Monday, December 8, 2008

Up, up and away

Powell Crosley seemed never to take absurdity into account when greenlighting designs for his line of cars.  "Four feet wide?  Great!" "Door flies open on turns?  Put a good handle on it." "A propeller hood ornament that spins as you drive?  Brilliant!"

And, although Crosley did offer a spinning propeller on his '51 -'52 models, he at least had the sense not to offer an automobile that actually flew.

Moulton Taylor, father of the of AeroCar, was not so timid.  He actually managed to build (and fly!) a half dozen of his flying cars in the late fifties.  The body design shares some similarities with '46-'48 Crosley sedans... perhaps unsurprising since Crosley bodies were popular with drag racers for their aerodynamics.   In other words, the AeroCar was also a mighty funny looking vehicle.  But it worked.

Taylor had a pretty great marketing sense and managed to land one in actor Bob Cumming's possession-- Cummings used the Aerocar on his show, and generated a lot of interest in the car.  A deal was struck to put the Aerocar into production, but the failure to secure 500 dealers for the vehicle cancelled the deal.   The surprising part is that he had well over 200 dealers signed on with $1000 from each.  Like so many dream cars, the dream died aborning.

Ok, so they are rare.  Rarer than rare.  Even historic, perhaps.  But, does that make this one worth 3.5 million dollars?  I'd guess not.  Still, if I had a few billion to burn...

And, this begs the question-- if a flying car with a production run of 6 is worth 3.5 million bucks, what's the value of a flying car with a production run of two?

The ConvAIRCAR was built and flown just after World War II.  Fiberglass-bodied, like the AeroCar, the ConvAIRCAR looked as futuristic as the concept of a flying car actually was.  The car itself weighed under 750 pounds without the wing and prop assembly attached, and got 45 mpg-- in 1947!  The secret to that high mileage lay under the ConvAIRCAR's plastic hood-- Lloyd Taylor's amazing lightweight Crosley CoBra engine, the same motor powering thousands of Crosley cars on the roads of the time. 

Sadly, a long future was not in the cards for the ConvAIRCAR either.  A few days after a highly successful debut flight, an error caused the pilot to run out of fuel midflight, forcing an emergency landing.  The pilot survived, but the ConvAIRCAR prototype was destroyed.  A second car was built, but time had run out.  

How much would a ConvAIRCAR be worth today?  We'll never know-- the only surviving car was destroyed in a fire at the San Diego Air and Space Museum... reduced, like so many dreams, to melted muck and rust.

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