Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


EVER SINCE La Jamias Contente (French for “never satisfied”) set its land speed record of 105.882 km/h (65.792 mph) in 1899, cars designed for breaking speed records have been bizarre indeed.


La Jamais Contente driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy established the Land Speed Record in 1899.

A Porsche engineer, Leopold F. Schmid, proposed an LSR car in the late 1950s. The Schmid LSR was never built, but I’d say its design set a record in the annals of rule-bending.


The Schmid LSR. My GMax model near completion.

By the mid-1950s, Schmid was already highly regarded as an automotive engineer. Porsche’s gearbox cone synchronizers are Schmid’s invention, for which the company made scads of money licensing the design to other automakers.

Schmid’s next goal, neither supported nor hampered by Porsche, was to build a car capable of 800 km/h (more than 497 mph). To put this speed in perspective, John Cobb’s Railton Mobil Special had gone 394.19 mph in 1947. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7 and Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America broke 400 mph, at 403.10 and 407.447 mph, respectively.

The Railton Mobil Special and Bluebird CN7 were both wheel-driven. The Spirit of America was the first of a new breed featuring jet or rocket propulsion; what’s more, it was a three-wheeler.

The number of record-car wheels and how (or if) they were driven was controversial until 1964, when international sanctioning bodies got together and decided LSR was LSR. The means didn’t matter.

However, back in the 1950s, driving through the wheels was part of the game, and this is where Schmid’s clever interpretation arose.


Bristol Siddeley Orpheus turbojet engine, as modeled with GMax.

Power for Schmid’s LSR came from a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus turbojet engine producing thrust equivalent to some 8000 hp. Thrust wasn’t enough, though; the LSR had to be driven through its wheels.

Schmid installed what’s essentially a pinwheel drive, a paddle wheel placed aft in the turbojet’s exhaust stream. He claimed that 40 percent of the thrust worked the paddle wheel geared to his LSR’s rear wheels.


Schmid’s innovative interpretation of the LSR regulation that vehicles be driven by their wheels.

“The paddle wheel,” Schmid wrote, “is the simplest form of an infinitely variable gear and is of very light weight.” He conceded it wasn’t all that efficient at startup; however, once the LSR was at maximum speed, the drive efficiency was “not much smaller than the efficiency of a modern hydraulic torque converter.”

Coming from Dr. Schmid of Porsche, who’s to question this?

In fact, he showed real ingenuity in another LSR challenge, namely, its contact with the ground. He replaced pneumatic tires (which could deform at extreme speed) with an innovative solid wheel-tire combination that also functioned as the LSR’s suspension.


Schmid’s prototype wheel design. Image from Road & Track, June 2005.

Schmid’s prototype wheel looked like a skinny space-saver spare for an early Volkswagen bus. The wheel’s center section was steel. Its outer portion, which served as suspension too, had three annular discs held together with nuts and bolts. The aluminum outer pair sandwiched an elastomeric one of T-shape. The top of the T met the road surface; the friction of its sandwiching gave suspension movement, albeit measured in millimeters, but enough for an LSR.

As Schmid’s design evolved, the wheel’s T-shape rubber element got replaced with one of light alloy. Overall, each wheel was about 6 ft. in diameter.


Side view of the Schmid LSR. Image from Motor Vehicle, Constructed for Speeds of More than 800 km/h, by Leopold F. Schmid.

Schmid’s LSR had a three-pod configuration, a jet-plane-like fuselage linked by airfoils to sidepods encasing the wheels and fuel tanks. By 1959, he got as far as commissioning Italian specialist car builder Carlo Abarth to fabricate the chassis. Pinin Farina (as today’s Pininfarina was called back then) was to do the bodywork. A German motorsports journalist, Rainer Gunzler, was to be the driver.


Top view of Schmid LSR. Image from Motor Vehicle, Constructed for Speeds of More than 800 km/h, by Leopold F. Schmid.

However, it was not to be. By the early 1960s, Bristol Siddelley decided to devote its engines to British LSR attempts. (Like Schmid’s proposed LSR, Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7 was Orpheus-powered.)


Schmid’s LSR. My GMax model near completion.

Schmid documented his work in a book Motor Vehicle, Constructed for Speeds of More than 800 km/h. I have a photocopy of it, from which several of these illustrations come. Also, the model shown is built using GMax, a software used for adding aircraft to Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Tomorrow, I offer a look at GMax and its capabilities. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


One comment on “SCHMID’S LSR

  1. Philippe de Lespinay
    June 7, 2014

    Smart cookie, he should go work for the Ferrari F1 team, they need all the help they can get! 🙂

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