BREA, California – On a visit to Calgary several decades ago I saw a most unusual vehicle and upon inquiring learned that it was of local manufacture. Recently I was reminded of this event by a picture of it in a car magazine and I resolved to investigate its history further. This research revealed that a number of automobiles have been designed and manufactured exclusively in Canada. Not many succeeded. Here are some highlights:
The Bow River Blowfly was first presented to the public in 1948 and was greeted with a massive yawn. However, it is rumored that it served as the model for the Beagle Boys’ getaway car in Disney’s Uncle Scrooge comic books. The Canadian Army investigated its use as an armoured car but found that mounting and firing any armaments would literally shake the vehicle to pieces.
The Chiquita Dolemobile was designed and built in Vancouver by the United Fruit Company to navigate narrow streets. Although it could accommodate four people, there was no space for cargo. With no doors, passenger ingress and egress was difficult. There was a rudimentary boot (trunk) at the rear but it had to be peeled open, limiting its usefulness. It wound up in a fruit salad at the Calgary Stampede.
The Trudeau Skyrocket was intended to compete in races such as the Indianapolis 500 but it crashed repeatedly since the driver couldn’t see where he was going. Furthermore, the use of a John Deere tractor engine and transmission as a powertrain severely limited its top speed, which was rumoured to be 24 kilometers per hour. It found a second life as a boat anchor on Lake Ontario.
The Sacrebleu Phraugmobile was built in Quebec City to fit French-Canadian citizens. Their average height is 1.2 meters and in conventional cars they can’t see over the dashboard. It was powered by wound-up rubber bands. Production ceased when a number were crushed by buses and large trucks because the Phraugmobile was below their line of sight.
The Phlummox Octopus was designed to address the problem of skidding on an icy road. The creator believed that by having eight wheels there would no longer be a need to change to snow tires in winter. Alas, his body was never recovered after the Octopus skidded off the Alcan Highway near Whitehorse in January and crashed through the ice on a frozen lake.
Built in honor of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the Cousteau Maneater was banned from operating on public streets due to its limited visibility for the driver, lack of mufflers and a history of impaling pedestrians. Only one example is known to exist. All the others were either harpooned or otherwise destroyed.
The Clarabelle Aerodoodle attempted to marry the propulsion system of an airboat to a land vehicle. Locating the propeller at the front proved to be quite blinding during a rainstorm or snowstorm. Wildlife, especially birds, did not fare well when encountering the Aerodoodle. Other safety problems included a total lack of braking and excessive noise. The last Aerodoodle was retired when Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey shut down.
Building on the concept of the Aerodoodle, the BombardierLear Jet Speedster was intended to carry as many as twelve passengers at speeds of up to 700 KPH, provided the highway was straight enough. During testing it was found to have the unfortunate tendency to launch itself into the air and crash back to earth nose first. The twin Garrett TFE731 turbofan jet engines were even noisier than the Aerodoodle. Thrust reversers on the engines served as effective brakes.