Cars, Design and aeronautics
Pioneering spirit and rocket car
In 1928, Fritz von Opel built a rocket-powered record setting car, the Rak 2. Featuring a cigar-like profile and truncated wings, the Rak 2 had been designed according to the laws of aerodynamics – a new science used by Zeppelin for its airships, but barely recognized in the automobile industry. At the wheel of this half-plane, half-automotive machine, Fritz broke all speed records, reaching 230 km/h.
Aeronautics in its DNA
The automotive industry had become mad about aerodynamics in the 1930s, but the war killed this passion. Saab was an exception. Saab was founded in 1937 to build airplanes. When it decided in 1946 to also produce automobiles, it did not forget its fundamental roots – its first car, the 92001, features an aerodynamic design that clearly demonstrates it has aeronautics in its DNA.
The first tailfins
During the Second World War, many car designers were obliged to work in the aircraft industry. When peace returned, Harley Earl, head of GM Design, got inspiration from the P38 Lockheed Lightning fighter and designed a new kind of tailfin. First introduced with the Cadillac Sixty Special, the tailfins became a corporate design element for Cadillac.
For the first time with the 1950 Buick LeSabre concept, aeronautical inspiration was spread throughout an automobile. The reactor engine that seems to go through its body, as well as many design details, were clear references. So was its name, which was taken from the new F86 Sabre jet. The LeSabre also featured aircraft technology, such as a magnesium body and fighter’s electric heated seats.
Following the Buick LeSabre, aircraft design references became standard in the automobile. Panoramic windshields came first, then similar wrap-around rear windows. GM extended tailfins to all models in 1955. Car noses got rounder, as illustrated by the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket Concept. Its bow evokes the triple fuselage of a propeller aircraft – amazingly, the rear is associated with the stern of a jet.
In concept cars, aircraft-inspired design cues were coupled with futuristic technologies. The first car ever to get a titanium body, the Firebird II concept showcased the family car of the future and was powered by a gas turbine. It featured an electromagnetic guidance system allowing it to drive under an automatic pilot system with the assistance of control operators – just like airplanes!
Paradoxical, but glamorous
Unlike concept cars, production cars in the late 1950s did not combine aeronautical references with high tech, but rather with comfort and a new, emerging esthetic language transposed from the worlds of interior decoration and fashion. The color range expanded, and jetlike tailfins became pink, pale green or lemon yellow. A paradoxical, but glamorous association!
The last rocket-car
Featuring anti-collision radar in its front cones, exhaust pipes in the side nozzles and a fully glassed cockpit, the Cyclone concept evoked the abstract beauty of a rocket. The shift from aeronautics to astronautics design inspiration marked the final phase of a cycle which had began in 1948 and came to its end in 1959. The Cyclone Concept and the Cadillac Eldorado were the last rocket cars.
With the 1999 Evoq concept, Cadillac unveiled its radically new “Art & Science” design language. This refers to a combination of the cubist paintings and the Lockheed F117 Nighthawk (or “Stealth”) – the plane not trackable by radar and revolutionized aircraft design in 1985. Like the 750 hp Cien Concept, all Cadillacs now feature these, geometric surfaces and sharp angles.
Saab always remained loyal to its aeronautical roots. Defining a new, “multidynamic” design language, the 9X concept did not abandon aircraft inspiration of clean, uncluttered surfaces, and wrap-around windscreen evoking the cockpit look (a typical signature since the 1968 Saab 99). The effect has been dramatized with uninterrupted glazing sweeping from one B-pillar to the other.
As the whole fuel cell propulsion system powering the AUTOnomy could be integrated into its skateboard chassis, designers faced absolutely no constraints when they created its body. They chose to express the futuristic technology contained in the AUTOnomy with aeronautical references: sleek surfaces, rounded nose, cockpit effect, and integrated wings…