The Beechcraft Plainsman, had it been built, wouldn’t have just been ahead of its time, in some respects it would have been ahead of our time as well.
The specs were pretty well laid out in an article in Special Interest Autos #12, way back in August-September 1972, but they’re still worth repeating: gas-electric hybrid, all-wheel drive, individual one-per-wheel electric motors, monocoque construction, motor-assist braking, advanced cruise control, advanced traction control. Using a rather ingenious control system that regulated the speed of the Franklin four-cylinder gasoline aircraft engine, the Plainsman even returned about 30 miles per gallon — pretty good, considering it was designed as a straight series hybrid (something like the Walker hybrid milk truck from nearly a decade before) and not as a battery-electric hybrid.
While digging through the SIA files for an image of the Plainsman, we struck gold and came across the entire image stack that Beech Aircraft sent to SIA editor Michael Lamm back in 1972, including several never-before-published photos.
Frustratingly, we didn’t find any more than the one interior shot (featuring that one solitary pedal — throttle? brake? throttle/brake combo?), nor did we see anything in there that Lamm didn’t include in the article such as, perhaps, a clue as to what ever happened to the Walter Wyss-designed Plainsman mockup.
What’s more, reviewing the original article brought up another mystery. Beechcraft experimented with the hybrid drivetrain setup by placing two of the drivetrains into World War II-era Dodge reconnaissance wagons; after the program got canceled, the generators and motors went to Wichita State University while the engines presumably found other purposes at Beechcraft.
While we’ve dug through everything we can find on the WC series of trucks, we’ve come across nothing that would add to the story of these two prototypes; the closest we came were mentions of some experimental T53 Dodge trucks fitted with Continental air-cooled opposed-piston engines in Fred Crismon’s U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles.
So it’s a bit of a long shot, but if anybody has anything to add to the story of the Plainsman or of the Dodges used to develop the Plainsman’s hybrid drivetrain, we’d love to hear it. Even if you don’t, tell us what you can discern about the car in the above photos.