While flying cars remain a cartoon fantasy, a number of dreamers have applied aircraft design to earth bound automobiles. Experiments like the Stout Scarab, Burney Streamliner, and the Beechcraft Plainsman brought winged aerodynamics down to asphalt-paved earth with mixed results. Such an approach enhances efficiency, but often comes at the expense of both practicalities and pleasing aesthetics.
Strict application of aero principles can result in odd looking cars indeed. Enter the Martin Aerodynamic sedan of 1928. Unique features like its single door, streamlined undercarriage, rubber suspension, wrap-around bumpers, wood-framed aluminum bodywork, and a rear-mounted engine radically set the Martin Aerodynamic apart from the upright, squared-off horse and carriage style of its contemporaries.
Martin Aeroplane Company of Garden City, New York was a New York aircraft manufacturer ambitious to improve the automobile, hoping a larger manufacturer would license his ideas for production. In order to stimulate such an adaptation of his designs, Martin built three prototypes over the years, including the three-wheeled Martin Martinette and ending with his spectacularly strange woody, the 1950 Stationette. When manufacturers failed to step up with production plans, Martin’s prototypes became objects of wonder as museum pieces.
The first Martin car was a two-toned oddity vaguely resembling a miniature submarine. Unfortunately, it handled with all the precision of a submarine as well. It’s telling that the sole example has accrued less than ten miles per year during its ninety years of existence.
The Martin Aerodynamic is powered by an off-the-shelf four-cylinder Continental engine located aft, with long tubes snaking radiator water back from its front end. Yes, overheating was a constant concern.
Though his prototypes garnered little praise for their practicality and even less for their drivability, Martin deserves recognition for being amongst the very first to seriously adapt aerodynamic design principles to the car. As radical as the Aerodynamic seems today, in the 1920s it must have looked like it had rolled out of another dimension.
Martin Aeroplane Company went on to build bombers for the U.S. Army Air Corp that helped win WWII for the good guys. Today, the Martin Aerodynamic cars remain on permanent display at the famed Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee when they're not being loaned out to other institutions such as L.A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum.
Written by Jim Cherry