Hier also ein Blick in die Amerikanische Autogeschichte:
First American Streamlined Cars & Vans
American "Airomobile" vs. Volkswagen
It all started with Airomobile's first streamlined patents, 1934:
"The Airomobile" was a prototype designed by Paul M. Lewis in 1934 (it was built in 1937). It stimulated great interest and was clearly ahead of its time. The 3-wheeled configuration provided streamlining and economy: "They're easier to streamline," Paul Lewis said, "Fewer wheels mean less expense, greater simplicity."
"Volkswagen and Airomobile were both created about the same time, both strange to look at, their engineering completely unorthodox, their purpose: cheap transportation for the masses."
"But then something happened - social history took over. World War II cast VW up and the Airomobile down. If the two cars had switched countries, their success and failure might have been just the other way around." (Source article)
This is the emblem of "Lewis American Airways, Inc." issued in 1935 and signed by the Company's President Paul M. Lewis (designer of "Airomobile").
Further reading: 1, 2
Other cool concepts from the same period:
"McQuay-Norris" - only 6 were made in the Thirties.
A teardrop-shaped car, designed in 1934 Norman Bel Geddes:
"DYMAXION" - The Original American Van
Dymaxion Car was a teardrop-shaped, 3-wheeled, aluminum bodied auto, designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1933. It was very much like a big van: it seated the driver and 10 passengers, but weighed less than 1000 lbs., went 120 miles/hr on a 90 horsepower engine, and got between 30-50 miles to the gallon of gas. "Fuller referred to it as "Omni-Medium Transport" since it was ultimately intended to go by land, water, or sky. Only three were ever built."
Source and further reading: Washed Ashore
FASCINATION - An amazingly practical "Space Car"
This was Paul M. Lewis second car creation: "Highway Aircraft Corporation" (Sidney, Nebraska) unveiled "Tomorrow’s Car Today": the Fascination., which nearly revolutionized car design at the time. This sleek, jet-tube-fendered three-wheeler even today looks very futuristic.
Here is how this article describes it:
"First, let’s look under the hood (presuming it has one, somewhere). While the
Fascination’s standard engine is an aluminum, fuel-injected four-cylinder, a new type of energy source is touted as the vehicle’s soon-to-come power drive: the Nobel Gas Plasma Engine.
"This engine is a closed two-cycle reciprocating engine that has no intake, uses no air, emitting no exhaust at all! The fuel is self-contained and hermetically sealed in the cylinders which are initially charged at the time of manufacturing, carrying their own power supply that will last approximately 60 to 75 thousand miles with no fall of efficiency."
An environmentally safe engine that doesn’t need refueling for 60,000 miles - why haven’t we heard of this miracle power source? (GM or Ford obviously must have sent out their minions to squelch such a potentially damaging competitor.)"
"And although you may think that a three-wheeled craft may be more prone to rollover (the main reason why three-wheeled ATVs were banned), the brochure lays this assumption to rest:
"We can approach crossroads at 40 mph and without taking our foot off the throttle, turn the corner at full speed. The car does not roll."
Futuristic Shape and Radical Design
In our previous post we covered the most amazing examples of American aerodynamic prototypes from the 30's & 50's. However, streamlined cars were also quite the rage in Europe before WWII: "Tatra" T87, made in Czechoslovakia in the mid 30's, is the best example.
Photo source: The Victoria and Albert Museum in London (Modernism exhibit)
(image credit: tatraregister)
With top speed approaching 100 mph, efficient aerodynamic characteristics, weird triple-headlights and an air-cooled engine in the back, this car had radical looks and even more radical engineering. The only American car approaching it in innovation at the time would be Tucker 48, although "the Tucker" story merits its own article (it did not go over too well with the American car industry, alas).
"European designers created numerous streamline rear-engine automobiles throughout the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1938, Tatra was the only company to put rear-engine streamliners into serial production. After the Tatra T77 debuted in 1934, American automobile companies, including Ford, created prototype rear engine automobiles, but never produced them."
(Source: Tucker Club)
(image credit: Erich Z)
The internet is a big place, and it already happens to have a site dedicated to the old Tatra cars: International Streamlined Tatra Site. We strongly recommend checking it out for the various details of this car's exceptional history.
The Start of Tatra
Since the mid 19th century "Tatra" had been the manufacturer of carriages and rail coaches, but once Austrian-born engineer Hans Ledwinka joined the company, it switched to automobile production. See some examples here. Everything changed again in the 30s, when Hans introduced pioneering air-cooled rear-engine design, drastically different from all other box-shaped cars at the time.
The Tatra Type 57 with aerodynamic body by Paul Jaray (1932):
3D reconstruction by James & Patrick Granger
T-77 model (improved and enlarged V570 prototypes from 1933). This is probably the most well-known Tatra shape, and the most futuristic:
(image credit: International Streamlined Tatras)
(image credit: die-neue-sammlung.de)
Not only did they have a headlight in the middle of a car, but some of the T77 models also had the steering wheel located in the center of the dashboard. The driver sat slightly ahead and between the front seat passangers, almost like a true pilot.
Some Tatras made shortly after WWII (1946):
(images credit: conceptcarz)
Tatra 87 model:
(They have Tatra 87 at the Minneapolis Museum of Art)
(image credit: artsmia)
....and further in the 50s (see here) Tatra still looks very strange and rather elegant. However, the original master-mind behind the design - engineer Hans Ledwinka was promptly imprisoned by Communists after the war for suspected collaboration with Nazis... and when rehabilitated, he wisely emigrated back to Austria. So the post-war Tatras are pleasing for the eye, but nowhere as radical as the old ones.
Interesting Tatra - Volkswagen connection:
We spoke about VW Beetle early concepts influence on American designers in our previous post. However, VW and Porsche took a few hints (and more) from other European companies as well. Compare these shots of Tatra T97 (1936) and KdF (Beetle prototype):
Paul Schilperoord writes: "In the late 1930s it became clear that VW had used several patents of the Tatra factory. It's likely Porsche used these patents because of the enormous presure from Hitler to develop the KdF-Wagen in a short time and on a tight budget. Just before the outbreak of WWII Tatra had ten legal claims against VW for infringement of patents. Although Porsche was about to make a settlement with Tatra, Hitler stopped him and told Porsche he would "solve this problem". Shortly after he invaded Czechoslovakia and gained control over the Tatra factory. Hitler immediately stopped the production of the T97 after only 508 cars were built. The T97's big brother, the V8-powered T87, did remain in production during the first years of the war. The T87 was considered by German highcommand as the ultimate car for the new German Autobahns and was a real favourite amongst German officers."
According to another source, after the war VW had to pay Tatra an undisclosed sum of money for infringing on Tatra's design (which VW does not particularly likes to discuss nowadays)
Tatra was not the only company producing streamlined cars in Europe, and even not the only one in Czechoslovakia.
Here is Wikov Type 35 car, having the similar airplane-fashion approach to its design.
Back in the US:
Teague Car: a curious three-headlight rear-engine sedan design proposal published in the 30s
(Source: Tucker Club)
Possibly the very first streamlined car
Another aerodynamic oddity, mostly forgotten today -
Edmund Rumpler presented "Rumpler Tropfenwagen" in Motor show in Berlin in 1921. (See German-language Wikipedia article)
Note the curved window panes: they were used here for the first time. Aerodynamically speaking, it was almost sensational: its coefficient of drag was only 0.28. The driver sat in the front-center, behind him was space for four passangers. Only 100 cars were built, however, due to the weak 6-cylinder engine and the obvious absense of trunk space. (trunks were attached to the later models as an after-thought). The car became famous in the other way: Fritz Lang used a number of them in his legendary "Metropolis".
Some other patented ideas from the same company (this one dated 1919):
Thanks to Daniel Wenzel for this tip.