10 Carmakers That Have Flown the Friendly Skies
When cars and planes collide: sometimes it's tragic, other times it's awesome.
At one point, the Bristol Aeroplane Company employed over 50,000 Brits, and produced such killer B’s as the Bulldog, Blennheim and Beaufighter. After the war, orders for fighter planes dropped off considerably and a subsidiary, Bristol Cars, emerged and produced what Max Prince, senior editor of The Drive, memorably described as “TVR[s], but with class.”
To put it in the frothiest terms, World War II was a drag. One of the minor bummers? The airplane that Bugatti founder Ettore Bugatti had built to compete in the Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup race was rushed into storage as the Germans invaded France in 1940, never to emerge. The 100P has never flown.
Before being split into separate entities in 1973—Rolls-Royce Motorcars and Rolls-Royce PLC (aerospace)—Rolls-Royce Limited produced contraptions as diverse as the 1948 Silver Wraith sedan and the 1946 Rolls-Royce Griffon 130 aircraft engine, a 37-liter, supercharged V12 producing 2,420 horsepower. Come to think of it, that sounds like the best hot rod ever. Anyone got a cherry-picker?
Before BMWs became the preferred transportation of the relentlessly upwardly mobile, BMWs—in aircraft-engine form—were the favorite of the squadron helmed by Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, otherwise known as the Red Baron, the most fearsome pilot of World War I.
We miss Saabs most days, expressing our grief through fruitless Craigslist searches for stick-shifted 900 Turbo coupes. Our hearts, though bereft, are warmed by the continued existence of the Saab Group, the automaker’s former parent and current aerospace company, which manufactures wicked planes like the JAS 39 Gripen, a single-engine fighter jet that can hit Mach 2.
Little-known fact: For a short period in the late Twenties, Ford was the largest producer of commercial aircraft in the world. Granted, the aircraft industry was in its infancy, so that meant under 200 planes. Between 1926 and 1933, Ford produced an advanced, corrugated-aluminum plane with three radial engines called—what else?—the Trimotor. It was known for being reliable, inexpensive and agile. A Fiesta of the skies, then?
One-hundred and sixty horsepower: not much for a car, and a downright puny amount for an aircraft. Miraculously, this Sixties Subaru plane uses every drop to get to 147 mph and 19,000 feet—much faster and higher than we’ve ever taken our Impreza.
When the Lancer Evo stopped production, Mitsubishi lost the last car that could be called anything close to scrappy. Its product planners could use a spirit animal, one that maybe looks like the Mitsubishi Zero, one of the best dogfighting aircraft of World War II.
A top-spec Gulfstream G650 costs—depending on how many parts of the interior you cover in leather—around $70 million. It’s for businesses and billionaires. Just a wee millionaire? Try Honda’s friendly HondaJet, which comes in honest colors like blue, red and green, and retails for just $4.5 million.
To fight the Mitsubishi Zero, the Allies needed a quick and agile plane. Grumman, known today as the producer of cartoonish USPS trucks, designed and built the Wildcat until 1943, at which point General Motors took over production. GM manufactured 5,280 planes by the end of the war. Guys, thanks for doing America a solid.