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IMAGE: JOHN DOMINIS/ The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images. The Rhino.

IMAGE: JOHN DOMINIS/ The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images.
The Rhino.

The Rhino

This Bizarre 1954 Vehicle Conquered Impossible Terrains

Wheels whirred wonderingly in the fertile imagination of Greek inventor Elie Aghnides, years ago, as he contemplated the bull-like tactics of a caterpillar tractor muscling dirt around in New York City’s Central Park. Inventor Aghnides, best known for his Aerator water faucet attachment, was unhappy as he thought about the tremendous horsepower that was wasted by these tracked vehicles. They lumbered down the highways at a relatively slow 25 mph and even then their rubber treads broke easily. Wheeled vehicles, on the other hand, whizzed over the roads but bogged down in mud or on rocks.

Aghnides wondered why he couldn’t combine in one vehicle the best features of track and wheel. The result, revealed, is the amazing Rhino.This rugged mechanical beast of burden can go just about anywhere— through swamps, mud or snow, over mountains, into forests where trucks would be hopelessly entangled. On the highway, thanks to its ingeniously designed wheels, it can bowl along at 45 mph. Someday, thinks Inventor Aghnides, it may even clip along at 70.

Aghnides made a fortune after he patented an improved mouse trap back in the ’40s, but it is one of the Greek-born, U.S.-based engineer’s more unusual inventions that had people excited. Called the Rhino, for some reason (perhaps the marketing team thought ‘the Crab’ would put buyers off), this four-wheel, five-tonne driving machine was designed to patrol and defend the vast open spaces of Alaska and Canada without succumbing to the region’s formidable, varied terrain.

On road the Rhino could reach a zippy 70 kilometres per hour, but it was on water that it really hit its straps: its hollow wheels allowed the bulldozer-like vehicle to float on the water’s surface, while a rear water jet enabled it to chug along at a formidable six kilometres an hour.

The Rhino’s massive wheels and low centre of gravity also meant it could tip 75 degrees to either side without toppling over – making it a virtually unflippable travelling machine.

The prototype was built by the Marmon-Herrington Company of Indianapolis . Unfortunately, the U.S. Army declined to purchase any of them, and had to politely ask Aghnides to stop calling them. It was just one of many attempts at developing a workable amphibious vehicle back in the mid-20th century.

The Rhinos defining features were its massive front wheels, which had six-foot diameters and weighed 1,500 pounds each. Their hollow, hemispherical shape gave the Rhino its unique all-terrain capability. As the vehicle sank into mud, sand, or other soft surfaces, the bearing surface of the ribbed wheels increased, giving it greater traction.

The Rhino’s massive wheels and low center of gravity also meant it could tip 75 degrees to either side without toppling over.

In the water, the hollow wheels provided flotation, while a rear water jet provided propulsion at speeds of about six kilometres an hour.

The Marmon-Herrington Company of Indianapolis built one prototype of the Rhino for demonstration. The United States military declined to purchase any, reportedly out of concern that the wheels could be punctured by gunfire, sinking the vehicle.

The idea behind the 1954 Rhino was born in 1940 while he was watching a bulldozer hard at work at Central Park in NYC. Aghnides made his fortune on an aerator water faucet attachment that he invented, and patented. He thought that the crawler tractor wasted a large amount of power and went on to design a better solution. The vehicle was finally built 14-years later and incorporated the best features of not only the track but also that of the wheel.

When finished this unorthodox machine was able to travel at up to 45 m.p.h. on the road. It was also fully capable of plowing through swamps, mud, snow, uneven terrain, wooded areas and even the water.

The weighty creation was powered by a 110 h.p. Ford industrial engine and a heavy-duty drive train. Due to a low center of gravity and its unique wheel design, it was very stable and would not tip over even at 75-degree angle. The hollow wheels acted as flotation devices and in water it was propelled by a steerable Kermath marine Hydrojet. The device’s nozzle can be seen at the center of the rear axle. One of the two experimental machines that were built has survived.

Engineers of Marmon-Herrington stretched the vehicle relative to the initial request of Aghnides for stability matter. The two large front half-spheres, V mounted, contained strips of rubber for traction. The low centre of gravity and the shape of wheels should prevent it to overturn.

The small rear drive wagon steered wheel also steered the vehicle. A hydrojet swivelling 360° mounted between the wheels allowed it to move easily in water. It weighed 4.5 t and its Ford 6-cylinder engine of 130 hp theoretically allowed 75 km / h. Its behaviour in difficult terrain, mud in particular, proved excellent despite the lack of suspension. A smaller version was also built by Marmon-Herrington.

Aghnides, a Greek-born engineer living in New York, invented a new mechanism for mixing air with water jets in the domestic water as showers and sinks and break the jets. This enabled him to earn enough money to build the ‘Rhino’, the big and small.

He caused and had to undergo several lawsuits related to its patents on mixing with water. He sued in 1972 Marmon-Herrington Company for non-compliance and not informing the complainant about a contract to build a revolutionary vehicle equipped with 2 aligned hemispherical wheels, the ‘Cyclops’. He won the case the result was for him by the recovery of $120,505.40. Too bad the ‘Cyclops’ was never built !

Elie P. Aghnides died in New York in the early 80s.

The original 1954 film footage on this video was taken at and near the Marmon-Herrington factory in Indianapolis, Indiana where the Rhino was built. View the intriguing presentation and witness the monster as it is being put through its paces on the road, rough terrain, woods, sand, mud and in the water.

The Rhino


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