Automotive History An Illustrated History Of Automotive Aerodynamics…

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Maybach W6/

Automotive History: An Illustrated Of Automotive Aerodynamics – Part 1 – 1939)

January 26, 2012

air presented the greatest obstacle to speed and economy was understood at intuitively, if not fully scientifically before dawn of the automobile. it into practice was quite story. Dreamers, engineers, and entrepreneurs were lured by the for the profound gains aerodynamics The efforts to do so yielded some of the remarkable cars ever even if they challenged the assumptions of their times. finally arrived at the place highly aerodynamic cars are but getting there was not without turbulence.

The origins of streamlining go two hundred years at least. The streamlined form was described in by Sir George Cayley as “a very spheroid”. And already in 1865, Calthorpe patented an “air-resisting looking remarkably advanced the times.

Racers, particularly chasing the coveted Land Record (LSR), were the first to employ aerodynamic The La Jamais Contente (The Satisfied) was the first automobile to the 100kmh (62 mph) record, in Like all the first batch of LSR it was an EV. And a crude preview of Bonneville to come.

The evolution of aerodynamics for LSR was rapid, as this Stanley Rocket of 1906 evidently And the increase in speed was even dramatic: the Rocket broke the barrier, with a run of 205.44 kmh mph). That would not be until 1924, and not until for steam powered vehicles.

The documented attempt at streamlining a car is this Alfa Romeo 1914, built by the coach Castagna for the Italian Count A very advanced undertaking. out of a Jules Verne novel. Due to the bodywork, it turned out to not improve on the top of the open Alfa it was based on.

The breakthrough aerodynamic passenger car was the Rumpler “Tropfenwagen” (teardrop of 1921. Unlike the impractical and Castagna Alfa, the Rumpler was as different (and influential) for its integrated and original design and It had a mid-engined W6 engine, and four independent suspension using axles which Rumpler The Tropfenwagen was tested in VW’s tunnel (below) in 1979, and a Coefficient of drag (Cd) of a degree of slipperiness that Passat wouldn’t equal 1988.

It’s important to that Cd is a coefficient, and denotes the aerodynamic slipperiness of a body, of its overall size. A brick of any has a Cd of 1.0; a bullet about To arrive at the critical total drag that determines required (and efficiency), the area (cross section of the looking straight on) is multiplied by the Cd (Cd x

The Rumpler’s shape was very but it was also quite tall and which resulted in the one hundred or so cars being used as taxis puttering around because of their roomy bodies. An ironic ending for but his ideas spawned imitations and world-wide, and opened the whole

The Tropfenwagen’s influence in racing was much more immediate and The Benz Tropfenwagen racer of was a direct development of it, and used components.

With a mid engine and axles at the rear, not only was it the ancestor of the legendary Auto-Union cars of the thirties, but of all mid-engined cars to this day. A pioneer.

To put the nascent field of aerodynamics in perspective, the typical car of the twenties was more aerodynamic backwards than forwards, as ass-backwards DeSoto proved in It was also driven around the US in a stunt to create awareness of aerodynamics, as a prelude to the Chrysler That brings back of Bob Lutz stating that the concept would have had aerodynamics if they put it in the wind backwards. Hopefully he was kidding.

Hungarian-born Paul Jaray his experience working in the aeronautical especially designing Zeppelins, to a specific formula for automotive design principles that to a patent, applied for in 1922 and in 1927.  His approach was influential, and companies used Jaray bodies during the streamliner that unfolded in the early

His early designs tended to be tall, and with questionable and space utilization.

Jaray’s was very influential, and his designs became more mainstream. (above), Opel, Maybach and numerous other makes, German, built special versions using Jaray It become a formula, resulting in cars.

The limitation of these is like the Castagna Alfa, were re-bodied conventional with frames, front and RWD. Jaray only the aerodynamics, not the complete vehicle Rumpler had. It was a start, but were taking up where left off, like the Burney, below:

Obviously Rumpler influenced and less by the 1930 English Burney a then-radical rear engine and four wheel independent

One of the most influential and lasting of the whole era was Austrian Hans After he took over as design engineer at the Czech Tatra in 1921, he developed the of a series of remarkable Tatra and eventually streamliners with frames, independent suspensions and air-cooled engines that profoundly influential, and essentially set the of what came to be known as the and influenced cars around the for years to come. (Tatra History here )

The compact Tatra v570 of (above) is the forerunner of both the Tatras soon to come, its obvious Jaray influence, but not a Jaray. It obviously reflects to what Porsche was working on his early developments that led to the We’ll come back to later.

This Volkswagen from 1934 (above) a very strong resemblance to the v570 indeed, with the of some further refinement. the visual cues are not really as as they might appear to us because these were the design elements of the time, and imitated or shared, on both of the Atlantic.

As this 1934 for an American rear-engined sedan by Tjaarda shows, the Europeans working alone. This radical design became for the production 1936 front-engined Zephyr.

The resemblance of the production KdF to Tjaarda’s 1934 prototype, certain details of the front seem like a bit too much of an It turns out that Erwin who actually penned most of design and the KdF Wagem, visited the US in saw Tjaarda’s prototype, and admits influenced by it. The cross-Atlantic influence well at work already, back than it was usually in the direction.

Maybach W6/

Of course, Americans’ to streamlining had come two years in 1934, with the stunning Airflow. An essentially pragmatic the Airflow also kept the front-engine RWD configuration, but made significant advances in terms design by pushing the engine forward over the front This, combined with a body, dramatically improved space and accommodations. As such, the predicted the same basic packaging configuration as American from the late forties and fifties, even if they so aerodynamically designed. Progress is not linear.

The failure of the Airflow probably down to one primary aspect: overly flat waterfall That was too much of  a break for the still engendered in the remnants of the car prow. The Lincoln Zephyr a pragmatic adaptation of Tjaarda’s still retained its prow, and was a success, despite being not as a good a car as the Airflow mechanically.

An less pragmatic but highly American vehicle was the Stout (above). Aviation engineer B. Stout designed this roomy mini-van precursor a unitized body structure and a Ford V8 engine. The first was in 1932, and several more a total of nine, were in the mid thirties, but series production got off the ground, due to an asking price four times higher a Chrysler Imperial Airflow of the It’s not like those selling well just either.

A much more approaches to streamlining was Buckminster Dymaxion. The first of several also saw the light of day in 1933, in the of this fertile period on side of the Atlantic. The Dymaxion had a rear Ford V8, but with a carriage and rear wheel which allowed it to turn on the of its body.

Another lesser-know of the popular Ford V8 engined vehicles was this Dubonnet of 1936, whose very body allowed it to reach 108 I appears to have  Isetta-type doors for the front seat And about as much crumple too.

Let’s jump to Czechoslovakia and the fertile Tatra studios. Here are some from about 1933 or so, the development of both the smaller v570 on the right, and the larger in the rear. The first of these, the arrived in 1934 (below):

The T77 was measured to have a Cd of .212, a that was not broken by a production car GM’s EV-1 of 1995, measured 0.195.  A stunning the long-tailed T77 was powered by a rear V8, and began a long series of until the 1980s along lines.

Tatra became with the advanced streamliner of the era, enabling fast (100 mph) on the fledgling of the Third Reich. Favored by Luftwaffe brass, they had a habit of killing them, due to its oversteer, thanks to the combination of V8 and swing axles. That it the nick name of “the secret weapon”.  So many at its hands, that allegedly forbade his best men to drive


To demonstrate just how rapidly and far the envelope was pushed in this decade of streamlining, this Schlörwagen prototype was tested at Cd 0.186, and a model of it was retested by VW in the yielding a Cd of 0.15. Either of values put the “pillbug” at or near the top of the of the most aerodynamic concept ever built, like the Probe V of 1985, with a Cd of  (Full list here ). on the chassis of the rear-engine Mercedes it was substantially faster as well as 20% to 40% fuel efficient than its car.

The Russians took the as war booty and conducted tests on it as a driven vehicle. It represents a of aerodynamic efficiency in league the most aerodynamic prototypes such as the Aptera.

Its important to note that the of interest in aerodynamics in the 1930s out of the desire to reinvent the automobile its horse and wagon origins and on the assumption that average speeds would be on the rise modern highways to come. made it a forward looking as most drivers were plodding along at 35-45 mph of cities.

But the first freeways already being built in and improvements in US roads, including the parkways and freeways were place. It also explains the strong interest and adoption of in Germany, where these VW prototypes (VW 30) are shown being The KdF was designed to have a top (and speed of exactly 100 kmh (62 mph), and showed that about would be adequate for that, advanced streamlining.

I have not to survey the broader influence of on the styling of cars in the latter and up to WW II. Needless to say the influence was profound, and us some of the most remarkable of the late classic era. But had relatively more to do with (and even affectation) a genuine effort to push the in terms of leading edge Nevertheless, the benefits and beauty resulted, like this Arrow Silver Arrow or Bugatti Atlantique coupe are undeniable, but beyond our scope [Continue to Part 2 ]

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