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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Air Craft: Vanwall and the Formula One Championship


This is the second in a survey of British attempts to make a comeback in Formula One racing. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine a time when British cars and drivers were absent from the winner's circle.  But in the middle of the 1950s, the last win for a British car in a Grand Prix was three decades back in the rear view mirror.  The efforts of BRM with their expensive and complex V-16 had failed because the car was unreliable as well as very tricky to drive, but the under-funded Connaught* team's surprise victory at the non-Championship Syracuse GP may have given hope to other teams, including the makers of this Vanwall.  Tony Vandervell was the Liverpool manufacturer of a successful line of precision automotive bearings, trademarked "Thinwall". Like Briggs Cunningham* in the USA, his team gained some experience running foreign machinery in their early efforts.  In both cases this involved Ferraris; Cunningham imported the first one to appear in America, and Vandervell campaigned four Ferrari GP cars as Thinwall Specials from 1949 to '53 before making his first car the next year.  Having observed at close quarters the failure of the overly-ambitious "clean sheet of paper" approach (along with "not invented here" resistance to ideas) as a supporter of that first BRM effort, Vandervell took a more pragmatic approach.  He'd raced Norton motorcycles in the 1920s and now sat on the company's board, and this led to the approach of combining four 500cc single cylinder assemblies from the Norton racing engine into a new water-cooled block with twin overhead cams.  Norton engineers employed a crankcase derived from the Rolls Royce B40 military engine; and while displacement was originally 500cc under the under the new-for-1954 F1 limit, it was gradually increased to 2,490cc.  The early engines had 4 Amal carburetors, but power went up after Vandervell coaxed Mercedes to release copies of the Bosch mechanical fuel injection used on their cars; he'd supplied bearings to Daimler-Benz. 


The first engine worked well enough that Peter Collins finished 2nd to Stirling Moss (Maserati 250F) in the '54 Goodwood Trophy.  For brakes Vandervell went to Goodyear in the US, and got aircraft-derived discs which seemed more effective than those from Dunlop. In this way at least, the Liverpool outfit's approach looked a lot like the globalist car industry that would appear in another thirty years...  The tubular chassis was by Cooper Cars, but Cooper may have been saving their most inspired work for their upcoming mid-engined F1 cars, and at the end of 1955 the Vanwall team approached a new chassis engineer named Colin Chapman, who in turn suggested he'd like to work with a promising young aerodynamicist named Frank Costin.  What they did was shift the driver over the Ferrari-derived transaxle and surround him with a structure of thin tubes. They bet everything on the idea that the resulting increase in frontal area (it was then the tallest GP car) would be offset by much smoother airflow around the cockpit and tail.  




They were right; even though the Vanwall had less horsepower (262) than the 270 to 275 of the Maserati and Ferrari, those cars couldn't catch it on long straights.  In terms of top speed, the Vanwall was the fastest of the period, and its ovoid, windswept forms made it perhaps the most distinctive of the front-engined racers, a format that would disappear with the new Formula 1 in 1961.  But in 1958, Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss each won enough races (3) to insure that Vanwall won the Manufacturer's Championship, a victory sadly marred by teammate Stuart Lewis-Evans' fatal accident in the final race.  Moss also raced a Cooper for Rob Walker's privateer team that year, and lost out in the Driver's Championship by one point to Mike Hawthorn in a Ferrari. The Vanwall, however much it may have been as assemblage of mostly off-the-shelf what-have-you concealed beneath a slippery shell, had done its job...

*Footnote:  For more on the Connaught and Tony Brooks, who later became famous in the Vanwall, see "Celtic Rainmaker: Connaught Broke the Longest Drought in Grand Prix Racing" in our post for 7/24/16.  We covered Cunningham's efforts at Le Mans in "A Moment Too Soon: The Cars of Briggs Swift Cunningham" on 4/15/17.  

Photo Credits:

Top:  the author
2nd:  revsinstitute.org
3rd:  Paul Anderson
Bottom photo shows Stirling Moss at tea time, testing a Vanwall: 
credited to Enrico Brunoni on pinterest.com

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Audi's Intermission: DKW Monza, Puma and Fissore

Auto Union, founded in Saxony during the Depression year 1932 by merging the DKW, Audi, Horch and Wanderer makes, was mostly known to car enthusiasts for the racing exploits of the firm's fearsome mid-engined V12 and V16 Grand Prix cars.  These wore the logo of four linked circles representing the four makes, and were actually called Auto Union cars. The war put an end to racing as well as to the luxury Horch and upper class Wanderer as well as the more middle-class Audi, and when Auto Union resumed car production in 1949, they concentrated on utilitarian vehicles with the DKW label. The first vehicle presaged the VW Microbus by a.good half decade, and was called the DKW Schnellaster ("rapid transport").  Shortly afterwards, a new DKW sedan appeared in the form of the F89.  The 684cc two-stroke inline two-cylinder drove the front wheels through a 3 speed manual transmission, and while it was water-cooled, the design had no water pump, trusting a thermosiphon system, and the engine was oddly located forward of the radiator, like cars associated with a much earlier part of the century.  



Despite the simple engine which provided a top speed of about 62 mph, the body design was appealing, with teardrop fenders giving it form which seemed smoother and more modern than the competing Volkswagen being built in Wolfsburg. By early '53 it was joined, and later replaced, by the F91 (the second car above), also known as the 3=6, as DKW emphasized the efficiency of the two-stroke inline 3-cylinder of 896cc…  a two-stroke triple was supposed to equal a six. DKW, by the way, originally stood for Dampkraftwagen, or "steam-powered car", as that is how the company had originally specialized when founded in the unpromising year of 1916 by a Danish engineer named Rasmussen. Sometime during their transition to making small gasoline-powered cars after that war, the company decided that the initials instead stood for Das Kliene Wonder, or "the little wonder."  By the time the F93 version of the 3=6 appeared in 1955, DKW had offered some attractive two-seaters in the same teardrop style (coupes by Hebmuller, a cabriolet by Karmann) and also offered the two-door pillarless hardtop (an unusual move in Europe) shown below.  


Both F91 and F93 featured 4-speeds, but the F93 had a 10 cm wider track, and was also slightly taller and longer than the first 3-cylinder.  By 1957 a four-door sedan joined the model line, as well as an aerodynamic 2-seater fiberglass-bodied coupe called the Monza.  The Monza body, designed by racers Gunther Ahrens and Albrecht Mantzel, was especially light, and the car set 5 class records at Monza (where else?) at the end of 1956.  



Production, organized by enthusiast Fritz Wenk and employing 3 different coach builders, ended after 1958 when Auto Union refused to provide any more chassis, apparently fearing the car would compete with their just-introduced faux Thunderbird-styled Auto Union 1000 SP.  In view of the current collector value of the DKW Monza compared with the 1000 SP, this appears to have been a mistake. During this period, Daimler-Benz acquired a controlling interest in Auto Union, taking complete control in 1959 and signing a US distribution agreement with Studebaker-Packard. Most of the DKWs and Auto Unions imported in to the US were brought in during this period. Owing to the scattered, interrupted manufacturing effort and the fact that some cars were sold as kits, production figures are hard to pin down, but it appears likely that less than 200 DKW Monza were built.  A similar fate befell the DKW-powered Malzoni GT and Puma GT, which were built using the 3-cyllinder front-drive powertrain provided by DKW-Vemag of Brazil.  Privateer racer Genaro Malzoni was approached by the firm to design a light sports car to compete with the Willys Interlagos (locally-built Alpine Renault) which was having some success on race days.  By 1964 he had prototyped the smoothly-contoured, Italianate Malzoni DKW GT in metal, but could produce no more than 35 of these in fiberglass because of limited facilities.  





In 1966, larger scale production began under the Puma name, assisted by DKW-Vemag. Production continued into 1968, a bit after the 1967 Volkswagen takeover of DKW-Vemag, which terminated production of DKW sedans (VW had already purchased Auto Union's German operation from Daimler-Benz in 1964). The Puma racers sometimes had 1.1 liter engines with up to 100 hp, and are highly prized by collectors in Brazil. Total production amounted to no more than 170 cars; subsequent Puma cars were rear-engined and VW-based…


During the last days of DKW-Vemag, the firm produced a glassy sedan styled by Fissore in Italy. Fissore's namesake design, produced in around 2,000 examples from 1964-67, featured a bigger engine of 1,000 cc.  A similarly-conceived sedan, the DKW F102, with a two-stroke triple of just under 1,200 cc, began production in Germany in autumn of 1963.  Despite visual similarities, the cars share no body panels, though the German parent Auto Union must have been aware of the plans for the Brazilian car.  The F102 was the last car designed by DKW to go into production, and it was discontinued in 1966, after VW had substituted a four-stroke inline 4 to create the first car carrying the Audi nameplate since production had been suspended in 1938.  By 1967, two-stroke engines were in eclipse all around the automotive world (even Saab had replaced their DKW-inspired 3 cylinder with a Ford-sourced V4), and when the minions of the VW corporate empire decided that they needed a new nameplate, Audi was their choice.  By this time, Americans had moved on from the smoky, popcorn-popper two-strokes (except in some motorcycles), and the initials DKW might have stood for "Don't Know Why."


Photo Credits:

Top:  car-review.com
2nd:  wikimedia
3rd:  Auto Union AG
4th:  wikimedia
5th:  lanemotormuseum.org
6th:  wikimedia
7th:  Paulo Fernando, at ciadecarros.files, wordpress.com
8th:  Flavio Gomes at grandpremio.uol.com
9th & 10th:  wikimedia

Sunday, August 20, 2017

AC Part 4: Shelby's Cobra Was a Hard Act to Follow

It appears that the sudden competition-based fame of the Shelby AC Cobra surprised management at Ford as much as their counterparts at tiny AC Cars*, though Shelby himself seemed unfazed by success. The showroom success of the Cobra was limited by the capacity of AC in Thames Ditton to hand-hammer the alloy bodies, and by the fact that relatively few Ford dealers in the US ever got (or even signed up for) cars to sell. Just as the new, computer-designed, coil-sprung chassis for the upcoming 427 was about to appear, Ford commissioned Ghia to design a more production-friendly body for the car, and it appeared in 1965…


The roadster's body design has been credited by some to Giorgetto Giugiaro, but he has never claimed it, and did not officially start his career at Ghia until very late in 1965, after the lines of the car had likely been laid down.  Certain details, like the overly-vertical windshield and the somewhat unresolved headlight scoops, would seem to be more the result of Ford's program than Giugiaro's inspiration. In any case, after making a round of auto show appearances, the Ghia Cobra disappeared.


In 1965, the year the first coil-sprung 427 Cobras appeared, AC Cars showed a luxury GT car based on the new chassis design, but powered by the somewhat tamer, longer-stroke 428 version of Ford's big block, with body styled and built by Pietro Frua in Italy.  Both a coupe and convertible started limited production in that same year.  Wheelbase was 5 inches longer than the Cobra at 95 inches. The form and details, especially the tall, curved glazing and the shape of the rear fenders, resembled the Maserati Mistral, also by Frua.  At the front, only the continually rising fender line, peaking at the headlights, seemed a little awkward...


So did the narrow sliver of window that split the fastback coupe's B-pillar into two pieces. Overall, though, the form was clean and modern, and contemporary tests praised the car's performance. The capacity of Frua's shop to produce and trim body shells, along with high price (almost 25% more than an Aston DB6) limited total production to only 81 cars by the time production ended in 1973.


Towards the end of production AC Chairman Derek Hurlock commissioned Frua to produce a remodel on the convertible with concealed headlights and a tidier, more tapered front fender line. Changes in US regulations in 1967 that ended sales of the Cobra would have made it difficult to import the 428.  So AC produced around 30 of the coil-sprung Cobra roadster with small block engine substituted for the 427, and this AC 289 Sports was available until late '69 in the UK and Europe.  Then AC started looking for a more modern car to produce while winding down production of the 428.


Perhaps because the small company lacked a well-financed engineering development operation, they tried to repeat the success they'd had in purchasing John Tojeiro's prototype in the early 50s, a car they'd transformed into the Ace, and which Shelby had made into the Cobra. So they bought the rights to a prototype call called the Diablo at the London Racing Car Show in 1972. The design, by ex-Lola engineers Peter Bohanna and Robin Stables, featured a transverse, mid-mounted Austin Maxi engine and transaxle.  Whatever the merits of the compact drivetrain mounting, the body, with its maze of unrelated embossed blisters, lines and scoops, indicated that Bohanna and Stables were engineers first and industrial designers second...


And unlike AC's experience with the Tojeiro / Ace / Cobra, their luck did not hold with this new car. British Leyland decided not to sell them Maxi power plants, and in moving back to a more reliable supplier (Ford) for the 3 liter Essex V6, the small AC engineering team found they needed to create a new transmission. They mounted their new 5-speed transmission below the transverse engine, using a roller chain drive from the clutch.  They also spent time revising the chassis design to meet new crash standards in their home market.  By the time they had the first customer cars ready in 1979 after an achingly long 6-year development process, the much slicker-looking Lotus Esprit had appeared, and taken over what turned out to be a limited market for expensive, lightweight fiberglass mid-engined two-seaters...



The next year, though, Ghia got another chance to design an AC two-seater through the agency of Bob Lutz and and Karl Ludvigsen. Ford of Europe's Chairman and V.P. then met with Filippo Sapino at Ghia and discussed the goal of reviving the idea of a mid-engine GT like the DeTomaso Pantera, which had also been a Ghia project. Ludvigsen, involved with Ford's rally effort, remembered that Ford was then supplying V6 engines to AC for their 3000ME. He was thinking Ford needed something more like the Lancia Stratos he was then driving, to keep Ford competitive. It's interesting that the Chaimran of Ford Europe needed reminding about AC's new car, but then scores of engines, or even the hundreds of engines Ford sold to Shelby and AC during the Cobra period, are not a lot to a company like Ford. AC supplied one complete 3000ME to Ghia, and one bare powered chassis, and Ghia came up with the cohesive, aerodynamic coupe shown above.  When it hit the car shows  in 1981 as the AC Ghia, it generated a great deal of speculation about potential as a production sports car that could also serve as a platform for a potential rally champion, much as the Lancia Stratos had done.  The coupe was steel-bodied, but production cars, if there had been any, would have likely been done in aluminum or fiberglass. Ford's studies of AC's production facilities indicated they would have been strained to produce a thousand cars a year, and Ford was unwilling to take on the expense of tooling up for this promising car in the middle of a recession.  The two show cars were completed, however, and the second one, a four door sedan on a stretched version of the 3000ME chassis, was even more startling than the first... 


The Ghia Quicksilver which bowed on the show circuit in 1982 bore no resemblance to anything ever offered by either AC or Ford.  WIth its flush glazing, integrated airfoil spoiler and upturned rear fenders with skirted wheels and flush wheel covers, it called to mind some secret Citroen project...


Keep in mind this was 4 years before Ford produced the Sierra Cosworth rally cars,  nearly 4 years before the first aero-styled Taurus and 7 years before the Taurus SHO.  The Quicksilver would not have seemed so wild in the context of those products.  But Ford clearly had no idea where this car might have fit into their product line, so little idea that they displayed the car under a Lincoln nameplate in the USA.  As for AC, they shifted production of the 3000ME in 1984 to a firm named AC Scotland, which produced about 30 more cars before bankruptcy, and in the same year licensed production of the Cobra roadster (though not the name; Ford owned that) as the AC Mark IV to the Autokraft firm of Brian Angliss. About 480 AC Mark IV roadsters were built, nearly five times as many cars as the total production of the 3000ME, and perhaps proof that the Cobra was AC's last and best act.

*Footnote:  This is Part 4 of a series.  The other posts include "AC Cars Part 3: The Shelby AC Cobra" from 1/9/17, "Forgotten Classics—AC Part 2: There Was Life Before the Cobra",
from 12/25/16, and the first piece, "Happy Accidents with Bristol Power: AC Ace & Aceca", from 12/24/16.  For those interested in Pete Brock, the designer of the Cobra Daytona Coupe, there is "Unsung Genius: Pete Brock, Car Designer" from 1/16/17.

Photo credits:
Top:  wheelsage.org
2nd:  thegentlemanracer.com
3rd:  wikimedia
4th:  mecum.com
5th:  youtube.com
6th:  oppositelock.kinja.com
7th &  8th:  acownersclub.uk
9th:  Ford Motor Company, reprinted on carstyling.ru
10th:  gearheads.org



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Racing Improves the Breed: Cunningham's Jaguar E-Types

The story of Jaguar's E-Type has been told many times, especially on the 50th anniversary of the car's introduction, a celebration which is already half a dozen years in our rear-view mirror. The lightweight racing versions of the E-Type have also gotten lots of attention, enough that Jaguar recently re-issued this version of the car for 6 well-heeled customers, completing the originally planned run of 18 cars.  The factory also decided to complete the original order for 25 of the road-going XK-SS version of the D-type*, releasing 9 cars for avid collectors after what one writer called the longest tea break in automotive history.  Not to be reissued, however, and only dimly remembered, are a pair of cars which filled the gap between the D and E-Types, one of which marked the first appearance of an E-Type Jaguar in road racing.  In 1957, during the period when the Brown's Lane factory was releasing a handful of road-equipped D-Types with sketchy bumpers and convertible tops, they were also testing a prototype for a more practical road car based on the structure and general shape of the D...  


This was E-1A, an alloy-bodied ("A" stood for aluminum) roadster with monocoque (stressed-skin) body structure with attached tubular subframe cradling the engine, which in this case was the 2.4 liter unit from the first version of the recently-released compact Jaguar sedan (later known as the Mark I, but only after the Mark II showed up). The small engine choice was related to the 2.5 liter limit imposed by the FIA for prototype road racing cars in 1956, the year the project started. More interesting is the fact that E-1A received an independent rear suspension to go with its four-wheel disc brakes, the first Jaguar to abandon the live rear axle.  The form of the car predicts the themes of the eventual E-Type production car, with flattened ovals describing the form in plan, elevation and section.  It looked much like an elongated D-Type, but as the car was kept under wraps, the general public never saw it, and it was scrapped after completing the test program. By 1960, though, the public finally got a preview of something more like the E-Type production car, in the form of the lone E-2A prototype shared at that year's Le Mans 24 Hours by Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen, driving for the Briggs Cunningham team.  After abandoning his quest to win that race with a car of his own manufacture*, the American had become a Jaguar dealer and had taken over the firm's American racing operation.  E-2A, with its monocoque construction and riveted alloy body panels, slotted knock-off disc wheels and high tapered tail, echoed much of the D-Jag's look, and it was completed in February 1960, a year before the production car appeared.  It appeared for testing at Le Mans in April 1960 in bare aluminum.


As with E-1A and all D-types, the one-piece bonnet lifted to reveal the tubular subframe cradling a twin-cam six, in this case a fuel-injected 3 liter dry-sump version with aluminum block.  Like E-1A, the car represented an advance over the D-Type in using the new independent rear suspension design with inboard disc brakes.  As raced, the car also featured a stabilizing fin much like that on the D, and the car was still a good distance from the production E-Type which would appear in March of 1961...both the door sills and the bonnet shut line are higher than the final version. Unlike the D-Type or production E-Type, the car also featured vents at the leading edges of the rear fenders, apparently to cool those inboard rear brakes.  After adjusting rear toe-in and camber at Gurney's request, handling proved stable and steady, and E-2A posted the fastest lap time in practice. During the race itself, a ruptured pipe in the Lucas injection system was replaced, but may have caused the piston damage which caused withdrawal after six hours of racing.  Retaining its white and blue Cunningham team colors, but adopting the 3.8 liter engine with wide-angle head, the car was raced successfully in the USA, with Walt Hansgen winning at Bridgehampton and finishing third behind a Maserati Birdcage and Ferrari TR59 at Road America.  After its SCCA career in the States was over, E-2A was returned to the Jaguar factory, where it was used to test an early version of the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system which was later used on the Jensen FF, but not on the E-Type production cars.  



Malcolm Sayer's design for the production E-Types released in March 1961 shared E-2A's general profile, but lost the rear fender air intakes and gained a parabolic blister in the bonnet's center, necessary as the production engine was taller than the dry-sump racing unit.  The door sills and bonnet sill were lower, and the car was offered in a fastback coupe with side-opening hatch or a sleek roadster with wind-up windows and optional removable hardtop.  The E-Type which posted the best performance at Le Mans, however, was not one of the dozen lightweights, or even an open car like E-2A. It was a steel-bodied coupe entered and driven by Briggs Cunningham and team mate Roy Salvadori.  The car was fast and reliable enough to average just under 109 mph for the 24 hours, and finished 4th behind three Ferraris, and on the same lap as the new lightweight E-Type driven to 5th place by Sargent and Lumsden. It was the best finish ever posted by an E-Type at Le Mans. Jaguar would win the 24 Hours again, finally, in 1988 and 1990, but that would be with specialized racers.  




It might have pleased Briggs Cunningham, a Jaguar dealer, to finish ahead of a bunch of specialized racing cars in a steel-bodied coupe that closely resembled the cars he was offering to his customers...



*Footnote:  The story of Cunningham's adventure making and racing his own cars is covered in our post for April 15, 2017:  "A Moment Too Soon: The Cars of Briggs Swift Cunningham."  The Cunningham E-Type is displayed as raced at the Collier Collection in the Revs Institute, with slight differences from stock including the bubble covers for fog lights, air flow diverters behind wheel wells showing knockoff disc wheels, addition of a roll bar and deletion of bumpers.  We featured an intimate look at the D-Type Jaguar in our post for July 28, 2017, entitled "Shipshape, from an Aircraft Point of View."

Photo credits:  
Top:  Jaguar Cars, reproduced on youtube.com
2nd:  jaguarheritage.com
3rd:  slotcar-today.com
4th:  jdclassics.com
5th & 6th: the author
7th:  Ian Avery-DeWitt
8th:  jaguar.com





Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mobile vs. Prefab: If It Can't Go Anywhere, Can It At Least Look Like Home? (Part 2 of a series)

Note:  As part of a brief summer break from cars and roadside architecture, we're having a look at mobile homes and their prefabricated relatives.  Looking at an Airstream trailer, it dawned on me that this congenial, familiar form has been a part of the environment for as long as even our oldest citizens can remember...long enough that lots of people don't notice it anymore; it's something like the Swiss Army knife of trailers.  In Part One, we retraced the Airstream history. Here in Part Two, we'll have a look at some innovative prefab and modular solutions to the problem of affordable housing.  Let's travel back in time to the beginnings of a sharp economic downturn, as the sun set on the housing bubble...

During the autumn of 2008, as the Great Recession began to have its affect on the world beyond the housing industry, I had a look at two museum exhibits encompassing mobile and prefabricated housing solutions. The first stop on my eastward trek from Boulder was Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which had assembled Bay Area architect Michelle Kaufmann's two-story, prefabricated, solar-powered Smart Home, billed as Chicago's Greenest Home. Kaufmann's Oakland firm was responsible for the design and construction of about 40 prefab houses beginning in 2004. Her Smart Home featured an impressive energy efficiency rating, generous glazed areas, and cubic forms redolent of the design themes already familiar to readers of Dwell magazine...



My next stop was New York City's Museum of Modern Art, where a more diverse, multifaceted exhibit called "Home Delivery" chronicled architects' attempts to explore the potential of prefabricated construction techniques and modular forms (including stackable ones), and the possibilities of what were then becoming known as Tiny Houses. In addition to gallery exhibits encapsulating prefab design history in architect's models, drawings and photos, "Home Delivery" featured no less than five prototype home designs commissioned by the museum from an international field of architects and erected on a lot next to MOMA...



This photo attempts to capture the variety and ideological ferment conveyed by this exhibit. On the left we see Kieran Timberlake Associates' 5-story modular Cellophane House, with lightweight metal structure and bolted connections*. The Cellophane scheme placed great value on ease and speed of assembly, and seemed to draw inspiration from commonly available products like Unistrut display systems.  Barely visible to the right of Cellophane House is the Micro Compact Home (a favorite; we'll get there) and then the low, minimalist shoebox of the Austrian System 3 House, with the Burst 008 Beach House in the right foreground. The two-story Burst 008 aimed at using digital technology to minimize waste; the fractal composition of layered planes was computer-generated, and guided the cutting of around 200 plywood sheets.  Design was by Jeremy Edmiston and Douglas Gauthier.



The Micro Compact by Horden Cherry Lee Architects and Haack & Hopfner Architects, with its crisp, mass-producible, literally cubic form and communications mast with solar panels, seemed to fill the need for housing modules which could be helicoptered into disaster areas as instant habitat for emergency workers (the exhibit followed Hurricane Katrina by 2 years). But it was also envisioned as instant student or vacation housing. Inside, no opportunity for multiple, overlapping uses or fold-away work surfaces was wasted. This version of Micro Compact has steel panels; some later versions were constructed of aluminum to save weight.  Below, Micro Compact is viewed through the enormous window wall of System 3, which was designed by Oskar Kaufmann and Albert Ruf to be delivered within the confines of a shipping container.


The Cellophane House featured translucent polycarbonate stair treads and landings to go with the visible copper lattice of PV cells integrated into its window walls...




The Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans below, designed by Lawrence Sass, was a noble attempt at using technology to fill the post-Katrina housing void in that city.  It was designed to be assembled by the housing consumer and could allegedly be knocked together with a rubber mallet.  Also part of the concept was the idea of shipping the digital cutting machine with the material for the house. I wondered, though, whether technology might better be used in tooling up for a more universal housing solution (perhaps something between the tiny Micro Compact and the ambitious Cellophane) than in generating unconvincing, two-dimensional looking Victorian ornament.  


Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, a team of faculty and student architects advised by Michael Hughes at University of Colorado in Boulder was re-imagining the space and form of the long-neglected mobile home, and also having a look at how mobile home parks might better meet the needs of housing consumers.  Boulder's Mapleton Mobile Home Park had been purchased by local non-profit TCH in 2002 to insure an island of affordable housing in a very expensive housing market. A core concept of the project is ownership of the individual plots of land by the residents. This potentially erases the trap of high land rental costs, coupled with depreciating, energy-inefficient trailers which often confronts residents of conventional mobile home parks.  The team's design for their Trailer Wrap house prioritized the sense of place and home related to a specific site; if your house is not going anywhere after all, it's that spatial relationship that matters, not the wheels. On a standard 25 x 75 foot mobile home lot, the team gutted and retrofitted a donated 1965 mobile home from top to bottom, with a new shed roof over wraparound clerestory windows sheltering a new open-plan space, new finishes inside and out, and an expansion of the interior living space into an "outdoor living room" with privacy provided by a network of wood slats.  The roof slopes down to the south for a future PV array, and the long north elevation allows indirect lighting through the clerestories. 



The light and airy open plan positioned the sleeping and living / dining spaces at opposite ends, linked by a plumbing core servicing the bathroom and kitchen.  As with the houses on exhibit at MOMA, spaces and possible uses overlapped where possible and recognized the changing boundaries of work and home, including provisions for a kitchen / office duality.


The Trailer Wrap project occupied five semesters for the faculty* (Michael Hughes, Bruce Wrightsman, Peter Schneider and Willem van Vliet) and students involved, and construction cost was $46,000... 


Meanwhile, in FInland, a culture and economy where prefabricated housing was already firmly established, Heikkinen-Komonen Architects proposed the Touch House, manufactured housing with a similar articulation of private indoor-outdoor space to the Trailer Wrap, but without the trailer ...


And reflecting the fact that Scandinavians already had a substantial lead on the Americans in prefab technology and acceptance, so much so that IKEA offers lines of prefabricated houses in its stores there...


Epilogue: Michele Kaufmann Design's prefab home operation closed its doors in May 2009, a victim of the financial crisis. Banks, which during the housing bubble period had been eager to provide mortgages on scanty evidence of applicant's income or even jobs, were suddenly nervous about providing loans for prefabricated homes.  Despite a history grounded in Sears Roebuck's early 20th century marketing of kit houses (the subject of a future essay), prefabricated and modular houses have struggled for market share in the USA.  As the US economy began to emerge from the Great Recession in 2011, only about 46,000 prefab houses were in use nationally, as compared to around 130,500,000 conventional houses*.  When you compare this figure with the 70 percent share of all housing in Sweden, you wonder what factors may be in play to explain the fact that Scandinavians apparently like prefabs over two hundred times as well as Americans.  We'll explore possible reasons when we review the history in Part 3.


*Footnotes:  Figures on numbers of prefab vs. conventional houses are from Wikipedia. The Trailer Wrap project is detailed by Michael Hughes and Bruce Wrightsman in Oz, Volume 28, Article 4 dated Jan. 1, 2006, "Trailer Wrap: Re-Fabricating Manufactured Housing", from newprairiepress.org.

*Errata:  Like the New York Times, I originally reported that Cellphane house was 4 stories and steel-framed. Kieran Timberlake's website notes that it was built from off-the-shelf aluminum framing components using custom steel connectors, and was 80 percent complete within 6 days. Like the Times reporter, I failed to visit the penthouse floor and terrace; Kieran Timberlake correctly counts it as the 5th story.  

Photo Credits:
All photos of Chicago and New York exhibits:  the author
CU Trailer Wrap project:  Michael DeLeon Photo, reproduced by plastolux.com
Touch House (bottom photo):  Heikkinen-Komonen Architects, Finland



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Worst Car Designs Ever: Late Entries in the Sweepstakes

Our series on "Worst Car Designs Ever" (starting just over a year ago, on 7/28/16 ) was one of the most popular ever with readers.  Could it be that while people have a preference for success in their own lives, they enjoy reading about failure in the lives of others?  In any case, a surprising number of people came back again and again to follow tales of industrial design woe…we didn't get into engineering disasters like the exploding Pintos, oil-glutton Vegas or shrapnel-in-waiting NSU rotaries because they've been so thoroughly covered elsewhere, and because those mechanical disasters were hidden under fairly smooth (and in a couple of cases inspired) exteriors. So instead we focused on things the consumer can see: packaging, proportions and massing, surface development and detailing.  You know, industrial designer stuff.  Frequent reader George Havelka sent some photos of the newest Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicle and nominated it as a late entry in our Worst Ever Sweepstakes.  Let's take a walk around the car and see what went wrong...


First you notice the fashionable (in Japan anyway) torturing of innocent light fixtures and air intakes into a vaguely hostile transformer face.  As with the BMW i3 we featured in "Worst Car Designs Part 4" (8/11/16), blackout graphics have been employed to erode any sense of structure, as where the white arrow shapes at the leading edge of the spoiler point at each other across a black void. The bright hockey stick shapes above these arrows attract attention, but only emphasize the floating, seemingly unsupported bumper mass.


At the rear we have the truncated barrel effect also seen on the Accord 5-door.  The rear window is almost horizontal, so you wonder why the designers didn't put a pane of glass between the tail lights for some outward vision.  Note the arc formed into the fender over the rear wheel well, maybe to remind us of the circular shape of the wheels…which is subverted by the diagonal slash which cuts off the top of the well.  More diagonal slashes form air intakes forward of the rear wheels; you can see these better in the front 3/4 view.  This seems to be as good a moment as any to remind ourselves that Honda has designed coherent, well-integrated, even inspired cars in the recent past.  Here's a Civic sedan from 2006:

Note the simplicity of the thing, and the way that embossed shapes, indentations and extraneous moldings have been held to a minimum.  Where they occur, as with the spear shape which crosses the lower doors and connects (in an imaginary way) the front wheel center and rear bumper, they are employed to enhance rather than subvert the overall form.  Note the way that spear points to the crisp crease which rounds the front bumper and forms a boundary to the lower air intake…The Acura TL sedan from the same year (below) is just as easy to admire.  Everything is simple and sufficient, from the way the shallow indent a few inches below the window sills houses the door handles as well as the side marker lights as it reduces the apparent height of the car, to the way the chamfered fold in the base of the door lines up with front wheel center and continues as a line forward of the wheels, which in turn merges with a bar across the center of the lower air intakes.  

Effortless and elegant, and replaced 3 years later by the overweight TL with the can-opener grille and the odd bump in the front fenders…


The new Toyota Mirai fuel cell car (shown in front and rear views below) is an even more haphazard collection of unrelated shapes and lines, with any apparent connections or themes gone AWOL.  As both the Clarity and the Mirai happen to be fuel cell cars, one wonders of there was some conscious decision to go for shock value to attract attention...






Too bad, as the fuel cell is an interesting idea, and deserves better packaging than a mass of seasick, heaving sheet metal and plastic.


After we featured a Citroen 2CV in our original survey of controversial designs, journalist Dan Baum wrote to defend the Deux Chevaux and to nominate one of Citroen's attempts at a successor to the famous "umbrella with four wheels".  I'd have to agree that the Dyane introduced in 1967 was not a happy design, though it was less polarizing than the Ami 6 (featured on 8/3/16), which was also based on the 2CV.  The Panhard design staff was allegedly responsible because the Citroen designers were at work on a remodel of the legendary DS; perhaps the Panhardistes took their revenge on Citroen for that company's long neglect of the Panhard product line.  In any case, the Dyane design gets off to a bad start with round headlights housed in bright metal housings which are rectangular.  Then there the doors, which have big concave indents below the window sill line which may have prevented the use of roll-down windows.  Like the 2CV and Ami 6, the Dyane made do with sliding front windows...  



By 1967, the 1940s massing of the Dyane, with its separate clamshell front fenders and squared-off bubble rear fenders, was at odds with the plasticky, halfhearted modernism of the surface indents and details.  It looked a bit like a full-scale plastic replica of a 1940s car which might've been made behind the Iron Curtain…The whole thing is enough to make you nostalgic for the directness and honesty of the original Deux Chevaux, whose designers never strayed from their assigned goals.  French farmers could indeed drive this vehicle across a rutted field with a basket of eggs without breaking any.  And they could carry their products to market by removing the rear seats, and then take out the front ones and hose down the interior when they were done.  What the 2CV has that most modern designs lack is, well…clarity.

Photo credits:
Top:  consumerreports.org
2nd:  motortrend.com
3rd & 4th:  wikimedia
5th & 6th: caranddriver.com
7th thru 9th:  wikimedia