After 43 episodes, we have come to the end of the story of aerodynamics illustrated by Massimo Grandi, whose beautiful hand we see in The Key 2020, in the chapter dedicated to the cars of Soviet Russia. Here below is a quick summary of the first part of the last century.
It didn’t take long for the pioneers of motor vehicles to realise that performance was degraded by the frictional force of aerodynamic drag as speed increased. In every sense it was a wall, which they tried to overcome with known shapes: The Jamais Contente that broke the 100 km/h barrier in Paris on 29th April 1899, was nothing more than a giant bullet on wheels!
In the same period, Walter C. Baker had deduced that the a “perfect torpedo” body shape would return the best performance at the Automobile Club of America Speed Event. The driver and his mechanic were sitting behind each other and, incredibly, when you think they only arrived in racing vehicles some 50 years later, they had seatbelts. Backer was aiming for 120 miles per hour, or slightly more than 190 km/h, a speed that was unimaginable in those days. Perhaps he would have succeeded, he had already reached 100 miles per hour, more than 160 km/h, when a slightly too enthusiastic correction of the steering caused the car to skid and led to a frightening accident but the occupants remained unscathed thanks to their seatbelts!
To understand how fast progress was travelling, just five years later, on Olmond Beach in Florida, the Stanley Steamer Rocket set a new record that amazed everyone: 127.7 miles per hour, or more than 205 km/h. Again, the shape of the car was inspired by the torpedo or, more precisely, by the shape of an upside-down canoe. A curiosity: if the Baker was driven by two electric motors, the record-breaking Stanley was… steam powered. That’s right, and we shouldn’t laugh, because this was a very widely used propulsion system back in the day. In 1911, once again in Daytona, Blitzen Benz reached 228 km/h.
Coming back to the street, among the many who wanted the car to have had an aesthetic and functional progress over the course of history, the name of a former Austro-Hungarian airship designer, Paul Jaray, stands out as the man who defined the shape of the various components of an aerodynamically perfect car.
Audi experimented with Jaray’s shapes and were rewarded with surprising results: compared to the maximum speed of the model with the standard bodywork, which was 95 km/h, the Audi Type K reached 130 km/h and consumed far less. The result? Absolutely nothing. The public was used to monumental square cars. Jaray’s tapered models had arrived too soon.
On Monday, the final chapter.