Simanaitis Says

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WE HAVE UPSIZED drones proposed today as just-around-the-corner flying cars. But it’s interesting that we’ve already been there, done that. Here are tidbits about the 1921 Tampier Avion-Motorcar, not exactly a flying car, but provably a roadable plane. 

The Tampier Avion-Motorcar. Image from Le Génie Civil, December 3, 1921, from Wikipedia.

René Tampier, Aircraft Manufacturer (Sort Of). Little is known of inventor René Tampier, apart from his having constructed two of these roadable craft. Tampier had a workshop in Boulogne-sur-Seine, a suburb some five miles to the west of Paris, now incorporated as Boulogne-Billancourt. Wikipedia heralds the neighborhood “for being the birthplace of three major French industries.”

A Trio of Industries. First there was Société Renault Frères, established in Billancourt in 1899. Its first car was sold to a family friend the year before.

Second, the earliest French aircraft manufacturer, Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin, was established in Billancourt in 1905. Other aviation pioneers followed, including Tampier briefly. Several aviation-related companies still operate in the area.

The third category started in this neighborhood was the French film industry: From 1922 to 1992, it was the home of Billancourt Studios.

The Réne Tampier Avion-Motorcar, shown with, possibly, Tampier himself, his pilot Meyniel, and associates. This and following images from

Tampier’s Avion-Motorcar. The term “roadable plane” would seem to apply, as Tampier’s design was largely a conventional biplane with a second set of road wheels attached. 

Once aloft, the rear wheels retracted forward; this, to reduce drag and improve the craft’s center of gravity. Airborne power came in conventional tractor fashion from a 300-hp Hispano-Suiza 8F, an 18.5-liter water-cooled inline-eight.

In flight at Buc, about 12.5 miles southwest of Paris and about 2 miles south of Versailles.

On the ground, the forward wheels were powered by a 500-cc 10-hp auxiliary engine operating through a conventional automotive-type gearbox of four speeds plus reverse. The aft wheels were steerable, and, indeed, they became the front wheels as the Tampier was driven tail-first in its motorcar mode. 

Thus, this two-seater aeroplane had the oddity of its occupants, each with controls, facing each other: The air pilot faced forward in the aft seat, the road driver faced aft in the forward seat.

Oa a grand boulevard of Paris. The Tampier heading toward La Madeleine.

Folding Wings. The wings had a span of 42 ft. 8 in.; folded aft gave a road-going width of 8 ft. To put this in perspective, a modern semi rig is around 8.5 ft. in width. Cars of the Tampier’s era were considerably narrower: a Ford Model T, 66.0 in., 5.5 ft.

Folding the wings.

Tampier Avion-Motorcar Benefits. A contemporary brochure described, “René Tampier’s aeroplane-motor car marks a new epoch in the history of aviation as it attempts to solve important problems which may be summed up a follows.” 

Briefly: In case of fog during a flight, land on the highest clear point, then drive back to the aerodrome. Garage the craft at home, thus eliminating hangar fees. In case of breakdown, just land and tow to the repair shop. 

The aero engine can be started by the auxiliary road engine (easily started by conventional means). Also, the auxiliary engine can power the craft’s electrical and other support systems.

In military use, the Tampier can accompany either cavalry or artillery. It can also be compactly stored aboard ship.

Proof of Concept. The brochure confirmed, “On the ground, the aeroplane is as easily managed as in the air. Having started from Buc, after two days flight, it passed through Versailles, Boulogne sur Seine and got into the Grand Palais on the eve of the opening of the aeronautics exhibition on the 11th November 1921.”

In front of the Grand Palais.

Wikipedia notes that “two examples of the Avion-Automobile were displayed at the seventh Salon de l’Aéronautique, the only aircraft to arrive by road and drive onto their display stands.”

At Montmartre, after having climbed Rue Lepic.

“The day after closing,” the brochure continued, “the aeroplane-motor car climbed Montmartre, moved about then for two hours in Paris proving that it could climb any gradients and move in the thickest traffic. Beautifully sprung, it exceeds 15 miles per hour.”

Flight magazine reported in 1922 that “it is not inconceivable that in years to come such arrangements will be found on most commercial machines.” 

Like I said. Been there, done that, sort of. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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