Here’s an obscure automotive historical footnote that caught my eye because of its low-slung design and the central location of its passenger compartment: very unlike typical 1925. A little digging explains that: this has an air-cooled radial six cylinder engine in the back, predating the popularity of that approach.
I found this same shot with information from Harrah’s Museum, which provided a number of cars now in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV, where the Julian is on display.
Here it sits, in its bed of gravel. It was conceived by one Julian Brown, the son of a wealthy industrialist who designed a few other interesting things like a high-power marine engine before he decided to apply his so-far failed efforts at an automobile. It certainly shows some advance thinking.
None of the info out there indicates whether this engine was adapted from an airplane engine or is an original design. The engine displaced 268 cubic inches or 4.4L and produced a healthy 60hp. It had a high (for the day) compression ratio of 4.8:1 and featured an assortment of high technology features, such as hemispherical combustion chambers, a hollow camshaft, and a remote oil sump.
The three-speed transmission sat underneath the engine and fed power to the rear wheels via swing axles.
The body was built by Fleetwood, and featured a unique seating arrangement: the center-mounted driver’s seat, two flanking but rear-set companion seats for adults, and two small fold-down seats on either side of the steering column for children. Brown called this a ‘Reverse Cloverleaf’ seating arrangement.
Not surprisingly, it never went into production, and then was sold twice and stored in a warehouse until Bill Harrah bought it in 1966.
Radial engines were never popular for automotive use, they offer some unique drawbacks and no particular advantages. Either in this horizontal layout you have a lot of weight high up or in a vertical one as tried on early VW prototypes you have a vulnerable, difficult-to-reach-for service bottom cylinder.
This is one cool car! Swing axles should mean independent suspension in the rear. Seating is within the wheelbase which we all attribute to Chrysler’s Airflow design. Radial engine is a WOW for a car. It has good looks, too. I would like to know how it performs including top speed, acceleration, handling on curves. Does anyone have information?
That is amazing from a technical standpoint as well as quite the looker. That engine is almost a work of art. The seating arrangement looks rather awkward.
“Rear mounted, 6 cylinder, air-cooled”… so I’m reading this thinking “ok, a sort of proto-Corvair”, then I read “radial engine” and am like whoaaa – a radial engine in a car? I’m trying to think what other car had one. Wasn’t it one of the Tucker prototypes, or at least was considered? Apparently not. There were some cars built with radial engines but they seem to all be one-offs.
These are hypnotic to watch: https://monochrome-watches.com/radial-engines-in-cars-well-why-the-heck-not/#image-gallery-2
Looked kinda AI generated at first glance, very cool though
With the rear engine, were they the first to include a Frunk? I wouldn’t want to be a child on one of those jump seat halfway under the dash.
in the ’20s Henry Ford built some weird radial prototypes including what he called an “X-8” that was essentially 2 radial fours side by side, that went nowhere. This flat radial 8 makes more sense, but still an awkward approach on an automobile.
This car really has the rear wheels pushed out to the extreme corners – and this may be the first rear sidemount spare tires I have seen on a car. Lots of original thinking with this one.
The words, “6-Cylinder” and “Radial” took me back a bit…
Normally, radial engines are built with an odd number of cylinders, 7 or 9 for example.
The even numbered ones are usually double banks, like a DC-3’s 14 cylinder engines are each really two 7-cylinder radial banks as one engine.
Upon close inspection of that engine’s picture, I see the offset now, indicating it’s really two banks of 3. That offset doesn’t look like a whole lot though…
For something a little different there’s the Adams Farwell of 1908 or so, which was usually powered by a five-cylinder rotary radial, mounted horizontally like the Julian. Rotary here means rotary as in Richthofen’s triplane, not in the Mazda rotary piston sense. There seems to be a complete Adams Farwell in existence, along with an engine or two.
I understand the difference between radial and rotary, but never thought about why both types were developed, especially as the rotary was just a mere blip in the development of aircraft engines, losing popularity even before the end of WWI. So I looked into it a bit; it seems the only real advantage of the rotary was inherently good cooling (no fan needed) with the spinning crankcase and cylinders, which also allowed the use of fewer fins and smaller castings, hence lighter weight, plus the engine acted as a flywheel obviating the need for that extra mass. Pretty much everything else was worse, especially the complexity of feeding the spinning cylinders with fuel and controlling rpm.
The rotary was powerful for its size and weight and overhauls (which were frequent in those days) were far simpler than for watercooled engines. The perpetual flywheel effect also gave the airplane some really odd flight characteristics. The fuel consumption characteristics worked against their use in larger airframes and/or long flight times.
I was wondering the same thing, but I didn’t notice the slight offset. Good eye, and thanks for commenting, now my mind can rest 🙂
Wild, radial engine and seating, quite a different set of ideas.
“How’s it normally done? We’re gonna do it differently”
How cool! I would love to hear it run.
I got to see and hear it run at Harrahs after it was restored.
It looked incredible when that rotary engine ran.
At first glance I thought the headline read Julian Cope and wondered what it had to do with the eccentric British rock star, then I read about the rear mounted radial and decided it was every bit as eccentric and Mr. Cope should own one.
Wish there was a picture of it from the front…it looks like a normal radiator there, complete with filler cap, but if the engine is in the rear, and is air cooled, why?
For style of course… Just like the early Tesla EV(s) with a pseudo-grill, or fake exhaust ‘portholes’ on a Buick, or fake vents on well, just about everything (including my Civic). Heck, the hockey stick side sculpturing on my 2007 Mustang is a throwback to the fake vents on the side of a ’65 or ’68 Mustang.
The car may’ve looked off without a ‘radiator grill’ considering the car styles of the times.
In July 1978 My friend Achim, visiting from Germany, toured all over the USA with me, stopping at Harrah’s Museum We were lucky to be there at just the right time to see & hear the Adams-Farwell running [mostly idling], after they had performed some repairs or maintenance on the car.
We both felt it was a noisy car, especially the exhaust upon increasing the engine speed. It was similar to a regular exhaust noise from a manifold gasket leak. If I remember correctly, each cylinder had a tiny muffler alongside the cylinder cooling ribs. It also had a pronounced clicking noise that one of the guys working on it said was the valve mechanism as each cylinder came around and struck a stationary cam, opening the valve thru a pushrod. I don’t remember it having any cooling fan or air ducts, just an opening to the ground under the horizontal engine.