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Streamlined Cars

The vast majority of drivers in the 1930s were perfectly happy with their spacious, easily-accessed, upright, slab-fronted cars. But now that cars were capable of comfortably exceeding 80 mph (129 km/h) a small number of stylists and engineers in the United States and Europe were turning their attention to aerodynamics, and exploring its potential to increase maximum speeds dramatically and boost stability.

Pierce Silver Arrow, 1933


Engine7,566 cc, V12
Top speed115 mph (185 km/h)

A concept car designed by James R. Hughes, only five Silver Arrows were built in this form. It caused a sensation at the 1933 New York Show, but was too expensive.

Bugatti Type 50, 1931


Engine4,972 cc, straight-eight
Top speed110 mph (177 km/h)

Jean Bugatti styled this Profilée coupe with the most extreme raked windshield yet seen on a road car. 

Peugeot 402, 1935


Engine1,991 cc, straight-four
Top speed75 mph (121 km/h)

Far more successful than most streamlined cars of the 1930s, mainly due to its low price, 75,000 of the 402 were sold. Retaining a separate chassis allowed Peugeot to offer 16 body styles.

Cord 810, 1936


Engine4,730 cc, V8
Top speed93 mph (150 km/h)

The wonderful Cord didn’t just boast aerodynamic styling with pop-up headlights: It had front-wheel drive with trailing arm suspension and electric gearshift.

Renault Viva Gran Sport, 1936


Engine4,085 cc, straight-six
Top speed89 mph (143 km/h)

With its swept-back, V-shaped grille forming part of the body rather than standing vertically, plus laid-back headlights faired into the front wings, this was an advanced car for its time.

Cord Phantom Corsair, 1938


Engine4,730 cc, V8
Top speed115 mph (185 km/h)

Designed by millionaire Rust Heinz and built by California coachbuilders Bohmann & Schwartz, based on a Cord 810, this one-off dream car featured in the 1938 film The Young in Heart.

Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Aerodinamica, 1935


Engine2,309 cc, straight-six
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

Developed secretly on Benito Mussolini’s reguest by Vittorio Jano and Gino and Oscar Jankovits, this car was planned as a V12, but was fitted with a six-cylinder engine.

Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Le Mans Coupe, 1938


Engine2,905 cc, straight-eight
Top speed140 mph (225 km/h)

This sensational, aerodynamic coupe, driven by Raymond Sommer and Clemente Biondetti, set the fastest lap at 97 mph (156 km/h), and led for 219 laps at the 1938 Le Mans 24-hour race-until a tire blew.

Mercedes-Benz 150H Sport Roadster, 1934


Engine1,498 cc, straight-four
Top speed78 mph (125 km/h)

Designers Hans Nibel and Max Wagner at Mercedes created this mid-engined sports racing prototype, of which just 20 were made. It had great handling and innovative features such as a coil-sprung, swing-axle rear suspension, and disc wheels.

Steyr 50, 1936


Engine978 cc, straight-four
Top speed53 mph (85 km/h)

This teardrop-shaped Austrian people’s car was more powerful than some, so it could climb steep Alpine passes. Some 12,000 Steyr 50s were sold up to 1940.

Tatra T87, 1936


Engine2,968 cc, V8
Top speed99 mph (159 km/h)

With exceptionally aerodynamic bodywork by Paul Jaray and Hans Ledwinka, the rear-engined Tatra was as effective as it was unconventional.

Chrysler CU Airflow Eight, 1934


Engine5,301 cc, straight-eight
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

With its wind tunnel-developed monocoque body, low build, and great handling, the Airflow was way ahead of its time. But the car suffered quality problems, and its sales were poor.

Lincoln-Zephyr, 1936


Engine4,378 cc, V12
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

Faired-in headlights and aerodynamic styling made the monocoque-construction Zephyr look very modern, but it still had a side-valve engine and mechanical brakes.

Lagonda V12 Lancefield Le Mans Coupé, 1939


Engine4,479 cc, V12
Top speed128 mph (206 km/h)

Lagonda improved its fortunes in the 1930s with a superb V12 engine, which powered two roadsters to 3-4 finishes at Le Mans in 1939. This coupe was finished too late to join them.

Panhard et Levassor X77 Dynamic, 1936


Engine2,863 cc, straight-six
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

Despite advanced monocoque construction, torsion-bar independent front suspension, and a near-central driving position, the “Art Deco” Dynamic was not popular.


It is a quote. The Definitive Visual History Of The Automobile 2011

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