Thursday, March 24, 2016

VMCCWA Swap Meet 2016

It's been a few years since I've been able to attend the Vintage Motorcycle Club of WA's annual swapmeet at the Cannington exhibition centre because of classic car commitments. This year, although I attended the start of the German Car Day I did not go on the run, so I had time to pop over to Cannington.

Veteran BSA

Ariel and Matchless

BSA scrambler row

The magnificent Scott Flying Squirrel. These magnificent British motorcycles were powered by a two cylinder, water cooled two-stoke engine. No other motorcycle sounds like them.


Indian and BSA in military spec

Although I arrived around 10.45am many of the bikes in the exhibition had moved on and there were fewer sellers than previous years.

This veteran Yale motorcycle drew a lot of attention running outside the exhibition hall.

A bargain for the odd-scoot fan - four dismantled Puch scooters. If I didn't have so many other projects on the go....

And speaking of Scotts - two Scott restoration projects at $5000 and $8000 respectively.

The Scott engine is reminiscent of the DKW two cylinder engine. It is now believed that DKW's 3 cylinder two-stroke was developed from the Scott 3 cylinder engine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

German Car Day, Perth 2016

After a record turnout a last years German Car Day, this year's event was planned to be bigger and better. Cars gathered in Perth before setting off on a drive to Dwellingup about an hour and half south of Perth. GCD is more of a modern car event and there was a great turnout of Mercedes-Benz', Porsche's and Audi's. There were a few classics on show.

My DKW was in great company with an Amphicar and Farmobil.

Although it's powered by an English Triumph Herald engine the Amphicar is all German.

The Amphicar is such an extraordinary vehicle it always draws crowds and comment.

The Farmobil was a light, general purpose farm vehicle designed by the German Fahr tractor company. It was powered by a two cylinder 700cc BMW motorcycle engine (also used for the BMW 700 sedan). Fahr did not have the presses to build the bodyshell so construction was subcontracted to a Greek company. Chrysler bought Fahr and attempted to sell the vehicle in the US and elsewhere, but it did not sell and less than a 1000 were built. This rare survivor was bought from France and restored to an immaculate condition.

1951 Mercedes-Benz

1960 NSU Ro-80

It's rare to see early Audi's anywhere these days. This is an Audi 80 Fox. It was owned originally by the new owner's grandfather. Good to see them keeping it in the family.

The Amphicar sets off

And the Farmobil heads home

Thursday, March 3, 2016

1934 Chrysler Airflow - the first modern car

The story of the Chrysler Airflow begins in 1927 when Chrysler engineer Carl Breer was driving across Michigan. As he drove he noticed some birds flying alongside and then overtaking his car. Reflecting on his observation that the birds' natural streamlining allowed them to swiftly move through the air, he returned to Chrysler and set to work testing car body designs in a wind tunnel to find the most efficient shape; and thus the Chrysler Airflow was created! At least that is the romantic mythology created by Chrysler's marketing department. The reality was a little more prosaic.

Carl Breer, Chrysler's chief designer and the leader of the Airflow project.

1920s car design had become rigidly standardised, with straight sided, often open bodywork mounted high on top of a rigid chassis. Flat windscreens and radiators and numerous external appendages in the form of headlights, horns, external gear shifters and handbrakes, spare tyres and fuel cans were standard. There was often very little to differentiate one marque from another. The one area where there were real differences between marques was their engines and gearboxes, which became progressively more powerful and efficient over time. However, the engineers at Chrysler noted that quantitative improvements in engine output and efficiency did not translate into an improvement into the cars overall performance. The problem was that the faster the car moved through the air, the greater the effect of wind resistance pushing against it.

Form by Function. Chrysler's promotional film to sell the design features of the Airflow.

Chrysler's 1933 range featured flashy, luxurious but conventional cars.

The lack of aerodynamic consideration in car design was an obvious issue that the team at Chrysler sought to address. They engaged aeroplane pioneer, Wilbur Wright, to consult on wind tunnel testing and then built their own wind tunnel where they conducted detailed tests of rough body style maquettes and documented the results. Promising body styles were then worked up into vehicle models and subjected to the same rigorous testing. By this process they developed a practical, streamlined automotive body design that did away with all extraneous exterior fittings. Even the spare tyre was mounted within its own streamlined case at the rear of the car.

The use of wind tunnel testing was in itself a novel exercise, but the team took it even further. They decided to dispense with received wisdom and design the car from the ground up, working through every feature of the car's design from scratch. This led to a raft of revolutionary features, such as placing the car's engine over the front axle for better weight distribution and placing the passengers within the space between the axles, so that they would experience a better ride. Customer comfort wasn't the Chrysler team's only consideration. Up to this point car manufacturers had given little consideration to passenger safety and the death toll from even low speed accidents, especially roll-overs, was high. Chrysler's new car had a new chassis suspended between the wheels rather than sitting over the wheels, which lowering the cars centre of gravity.

Combined with independent four wheel suspension, the new car was less liable to flip over in a tight turn than contemporary cars. The car's body was built as self-supporting, steel cage for strength. Chrysler would famously demonstrate the car's structural integrity by driving one over a 70 foot cliff and then driving away. Safety glass was standard on all windows.

The famous Airflow safety film. It seems quaint these days but it was revolutionary in an era when passenger safety was the last concern for car manufacturers.

The Airflow cars came in a number of different models, split between Chrysler and stablemate DeSoto. DeSoto offered two smaller, six cylinder engine models in two and four door versions. The company was so confident in the new cars that all other DeSoto lines were cancelled. Chrysler offered a bigger, eight cylinder engined version in two door coupe, four door sedan and a luxury 'Imperial' version, but the company hedged their bets and production of the companies existing lines continued.

The Airflow cars were unveiled with great publicity at the 1934 New York Motor Show - and almost immediately struck with a consumer backlash. The cars most distinctive feature - the enormous chrome ribbed radiator grill that flowed uncompromisingly over the curved bonnet - was a particularly polarizing feature. Critics slammed the car as ugly and - completely counter-factually - declared to be unsafe. Chrysler resorted to producing publicity films and demonstrations, such as driving the car over a cliff, in an attempt to reverse negative public impression. It did not help that the first run of cars in 1934 experienced build issues that were quickly rectified, the car was simply too radical for the conservative American consumer of the day. In Europe however, the car was lauded for its design qualities, winning a design award at the Monte Carlo Motor Show.

The Chrysler Airflow unveiled at the 1934 New York Motor Show

From there Chrysler began walking back many of the car's unique features. The first change came in 1935 with a new, more conventional upright grill. In 1936 the car received a large boot that opened from the outside. It compromised the car's streamlining but offered more practical storage space.

The 1935 Airflow, shown here with Chrysler's Imperial model, had a conventional radiator grill.

By 1937 the Chrysler dropped the Airflow name from its models and the cars had lost most of their distinctive 'airflow' features.

But these changes did not have the desired effect. Sales remained slow - and for DeSoto, disastrous - and in 1937 Chrysler withdrew the range. Despite being labelled a lemon, total sales over four years were a little over 27,000 units. This would have been a respectable production run for a British or European producer of the time but was a dramatic failure in the US market.

Although the Desoto brand were still called Airflows, they had little in common with their namesakes and had reverted to conventional design.

Looked at today, the Chrysler Airflow does not appear as radical as the contemporary Tatra T77 which was unveiled the same year. The reactions to both the cars however were significantly different. The Tatra was lauded as an avant-garde expression of modernism and the company was swamped with more orders than it could accommodate. The American audience found little appealing in the Airflow, despite all of Chrysler's attempts to link it to the modernist movement in architecture and aeronautics. They were also never able to shake the first, negative and unwarranted, opinion of the car. By 1935 the car looked like its stablemates and their likeness continued to grow year on year. The Airflows were in fact excellent cars and they really did live up to Chrysler's claim to being, "The First Modern Car" and all elements of their design and manufacture would be adopted by all car companies around the world within a few years. They were not even that far ahead of their time - maybe only 5 years. By 1940, all Chrysler's competitors would have adopted streamlining and unit construction.

1934 Desoto Airflow brochure

Chrysler's Official 'Story of the Airflow Cars' 1963