-bodied car is not great. As was demonstrated when a friend of mine was killed in a Robin.

Author's photograph: Jan 2018

3 WHEELS: MORGAN

The Morgan company began selling three-wheelers with one wheel at the rear and a V-twin engine at the front in 1911, and continued until 1952. The company announced that production of a version using a Harley-Davidson V-twin would be restarted in 2012, but the production models actually used an S&S engine.

Left: The Morgan three-wheeler: 2012

This is a three-wheeler of a rather different stamp. It is powered by a big V-twin engine at the front (yes, I suppose that is obvious) that drives the rear wheel.

There is a Wikipedia page on Morgan.

A perhaps non-obvious drawback of three-wheelers is that since you are making three tracks on the road, the chances of encountering a randomly-placed nail are increased by 50%.


4 WHEELS:

As noted at the start, there is pretty near universal agreement that the best number of wheels for a car is four. There's not much point in looking at ordinary cars here, but you can have four wheels but be unconventional in where you put them. A classic example is the Sunbeam-Mabley:

Left: The Sunbeam-Mabley: 1901

This car was the first produced by the famous Sunbeam company. They bought in a design from a certain Maxwell Mabley-Smith, whose day job was designing ornamental ironwork. There is variation in the spelling, with Mabberley and Maberley both about on the Web. Mabley is the correct version.

The Sunbeam had one wheel at the front, one at each side, and one at the rear; this is often described as a diamond configuration, but in fact the front and back wheels were not in line. The layout was similiar to that of Starley's Coventry Rotary quadracycle. The car was powered by a single-cylinder 2.75 HP De Dion engine mounted next to the front wheel, but it did not drive this wheel at all. A belt from the engine ran backwards to a 2-speed gearbox and differential; chain drives ran from this to the two unsprung side wheels.

The seating was as unorthodox as the wheel placement. Two people sat close together on the front seat, facing the side of the road; the driver sat behind them, steering with a tiller and facing the opposite side of the road. This all sounds very unnatural; the natural tendency would be to twist round to look in the direction in which you are going. This is especially a good idea if you are the driver. Note that extra seat backs have been added at the corners of this version to make the twisting a bit less uncomfortable.

A small-diameter exhaust pipe goes round in an elegant semi-circle, then heads toward the rear. In the previous update I said 'Note the red-lined petrol tank mounted on the far side of the car' but it now appears it is a radiator header tank. Looking at the fins on the cylinder I assumed that the engine was air-cooled, but closer investigation shows that the cylinder head only is water-cooled and there is a four-row gilled-tube radiator mounted just above the engine. The petrol tank was somehow fitted in between the driver and the passsengers; for the time being the exact location remains enigmatic, but it must be reasonably high up for gravity feed to the carburettor.

Left: The Sunbeam-Mabley: 1901

This is another Sunbeam-Mabley; the engine here appears to be wholly water-cooled. This machine was sold by auction at Sotheby's on 23rd October 1969.

The auctioneer's blurb states that the engine is partly air-cooled and partly water-cooled, but this does not square with the appearance of the engine, which looks to be wholly water-jacketed.

The blurb states that the engine power was 2.75 HP, from a 74mm bore and 76mm stroke; the capacity was 327cc and the inlet valve was automatic. It also states that ignition was by trembler coil, but that looks like a magneto on the front to me. Its price when new was stated as £130.

The Museum staff have so far not been able to find out what it sold for in 1969.

Left: The Sunbeam-Mabley: 1901

This is a contemporary picture of the Sunbeam-Mabley. No extra seat backs here.

The engine here seems to have a water-cooled head and a finned cylinder barrel for air cooling. No radiator header tank is visible, and the radiator has six rows instead of four. No magneto is visible; I suspect the writer of the auctioneer's blurb mentioned above was working from this picture.

Remarkably the Sunbeam-Mabley had some success; several hundred were sold in 1901 and 1902 at £130 each. It was still in the Sunbeam catalogue in early 1904, offering a single cylinder 327 cc engine 74 x 76 mm to run at 1,800 rpm. Weight 4½ cwt. (which is very light) The price then was £120.

Left: Sunbeam-Mabley AR39: 1901

This Sunbeam-Mabley was sold at auction for £65,000 in November 2011, which presents a good advance on the initial purchase price of £130.

The cylindrical silencer can be seen just ahead of the centre wheel.

AR39 has successfully taken part in the London-Brighton veteran car run.

Left: Sunbeam-Mabley AR39: 1901

It was this photograph that made it clear that the engine was partly water-cooled and partly air-cooled. It also shows that the tank at the front is a water header tank and not the petrol tank.

On the top of the cylinder head, in a copper housing is an automatic inlet valve; it opened against a light spring on the induction stroke. Simple but not conducive to good engine breathing. A black right-angle induction manifold connects it to the carburettor; immediately to the right is the polished copper float-chamber.

Left: Sunbeam-Mabley AR39: 1901

Here the wide pulley on the engine crankshaft can be seen; the belt is not fitted.

Just to the left of the cylinder barrel can be seen two control rods; presumably they work the throttle and choke on the carburettor.

Left: Pininfarina-X project: 1960

The Pininfarina-X project showcased its low-drag body design, with a drag coefficient of only 0.23, far superior to the ordinary cars of the time. Batista Pininfarina worked with aerodynamics expert Professor Alberto Morelli. To achieve such low drag the front of the car had to be narrow, leading to this unorthodox layout with one wheel in front, two at the side, and one at the rear. The front wheel did the steering and the rear wheel all the driving. A 1089cc Fiat engine was installed at an angle in the rear of the car.

The project was a successful technology demonstrator up to a point, but a single front wheel was never going to be acceptable in mainstream motoring. The car was eventually bought by a collector and still exists.

You can find more information here.

You're not going to get a car with four conventionally-placed wheels on this page, unless there's something very funny about the wheels. I think this car qualifies; it has four square wheels.

Left: Square wheels on a four-wheel pickup

This is from a Mythbusters episode. Interestingly the jolting gets less as speed increases because the wheels are bouncing from one corner to the opposite one, the intermediate corner not touching the ground.

There is a YouTube video, posted in 2016.

It is slightly disturbing that this is far from a unique occurrence of square wheels. Typing 'square wheels' into YouTube produces scooters, bicycles, tricycles, tractors, motorbikes and skateboards, all with square wheels.

Presumably the ultimate Perverse Wheel would be an equilateral triangle.


5 WHEELS: THE PHELPS TRACTOR

Finding a car with five wheels was always going to be a challenge. However the Museum staff are not easily defeated...

Left: Advert for the The Phelps Tractor: 1901

The Phelps Tractor was an ingenious idea that failed to become popular. The steam-powered propelling section was a three-wheeled unit controlled by steering rods from behind. Presumably this was to reassure potential purchasers who were more used to driving horses and wanted no truck with new-fangled notions like steering wheels.

The propelling unit could be coupled to a carriage (Combination 2) or a parcel wagon (Combination 3, with extra storage over the engine compartment) or any other suitable trailer unit. This included sledges.

The advert at left describes how to steer, start, stop, and reverse, with the useful feature that the engine stops if the rods or reins are dropped or otherwise released entirely.

It think the top version has a reasonable claim to be a 5-wheeled car; you couldn't drive the tractor unit around by itself. The claim of the lower version to be a 7-wheeled car is more dubious, as the trailer is essentially a separate vehicle.

There seems to be much doubt as to whether this machine was actually built- there appear to be no photographs. I have grave doubts as to the practicality of fitting a 10-HP steam engine, complete with fuel and water tanks, in an enclosure the size of that shown in the top picture. Significantly, no chimney is shown to carry away the boiler exhaust gases, and there is no sign of an air-cooled condenser, which would be a sizable item.

THE DETROIT TRACTOR

Left: Advert for the Detroit Tractor: 1913

The Phelps Tractor was not unique in its rein-control. The Detroit Tractor (which judging by these photographs really was built) had a more practical internal-combustion engine. It is not clear why the towing pole was so long- it may have been something to do with using unmodified horse-drawn ploughs, etc.

I appreciate that neither of these configurations qualify as a 5-wheeled car, though they might as 6-wheeled and 4-wheeled. But I thought it best to show them here for comparison with the Phelps tractor just above.

The Detroit Tractor Company was an overshoot of Baker & Baker of Royal Oak, Michigan. It was set up in March 1913 to build Baker tractors, but a few years later moved to Lafayette, Indiana where this machine was built. It was described as 'a line-drive tractor of the universal frame design'. Presumably 'line-drive' refers to the rein-control system, but I don't understand about the 'universal frame design'.

From an automobile trade journal 1913

You wait ages for a 5-wheeled car and then three come along at once... more research revealed these beauties:

5 WHEELS: THE SMITH FLYER

Left: The Smith Flyer: 1917

The Smith Flyer was a four-wheel buckboard with a Smith Motor-wheel attached at the back. It seems to have been intended for fun rather than serious transport.

Nonetheless, I feel obliged to point an obvious snag. The fifth wheel is clearly hinged to the back of the vehicle, to allow it follow irregularities in the road. Thus only the weight of engine and one wheel is available for adhesion. The traction abilities must have diabolical.

It is often cited as the cheapest car ever sold, but that means stretching the definition of 'car' to breaking point. It was no competition for the Model-T Ford, which could be had for a few hundred dollars more.

Left: The Smith Flyer: 1917

The caption is informative. However, in the list of its desirable features (I like the 'natural woodwork') there is no mention of... brakes. There is no mention of suspension either; there wasn't any beyond the flexing of the chassis. It does however have front and rear mudguards.

I marvel at the idea of raising the whole engine and wheel to declutch; this is less practical with a V8. There is no mention of a throttle control, which would have required a Bowden cable; it says 'Control is under the thumb on the steering wheel', which I take to mean an ignition cutout switch. And there certainly wasn't a gearbox.

Sorry about the moire. Nothing to be done at this stage.

Above: The Smith Flyer: 1917

This magnificent photograph captures a Smith Flyer superbly. The Smith Motor-wheel with its distinctive two mounting horns, has in this case a belt-driven 4-blade cooling fan.
The diagonal wire attached to the engine is presumably the 'clutch control' for raising the engine and wheel off the road.

Left: A Smith Flyer: picture date unknown

Pictured at what appears to be a tractor rally. This restored Flyer has a 5-blade belt-driven cooling fan.

Left: The Smith Motor Wheel: 1914

This shows the conventional application of the Smith Motor Wheel; you bolted it to the side of your bicycle converting it into a sort of tricycle. The Smith Motor Wheel first appeared in 1914.

The Smith Motor Wheel was an ingenious design. The disc wheel was driven directly from the cam-shaft, which was geared down 8:1 to give a suitable drive ratio. However the camshaft of a 4-stroke engine must rotate at half engine-speed; Smith got round this by having four lobes rather than one on each cam. This ingenious idea was borrowed from the Wall Motor Wheel, invented in England in 1910, of which Smith had bought the US manufacturing rights. The Wall Motor Wheel used a 4:1 reduction ratio and a two-lobed exhaust cam; the inlet valve was automatic.

5 WHEELS: SIDEWAYS PARKING IN 1938

Left: The The Brookes Walker Fifth Wheel: 1950s

The huge barge-like cars produced in the USA in the 50's were hard to park in spaces of limited size. Here is one attempted solution; a fifth wheel that lefts the normal rear wheels off the road and allows the back of the car to go sideways. It could be argued that the car was a three-wheeler during this operation, as only three wheels were actually touching the road. A hydraulic cylinder lowered the fifth wheel, which was then rotated by a friction roller driven from the rear axle.

For a long time nothing was currently known beyond the existence of this photograph. It can now be revealed that this Cadillac is using the Park-Car concept invented by Brooks Walker in the 1930s. US patent 2,139,341 was applied for in 1932 but only granted in 1938.

Now you may object to carrying around the weight of an extra wheel just to help with parking. But the beauty of the concept is that it doubles as the spare wheel, and the only extra weight is that of the raise/lower mechanism.

There is a video of the fifth wheel in operation on YouTube.

Left: US patent 2,139,341, granted 1938

The fifth wheel 22 swings down on a radius arm 25, actuated by the hydraulic cylinder 31. The big spring 38 looks as if it is intended to retract the fifth wheel if the hydraulics fail.

The fifth wheel is driven by friction roller held against its tread; this is driven by the chain 45, from the shaft 43. This shaft is driven by another friction roller 41 bearing on the rear tyre 40.

I have my doubts about this drive system:

  • There are two friction rollers here that need to have a good grip on their respective tyres. How well is that going to work in the wet?
  • The friction roller 41 bears not on the tread of its tyre but on its sidewall. Tyre sidewalls are not designed for that sort of duty and would quickly wear and become dangerous- on the inside sidewall which is hard to inspect.
  • Finally, what about the differential? Once both rear wheels are of the ground, trying to apply power through tyre 40 is just going to make the opposite rear wheel spin uselessly.

Left: The Fifth Wheel: 1950s

This installation takes up most of the room in the boot (trunk) and apparently the petrol tank has also had to be moved- quite a major rebuild.

From a Life article, 17 Nov 1952 (The issue that reported the victory of Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson)

Left: The Fifth Wheel: 1950s

This photograph shows chain drive to the fifth wheel, alleged taken from the propellor shaft, though it is far from clear exactly how that worked.

Not to be pedantic, but I can only see one hydraulic cylinder here, at bottom right. The other tubular things are parts of the bracket holding the fifth wheel.

From the Life article of 17 Nov 1952

Left: The Fifth Wheel: 1950s

From the Life article of 17 Nov 1952

Left: The Fifth Wheel: 1950s

Multiple-exposure photography demonstrates the parking process. The car on the left can get into a much smaller parking space by swinging its rear in.

From the Life article of 17 Nov 1952

Left: Fifth Wheel: 1953 Packard

This 1953 Packard Cavalier was converted by Brooks Walker and used as his personal transportation; it still survives. This time the fifth wheel lives outside the boot, (trunk) which leaves the luggage space intact. Presumably moving the petrol tank was also not necessary. Definitely a more practical proposition.

Left: The Fifth Wheel: 1953 Packard

According to the latest information I can find, the Packard is currently owned by William Swaney of Pennsylvania, who bought it in December 2005. The hydraulic system has been rebuilt, and is fully operational, so the car can go round in complete circles if the owner so desires.

5 WHEELS IN VIETNAM: 2016

Left: Five wheeled car in Vietnam

Nothing is known about this vehicle except the video on YouTube, entitled '5 wheel super-car of the man Vietnam', which presumably at least locates the country. At any rate they drive on the right. If anyone knows any more I would be glad to hear it.

There is a video of the car driving off at YouTube. It sounds like it's powered by a motorcycle engine.

Date of construction currently unknown. The video was posted in May 2016

Left: Five wheeled car in Vietnam

The back wheel looks like the rear wheel from a heavy motorcycle to me.

Left: The Brooks Walker idea reborn.

This modification was done in Egypt. The car is an old-style Renault 5. I use to have a Renault 5TS, and it was a good and fast car. But I was tempted away by the Peugeot 205 GTi; (1.6 litre version) lovely car, wish I still had it.

There is a video of the fifth wheel doing its stuff on YouTube.

The more fastidious of readers may be complaining at this point that the Brooks Walker fifth-wheel and its successors may be using a bright idea, but it does not have all five wheels on the ground at the same time, and so does not count as a five-wheeled car any more than does a four-wheel car with a spare wheel in the boot. See if I care.

Be aware that the term 'fifth wheel' is often used to describe the horizontal turntable on which an articulated trailer pivots. See Wikipedia.

There is also the idiom "About as much use as a fifth wheel." which makes no sense because there are times when a spare wheel really comes in handy.


6 WHEELS: THE PULLMAN CAR

The Pullman marque was manufactured in Pennsylvania by the York Motor Car Company from 1905 to 1917.

Left: The Pullman car: 1903

Here's one way to arrange six wheels on a car. This wheel configuration appears to be unique- no other 6-wheel car had a pair of wheels in the middle. When the middle wheels encountered a high spot in the road, the car had an unhappy tendency to rock back and forwards.

It was not a success. It crashed into a telegraph pole within a year of its construction, very probably due to instability in the steering behaviour. Its parts were used in more conventional cars. The year of building is usually given as 1903, which seems to indicate it was prototype built before Pullman went into mass production in 1905.

Pullman went bankrupt and ceased operations in 1917.

6 WHEELS: THE PRATT CAR

Charles T. Pratt of Frankfort, New York, was like Reeves, an industrialist, owning the Pratt Chuck Works. He built this 6-wheeled one-off, with a 'triple phaeton' body.

Left: The Charles T Pratt car: 1907

The car was powered by an unidentified 75hp engine. Its wheelbase – presumably measured between front and rear axles – was 168 inches. The Horseless Age wrote:

"The wheels are mounted on lengthwise members, which are pivoted to the rear springs in each side. By this mode of support much less shock is transmitted to the body of the car than is ordinarily the case, since inequalities in the road, causing a rise or depression of one of the four wheels, will raise or depress the body spring by only half that amount, provided the other wheel on the same side remains on the level."

Pratt told the press that he built the car only for his own use, but nontheless he took out two patents: US 842,245 – (Running Gear for Automobiles) in January 1907, and US 888,737 – (Automobile Running-Gear) in May 1908.

Unlike the Sextoauto, this six-wheeler apparently used both forward and centre axles for steering and the rear axle for propulsion. Since the 'centre' wheel is well towards the back this does not sound like a very practical proposition, but that is what is shown in US 842,245.

Searching for Pratt cars will only bring up George and Bill Pratt, who began car production in 1909. There appears to be no connection.

6 WHEELS: THE SEXTOAUTO

The Reeves Sexto-Auto actually came after the Reeves Octo-Auto, described below. Faced with no orders at all for the Octo-Auto, Reeves claimed he could “Get as good results with six wheels as with eight” which rather invites the question of why he used eight in the first place. The Sexto-Auto involved rather more rebuilding than just removing the Octo-Auto’s front axle, as the axle behind it has been moved forward to a position under the radiator.

Left: The Reeves Sexto-Auto: 1912

I am very doubtful if 'Tire trouble and expense actually reduced' was a realistic claim.

Left: The Reeves Sexto-Auto: 1912

The only Sexto-Auto ever built.

Left: The Reeves Sexto-Auto: 1912

It's all very well claiming that there is 'No shock, no jolt, no rebound', but how is that actually accomplished? Even if we accept that four wheels at the back give a much superior ride, the front two wheels are entirely conventional and so you would presumably get the usual amount of shock, jolt, and rebound from them.

6 WHEELS: THE HISPANO-SUIZA H6A

Left: The Hispano-Suiza H6A: 1921

Based on the standard H6 Hispano-Suiza, this unique car was built for Constantine I, the King of Greece. Regrettably he had to abdicate in 1922 before taking delivery, and it was bought by the film director D. W. Griffith for $35,000. It appeared in the 1933 film "My Lips Betray" and some war films. It is now at the Forney Museum in Denver.

The car is believed to have been built in Barcelona, and the body designed and built by Leon Rubay.

The H6 in general has a Wikipedia page.

6 WHEELS: THE MERCEDES-BENZ G4 W31

Left: The Mercedes-Benz G4: 1934

The Mercedes-Benz G4 Type-W31 was a six-wheeled staff/command car built for the Wehrmacht in 1934, designed to cope with off-road conditions. Only 57 were built, of which only three completely original specimens are known to exist, one of them belonging to the Spanish royal family.

All versions had eight-cylinder inline engine, driving the rear four wheels through self-locking differentials. The rear wheels were attached to two rigid axles suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs. The first three years of production had 5018 cc engines delivering 100 HP. Later engine capacity was increased to 5252 cc and then 5401 cc.

This car has a Wikipedia page.

Thanks to John Bevan for drawing this car to my attention.

6 WHEELS: THE TYRELL P34

The Tyrell P34 was a six-wheeled Formula 1 racing car first unveiled in 1975. It was first tried on the track at Silverstone on 8th October 1975. After much testing, Tyrrell decided to build two more 6-wheel cars to race in the 1976 season.

The idea behind the P34 was the use of front tyres that would fit in with the streamlining. This would have two effects; this would be to lower overall drag and also provide smoother airflow to the rear wing. The wheels were only 10 inches (250 mm) in diameter, and because of the small contact patch with the road, four were required to give good cornering.

Left: Tyrell P34 driven by Depailler: 1976

The high point of the P34 story was the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix; Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler finished first and second in their P34's. Scheckter remains the only driver ever to win a race in a six-wheeled car.

However various handling problems emerged and Tyrell's design for the 1978 season had four wheels. One P34 has survived and is often seen at historic racing events.

Looks like daylight under that rear wheel.

There is a Wikipedia page for the P34.

6 WHEELS: THE PANTHER SIX

This Six was built by the retro-sportscar manufacturer Panther, owned by Robert Jankel. Top speed was claimed at 200 mph, but Panther went bankrupt before any were sold.

Left: The Panther Six: 1977

The Panther Six is mid-engined with a 8.2 litre Cadillac V8 powerplant with twin turbochargers. Only two cars were built, one white and one in black, and both are known to still be in existence. The rear wheels are fitted with 265/50 VR16 tyres, and the two pairs of steering front wheels with 205/40 VR13 tyres. In the tyre codes the 16 and the 13 give the diameter of the wheel rim; it is therefore necessary to carry around two spare wheels of different sizes.

The Panther Six has a Wikipedia page.

6 WHEELS: THE COVINI C6W

The Covini is a The Covini C6W is a six-wheeled Italian sports coupé. It is claimed that it was directly inspired by the 1976 Tyrrell P34 above.

Left: The Covini C6W: 2004

In 2004 the C6W was first shown in prototype form. Small-scale production began in 2005 at the rate of 6-8 cars per year, and is believed to be still continuing. The car has 4200 cc 8-cylinder engine mounted at the rear and a claimed top speed of 186 mph. The transmission is a 6-speed manual box.

6 WHEELS: THE VAUXHALL VILLIERS

Another approach to putting six wheels on your car is double tyres on the rear axle. The Vauxhall Villiers racing car had a 3000cc 300 HP supercharged engine, and dual rear wheels were tried by driver and entrepreneur Raymond Mays in the hope of better traction in hill-climb races.

Left: The Vauxhall Villiers: 1938

The Vauxhall Villiers was sucessful at hill-climbing and sprint races, but it was known to be a very tricky car to handle. Here Raymond Mays grimly clutches the steering wheel.

You could argue all day if this really counts as six wheels rather than four wheels, but let's not.

Why anyone thought that holding up a grimy sheet behind the car would make a better picture is unknown.

6 WHEELS: FAB-1

Lady Penelope was the posh piece of tottie in the Thunderbirds TV show. She drove around in a shocking-pink Rolls-Royce with six wheels, usually chaffeured by Parker, a reformed burglar.

Left: Lady Penelope's FAB-1: 2013

There were various versions of FAB-1; this late version is at a show in Toykyo in 2013. Note Parker driving and Lady Penelope in the back.

In case you're wondering, 'Fab!' short for 'Fabulous!' was a common exclamation in the Swinging Sixties.


7 WHEELS:

OK, I will admit that finding a seven-wheeled car is proving difficult. Any ideas?


8 WHEELS: THE OCTOAUTO

An eight-wheeled car is however easy. The Reeves Octo-Auto was a 1910 Overland modified by Milton Reeves. It had a 40 HP engine and was more than 20 feet long, carrying four passengers. It was a commercial failure.

Above: A magnificent photograph of the Reeves Octo-Auto: 1910

Unfortunately this picture reveals nothing about how the suspension was arranged.

Left: The Reeves Octo-Auto: 1910

This is not much more informative about the suspension, though we can see a conventional axle for the front two wheels.

Clearly taken at the same time as the photograph above.

Left: The Reeves Octo-Auto: 1910

This suggests that the front axle was simply held by two struts running backwards.
(see left front wheel)

Left: The Reeves Octo-Auto: 1910

The ad copy claims 'blowouts practically eliminated', though I would have though that having twice as many tyres could only increase your chance of picking up a nail.

8 WHEELS: THE ELIICA

The Eliica was and is (the project appears to be in continuous development) electric car developed by Keio University in Japan, first shown in 2004. It uses lithium-ion batteries. It is allegedly faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo. Despite its large size it only seats four people.

Left: The Eliica: 2004

The Eliica has eight wheels, supposedly to improve traction. They are smaller than normal car wheels, allowing the vehicles to be closer to the ground for better aerodynamics and stability. Each of the eight wheels is driven by a 60 kW (80 hp) electric motor, giving 480 kW (640 hp) eight wheel drive in total, with regenerative braking to recover energy. The four front wheels steer. Each of the eight wheels has a disc brake.

Eight-wheel drive might in theory allow the Eliica to deal with all kinds of road surfaces, but the low ground clearance suggests that off-road operation is not a sensible option. Smooth acceleration of about 0.8 g is claimed.

The Eliica is a development of the earlier KAZ (Keio Advanced Zero-emission vehicle), which was a 6.7 m (22 ft) limousine-sized 8-wheel 8-person electric vehicle prototype announced in 2003.


9 WHEELS:

I will further admit that finding a nine-wheeled car is proving no easier than finding a seven-wheeled car.


10 WHEELS: THE MILLES-PATTES

No problem at all. This car- and I submit it is more a car than anything else- was built by Michelin in 1972, when they were major shareholders of the Citroen company. It is officially called the Citroen DS PLR break, where PLR stands for Poids Lourd Rapide meaning fast truck. It was built as a way of safely testing of truck tyres at speed on a real road. Unofficially it is known as the mille pattes or 'thousand paws', which is the French word for centipede, not, as you might expect, millipede. I feel obliged to point out that no millipede has as many as 1000 feet; the record is up to 750, for Illacme plenipes.

Left: The mille pattes tyre-testing car: 1972

The mille pattes has four wheels at the front, and six wheels at the back. Why so many? Because the vehicle was loaded down with lead until it weighed 9.5 tons; this was so that realistic truck loadings could be placed on the tyre under test. A strong metal casing retained tyre fragments if it disintegrated, and the ten other wheels allowed control to be maintained if that happened. In fact it was only ever used on a closed test circuit.

The car used as many standard parts as possible, and so bears a distinct resemblance to a Citroen DS. The tyre to be tested was installed in the centre of the car, shown open in this picture.

It is powered by two 454 Big-Block Chevrolet engines, one of which drove the rear six wheels, and the other the tyre under test. Top speed is over 110 mph.

The mille pattes has a Wikipedia page.

Left: The mille pattes tyre-testing car: 1972

Here one of the side-panels has been removed, showing the enclosure for the tyre under test.

You can learn more about this wonderful vehicle here.

There is a video on YouTube.

Die cast models were made in 1972 and sometimes surface on Ebay.

The mille pattes is no longer used for tyre testing but remains in use as a promotional vehicle. It spends most of its time at the Michelin Museum in Clermont-Ferrand.

Many thanks to Sean O'Brien for bringing this remarkable machine to my attention.

10 WHEELS: THE 45-FOOT CADILLAC LIMOUSINE

Left: 10-wheeled 'Cadillac'. Date unknown

Built by Jay Ohrberg. (see below) Unfortunately no technical details are currently available.

10 WHEELS: THE FERRARI F40

Left: 10-wheeled 'Ferrari'. Date unknown

Four wheels at the front and six at the back.

Built by Jay Ohrberg. (see below) Unfortunately no technical details are currently available.


11 WHEELS: THE MILLES-PATTES

Left: Truck tyre installed in the mille pattes for testing: 197?

Well, I'm quite sure you saw this coming. The milles-pattes car has eleven wheels on the road when a truck tyre is installed for testing. In the YouTube video a test tyre is fitted.


18 WHEELS: THE 72-FOOT CADILLAC LIMOUSINE

Left: Jay Ohrberg 18-wheel Cadillac: date unknown

Here we have six front wheels, and twelve rear wheels, for a meritorious total of eighteen. You may be wondering why twelve wheels are required to support the rear of the car; it's because that's where the swimming pool is.

Built by Jay Ohrberg. (see below) Unfortunately no technical details are currently available.


24 WHEELS: THE AMERICAN DREAM LIMOUSINE

Jay Ohrberg of Burbank, California, is an Amercan constructor of special cars, including several Batmobiles and KITT from Knight Rider. This 100-foot vehicle is accepted by the Guinness book of Records as the world's longest car.

Left: The American Dream 24-wheel car: 1986

Here we have six front wheels, eight middle wheels, and ten rear wheels, for a grand total of 24 wheels.

This is not photoshopping. Many more pictures of the American Dream can be seen at Jay Ohrberg's website. There is a helipad at the rear of the limo, over the rear wheels, with a helicopter sitting on it.

Regrettably it is apparently not being well looked-after by its current owners.

Jay Ohrberg has a Wikipedia page.

I asked Mr Ohrberg by email for permission to post a pic or two, but have had no answer so far.

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