Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson
  • One of six built
  • The only vehicle in the U.S. that is both air- and roadworthy
  • Full FAA certification
  • Lycoming 0-320 engine
  • Wings, propeller and fuselage may be towed behind and can be attached in under 30 minutes
  • 15,254 miles
  • 781 flight hours

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Taylor Aerocar
Years Produced:1949–66
Number Produced:Six
Original List Price:$9,995
SCM Valuation:$275,000 (this example)
Tune Up Cost:$500-plus
Chassis Number Location:Tail of the aircraft section
Engine Number Location:Bottom of cylinder near the valve cover
Alternatives:Fulton Airphibian, Bryan Autoplane
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 1354, sold for $275,000, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale, AZ, auction on January 18, 2020.

Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, the same year that Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first flight in an engine-powered aircraft. In an era of invention and boundless ambition, it’s no surprise that the notion of combining aircraft and automobiles took hold early. The more astonishing fact is that the dream of a flying car has persisted to this day.

The Curtiss Autoplane of 1917 is generally considered the first attempt at a flying car, though the term “roadable aircraft” is preferred by those who build such things. That name is really more accurate, because the rigorous demands of aviation must be met before the much-less-stringent requirements of making a working automobile.

Over the 103 years that have passed since the Curtiss project, there have been more than 30 designs produced in an effort to make a functional flying car. Most never passed the prototype stage. Development seems to come in waves, with several examples in the ’20s and ’30s, then a resurgence following the Second World War.

A few more prototypes were created in the 1970s including the AVE Mizar, which attached the rear half of a Cessna to a Ford Pinto. Yes, really.

Post-war boom

After World War II, there was a surge of interest in flying cars. We had conquered the atom, and the future was clearly coming fast. Convair Corporation, which had produced the B-24 and the PBY Catalina aircraft during the war, looked to civilian aviation and produced two prototype flying cars in 1946 and 1947. These models attached a wing and tail assembly with an aircraft engine to the roof of an automobile. Although they completed a total of 67 test flights, the Convair 116 and 118 were never approved for production. Other post-war attempts included the Fulton Airphibian and the Bryan Autoplane.

The Taylor Aerocar was part of that surge. Moulton Taylor of Kelso, WA, was the genius behind the project, which is why the vehicles are commonly known as Taylor Aerocars today. Taylor had been a naval aviator in the war and was also an aeronautical engineer. He had seen the Fulton Airphibian and decided to build his own flying car.

How does it work?

Taylor called his company Aerocar International, and the firm built six prototypes between 1949 and 1966. The company had a contract with Temco Missiles and Aircraft for mass production, but the contract was contingent on pre-orders that never materialized.

When the Aerocar debuted in 1949, it boasted one of the most workable designs of its era. The car seated two people side by side on a bench seat. The car portion uses a rear-engine, front-wheel-drive design. The Aerocar carries a flat-4-cylinder air-cooled Lycoming engine good for about 150 horsepower. A 3-speed manual transmission allows the automobile to manage up to 60 mph on the road. The Aerocar is designed to tow the wings and tail section, including the propeller.

To fly the Aerocar, the pilot attaches the wings and tail section to the car. The car’s license plate flips up to reveal a power-take-off connection to a driveshaft that runs through the tail section to the rear-mounted pusher propeller. To fly, the driver simply places the car’s transmission in neutral. Aviation controls are manipulated through the steering wheel and two rudder pedals located on either side of the automotive pedals. A full set of aviation gauges and controls occupies the dash area.

Taylor logged over 100,000 road miles and 1,000 flight hours in the Aerocar. The vehicle works, even if it’s not the greatest road car or the best airplane one could buy. There are videos on YouTube that demonstrate the Aerocar very well, including the segment when James May of “Top Gear” featured the car-plane on his “Big Ideas” TV show.

Mayday, mayday

With only six examples built, the market for an Aerocar is highly individual, and each is identified by its tail number. Aerocar N103D was offered for sale for $3.5m in 2006, and N101D was offered at $1.25m in 2011. Reportedly, N103D is on offer again right now at $2.2m.

However, an asking price is only half of a deal, and not the most important half. N101D crossed the block with no reserve at this year’s Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale on January 18. When the hammer fell, this Aerocar landed at just $275,000.

This is a tough market for oddballs, as while it’s both a car and a plane, you can argue that it isn’t very usable as either, which limits values for all but the most specialized collector. This does have broad appeal as a curiosity, but there’s a limit to values in that capacity, which is likely what happened here.

If you’re reading this and thinking that you’d like to own an Aerocar, your chance probably just flew by. With only five others in existence, we’re not likely to see another at auction anytime soon, and certainly not without a reserve next time.

For the most part, the Taylor Aerocar is likely to remain a museum piece, but it’s also a reminder that innovation and lofty dreams are always worth pursuing.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

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