The introduction of streamlined design elements into automobile design marked the evolution of the automobile from the earlier 'carriage design' to the modern integrated design approach, more like we have today.
Millions of Ford Model T's were produced, along with similarly structured cars from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Hudson, Nash, Chrysler, Dodge, Oldsmobile, and a whole litany of other manufacturers. But these all has the same basic premise, a separate wooden body (sometimes quite large and ornate) on a mechanical chassis.
Streamlined design moved beyond that, but was not just about swooping metal shapes applied to the body, it also made use of new design techniques for fabrication, including the first attempts at unibody construction. It was both more, and less efficient, depending on your viewpoint. The cars were still heavy, lumbering vehicles, and all that sheet metal added more weight. But it did bring some efficiency at highway speeds.
Streamline design in and of itself was not responsible for all future developments structural and mechanical, but the appearance of these other advancements both enabled and accompanied, streamline design. Cars became larger, heavier, better performing, with larger engines and transmissions.
As an historical reference, streamlining can be identified as a major turning point in automobile design. As early as 1931 serious thought was being given for using streamline design to implement aerodynamic efficiencies to lessen the amount of energy required to move the car through the air, therefore reduce fuel consumption, or increase performance from the same amount of energy expended, or both.
Aerodynamic styling had been prominent on auto racing prior to this, but those cars were one of a kind, handbuilt vehicles, which could never be cost effective to build for the mass market. But the benefits of streamlining were clear.
This diagram from a 1931 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics proposed a possible British design incorporating streamlined design to make 80 mph with 80 horsepower, while carrying seven passengers.
Chrysler was the first car company to design production cars using a wind tunnel. Their 1934 Airflow design exhibited 40% less aerodynamic drag than other production cars of that year, with a drag coefficient of 0.5. In years to come, other cars had better aerodynamics, but Airflow was the first.
1939 Tatra 97
From Left: 1934 Tatra T77, Fiat Ballila, Maybach, Audi
Not only in the US and Europe, but also Russia was experimenting with streamlining. On this page will be an assortment of images showing vehicles in development worldwide during that era.
|The Russian Gaza Aero
Obviously Under Construction
1936 Chrysler Airflow
1936 Hudson Terraplane
Other old car photographs