Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Lord K's Garage - #39. Streamline. The Beginning

The first chapter of the Streamline Story, told here (intentionally) without any rules or formal order, belongs to Edmund Rumpler.

Actually, the first teardrop- or bullet-shaped cars were built before the Great War (Camille Jenatzy's land speed record electric vehicle, 1899; Neander-Opel, 1911; Count Ricotti's Alfa Romeo, 1914). But the first scientifically designed streamlined car appeared only in 1921, at the car show in Berlin.
Edmund Rumpler (1872 – 1940), the Tropfenwagen creator, was an Austrian automobile and aircraft designer. Born in Vienna, he worked mainly in Germany. An automotive engineer by training, he collaborated with Hans Ledwinka on the first Nesseldorf (later Tatra), the Präsident, in 1897.

In 1902, he had quit Daimler to become technical director of Adler. There he designed the first German vehicle to have engine and gearbox as a unit. The next year, he patented a swing axle rear suspension system (an idea later adopted by Ferdinand Porsche for the KdF Wagen/VW and Porsche 911, as well as by Chevrolet for the Corvair).
The Wright brothers turned Rumpler's attention to aviation. He quit Adler in 1907, and in 1910, copying countryman Igo Etrich's Taube, Rumpler became the first ever aircraft manufacturer in Germany.
Rumpler continued to be interested in automobiles, and after the First World War, he applied aircraft streamlining to a car, building the Tropfenwagen ("teardrop car") in Berlin. A production model proved a sensation.

Rumpler's efforts produced a car with an astoundingly low drag coefficient of only 0.28 (when tested in 1979); the Fiat of the period, by contrast, was 0.60.

The car featured a Siemens & Halske-built 2,580 cc (157 cu in) overhead valve W6 engine, with three banks of paired cylinders, all working on a common crankshaft. Producing 36 hp (27 kW), it was mounted just ahead of the rear axle, the first mid-engined car ever.

Able to seat four or five, all the passengers were carried between the axles, for maximum comfort, while the driver was alone at the front, to maximize view. With the 1923 model, two tip-up seats were added. Weighing nearly 3,000 lb (1,361 kg), the Tropfenwagen was nevertheless capable of 70 mph (110 km/h) on its mere 36 hp (27 kW).

Fritz Lang employed a number of Tropfenwagen in his great Metropolis (1927):

The Rumpler design inspired the 1923 Benz Tropfenwagen (which used the virtually-unchanged Rumpler chassis, see below) and Auto Union (also built in part by Rumpler engineers) Grand Prix racers.

Rumpler's Tropfenwagen failed to achieve a commercial success, and only 100 Tropfenwagen were built.

Just two survive, one in the Deutsches Museum's Verkehrszentrum in Munich and one in the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin.

Rumpler returned to aircraft - and in the late 1920's his Berlin workshop built a small number of streamlined trucks:

Because Rumpler was Jewish, he was imprisoned after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, and his career was ruined, even though he was soon released. He died in 1940, and the Nazis destroyed his records.

Source: Wiki (1, 2)

Next week: Paul Jaray

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Comment by lord_k on May 31, 2010 at 5:24am
To Pilsner Panther:
I've got a lot of Dymaxion pictures. They will appear in this column in a few weeks.
Comment by Pilsner Panther on May 31, 2010 at 5:18am
Another teardrop-shaped automobile was Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car, designed sometime the 30's. Does anyone have any pictures of the thing? Its most innovative feature was a pivoting tail wheel like an airplane's, which allowed it to turn and park in very small spaces, not much more than the vehicle's own length, but this same wheel apparently caused it to turn over and crash, killing either the driver or a bystander.

Personally, I'd love to own a Doble steam car, but I don't have enough money to buy one of the last working models from Jay Leno. Not to mention that I can't drive, but if you could afford the Doble, you could certainly afford a driver. In uniform! Just like Norma Desmond and Max in "Sunset Boulevard."
Comment by Larry on May 28, 2010 at 10:36pm
Those are great. I share Hayen's love for steam car.
Comment by Pablo J. Alvarez on May 28, 2010 at 6:09pm
The truck is incredible.
Comment by Tome Wilson on May 28, 2010 at 8:47am
I wonder if the teardrop shape will ever catch on. It's been stuck in the underground for quite some time now.

The latest commercially available model I remember seeing was the Aptera (http://www.aptera.com/).
Comment by Hayen Mill on May 28, 2010 at 8:41am
I LOVE streamlined cars. Thanks for posting this!

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