Showing posts with label 1930s Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1930s Cars. Show all posts

Citroën Light 15

Citroen Light 15 1930s French classic sports car

Not many cars can claim to have changed the face of motoring. One that can is the Citroën Light 15. Its unique selling point was front wheel drive - or traction-avant, in its native tongue. And its innovative engineering did not stop there. The Light 15's 3-speed gearbox sat in its nose - fore of the engine. Power passed to the torsion-bar-suspended front wheels via CV-jointed shafts. Said transmission system was decidedly avant-garde in '34 - when the Light 15 was released. In road-holding terms, it was a revelation. The only downside to FWD was that it made the steering a tad heavy. A subscription to the local gym, though, soon sorted that out!

There was to be a tragic twist, though, to the Light 15 tale. Its cutting edge features meant Citroën's development costs spiralled. The resulting stress contributed to the early death of André Citroën - the firm's founder. Sadly, he died without a sou to his name. At least his company was bailed out - by tyre maestro Michelin. As a result, the Light 15 stayed in production for years to come. In time, it became a best-seller for Citroën. Not that that benefitted poor André much. It was also highly influential. For example, the Light 15's FWD - and, thus, improved handling - made it a big hit with the French police. Ironically, it was just as popular with less law-abiding citizens - and for precisely the same reasons. Cops 'n' Robbers had never been so much fun! Thanks to its 1.9-litre overhead-valve motor, the Light 15 had a top speed of 75mph. Hair-raising chases duly ensued. But - thanks to the Light 15's independent torsion-bar springing - they were bounce-free. Well, almost!

The Light 15, then, was a benchmark car. It was not until '55, however - and the advent of the DS - that Citroën let it slip into well-earned retirement. After all, the Light 15 had done much to pave the way for its successor. In particular, it had pioneered the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension set-up for which the DS would be celebrated. Styling-wise, the Light 15 did not change much over the years. Fine examples can still be seen on French roads today - a clear indication of its high build quality. The French have a saying, which translates to 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. The Light 15 was a case in point. The rate of change has sky-rocketed recently. So, it is easy to forget that machines like the Citroën Light 15 have long been pushing the technological envelope!

VW Beetle

VW Beetle 1950s German classic car

21,000,000 VW Beetles were built. That makes it the most popular car ... ever! Today, of course, the 'V-Dub' commands cult status. And - with plenty of scope for customisation - Beetle mania is a hive of creativity. That said, if all you needed from a car was reliability, the Beetle was still the car for you. The designer of the ulimate in automotive utilitarianism was Dr Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Dr Porsche! The Beetle was born out of Herr Hitler's yen for motoring for the masses. Yes, that Herr Hitler! As things turned out, not many Beetles were built before the war. Following it, though, the production floodgate opened. The first Beetle was pretty basic. It came with a non-synchromesh gearbox, cable brakes - and little by way of ornamentation. With hostilities over, however, the US started to catch the V-Dub bug. For starters, it ticked all the second car boxes. It was cheap, dependable, practical and economical. Heck, the Beetle even made a great beach buggy!

The Beetle put out 50bhp from a 1,584cc air-cooled motor. It maxed out at 84mph. Visually - while no oil painting - it was not without allure. Let us say, it had a certain rough-edged charm! Indeed, the Kharmann Ghia - which was based on the Beetle - was really rather pretty. And, the split-rear-screen model - of the early Fifties - was positively voguish!

Enter the '60s, though, and buyers demanded a more modern driving experience. VW responded by replacing the time-served 1,100cc engine with 1,300 and 1,500cc updates. And, Beetles were now fitted with an all-synchromesh 'box, disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission. The factory was at Wolfsburg - in Lower Saxony. Not even the F├╝hrer could have foreseen the all-conquering heights to which the Beetle's sales would soar. The second most popular car of all time came courtesy of Henry Ford. The Model T clocked up 15,000,000 sales - 6m shy of its nemesis. It was in the early Seventies that the Beetle outstripped the Model T's tally. Probably because VW offered it in colours other than black! Its zenith was in the Sixties, after all. Psychedelia - unlike Gothic - did not do black!

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow 1930s American classic car

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! Its body lines were aerodynamic - at a time when that craft was a mere glint in a boffin's eye. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgeling craft. A wind tunnel was duly constructed. Today, such systems are considered arcane ... in the early '30s, they were a black art! The Airflow wizards of engineering were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton. Breer had been first to be smitten by the new-fangled science. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when pioneer pilot Orville Wright's input was added. Over 50 test cars were subsequently built. So - by a process of painstaking refinement - the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.

The Airflow, though, was not just aerodynamics. Weight-saving, too, was part of its brief. Its svelte frame was made from light metal - rather than heavy timber. Perched on that frame was a monocoque body. That reduced weight still further. What mass was left was optimally placed. The engine was over the front wheels - with ride and handling in mind. The seats sat neatly within the wheelbase - in the interests of balance. Thanks to all the wind-cheating work, the Airflow was well-placed to 'turn up the wick', when required. A top speed of 88mph was not to be sniffed at, in '34.

The Airflow's sales, though, were lacklustre. Walter Chrysler showed courage and commitment, in commissioning the car. But, the Airflow was the future. Buyers were not yet ready for its 'free-flowing' lines. On top of that, there were rumours of build quality faults ... on account of new welding techniques. Ultimately, though, cars like the Airflow are not about sales. Rather, they are about the legacy they leave - and the visions they engender. The Chrysler Airflow influenced automotive design for decades!