Virgilius Justin Capră was one of the most prolific Romanian inventors and engineers. He is best known as the inventor of the jet pack, but there were 114 patents to his name. He built several electric bikes and cars during his career as well
He was born on February 22, 1933 in Măgureni, Prahova County. As a child, he was very curious. Instead of playing with other children, he spent most of his time alone, building model tractors and aeroplanes. Later he graduated from the Technical Aviation School, followed by courses at the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute, which he completed as an engineer.
His first job was an oil technician in a town in the Dâmbovița district. Then he worked at a military base in Otopeni, near Bucharest. In 1956 he became a flight officer.
In 1955 he invented the Virgilius RocketCar, fitted with a jet engine and reached 300 km/h. The following year he unveiled the “flying rucksack”, a personal flying machine. A paratrooper tried it out but crashed. was Aviation pioneer, Henri Coanda, advised Capra to change the fuel; he did so and came up with an improved version. The same paratrooper tried it again, and this time it stayed in the air.
In 1964 he built the first portable helicopter for juniors. Between 1966 and 1968 he made a new variant of the portable jet aircraft, powered by liquid nitrogen. In 1968, after consulting with Henri Coandă, he used hydrogen peroxide for his aircraft.
About the cars and planes built and used around the world, Justin Capră said that they were “true killers of the environment” and a „disgrace”. His ideal was the introduction of non-polluting means of transport. Thus the Romanian inventor designed numerous, fascinating vehicles.
His first car was the open-top Doina 250, named after his daughter. It was completed in 1965 (other sources say 1962). It later morphed into the wedge-shaped Doina 500. „During communist times, Capră found it difficult to find supporters, source funding and locate parts for his vehicles. These circumstances forced him to dismantle his previous vehicles to build new ones. No one took his inventions seriously. Researchers were always grumpy, colleagues were joking, bosses were harassing him. His wife was the only man who understood his passion” says Adrian Dragan, editor of Motor Clasic magazine.
Case in the point is the Soleta 125 in 1973, which was claimed to be the smallest car in the world with fuel consumption of just 0.5 litres per 100 km. It later became the Soleta 600 with gullwing doors, then the Soleta 125 SS and ultimately the Soleta 200 in 1988.
Other noteworthy models include the Sarmis EM 4K, a car without a steering wheel or pedals – it was controlled with buttons and the Oroles ES5 electric scooter with a range of 90 km. It is impossible to list all of his vehicles – out of 114 patents 72 were related to cars and motorcycles!
After his wife died in 2000, Capră moved to Filipeştii de Pădure. The last batch of vehicles was built in 2007-2008 including the Oblio tilting, three-wheeled scooter, the Troy folding electric tricycle and the closed Filipeşti which were shown at the Bucharest Inventors’ Fair.
In recognition of his services and his contribution to promoting Romania’s image worldwide, he has received several awards from the Romanian and international authorities including National Order for Merit in the Degree of Knight and the Dan Voiculescu award. In 2009 he received the title of Honorary President of ARCA – Romanian Association for Cosmonautics and Aeronautics, a non-governmental organisation that carries out Romania’s Space Program.
In 2012 an exhibition was held at the Ploiesti Cultural Palace, where several of his vehicles were shown. Justin Capră died on January 19 2015, at the age of 81 and was buried with military honours in Bucharest.
Today the Justin Capră Association, led by Ms Nicolae Florina-Valentina takes care of his work and continues to honour his legacy of innovative thinking.
This article will be published in the 2nd issue of Rare&Unique Vehicles magazine, which you can order HERE