Archive for February 28, 2008

Futuristic Shape and Radical Design

Tatra T-87

top speed approaching 100 mph, efficient aerodynamic characteristics,

weird triple-headlights and an air-cooled engine in the back,
this car
had radical looks and even more radical engineering.
The only American
car approaching it in innovation at the time
would be Tucker 48,
although "the Tucker" story merits its own article
(it did not go over
too well with the American car industry, alas).

designers created numerous streamline rear-engine
throughout the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1938,
Tatra was the only company
to put rear-engine streamliners into
serial production. After the Tatra
T77 debuted in 1934,
American automobile companies, including Ford,
created prototype
rear engine automobiles, but never produced them."

The internet is a big place, and it already happens to have
a site dedicated to the old Tatra cars:
International Streamlined Tatra Site.
We strongly recommend checking it out for the various details of this car’s exceptional history.

The Start of Tatra

the mid 19th century "Tatra" had been the manufacturer
of carriages and
rail coaches, but once Austrian-born engineer
Hans Ledwinka joined the
company, it switched to
automobile production. See some examples

Everything changed again in the 30s, when Hans introduced
air-cooled rear-engine design, drastically different
from all other
box-shaped cars at the time.

The Tatra Type 57 with aerodynamic body by Paul Jaray (1932):

model (improved and enlarged V570 prototypes from 1933).
This is
probably the most well-known Tatra shape, and the most futuristic:

only did they have a headlight in the middle of a car,
but some of the
T77 models also had the steering wheel located in
the center of the
dashboard. The driver sat slightly ahead and
between the front seat
passangers, almost like a true pilot.

Some Tatras made shortly after WWII (1946):

Tatra 87 model:
(They have Tatra 87 at the Minneapolis Museum of Art)

….and further in the 50s (see here)
Tatra still looks very strange
and rather elegant. However, the
original master-mind behind
the design – engineer Hans Ledwinka was
promptly imprisoned
by Communists after the war for suspected
collaboration with Nazis…
and when rehabilitated, he wisely emigrated
back to Austria.
So the post-war Tatras are pleasing for the eye, but
nowhere as
radical as the old ones.

Interesting Tatra – Volkswagen connection:

We spoke about VW Beetle early concepts influence on American designers
in our previous
However, VW and Porsche took a few hints
(and more) from other European
companies as well.
Compare these shots of Tatra T97 (1936) and KdF
(Beetle prototype):

Schilperoord writes: "In the late 1930s it became clear that VW
used several patents of the Tatra factory. It’s likely Porsche used

these patents because of the enormous presure from Hitler to develop

the KdF-Wagen in a short time and on a tight budget. Just before
outbreak of WWII Tatra had ten legal claims against VW
for infringement
of patents. Although Porsche was about to make
a settlement with Tatra,
Hitler stopped him and told Porsche he would
"solve this problem".
Shortly after he invaded Czechoslovakia and
gained control over the
Tatra factory. Hitler immediately stopped
the production of the T97
after only 508 cars were built.
The T97’s big brother, the V8-powered
T87, did remain in production
during the first years of the war. The
T87 was considered
by German highcommand as the ultimate car for
new German Autobahns and was a real favourite amongst German officers."

to another source, after the war VW had to pay Tatra an
undisclosed sum
of money for infringing on Tatra’s design
(which VW does not
particularly likes to discuss nowadays)

Tatra was not the only company producing streamlined cars in Europe,
and even not the only one in Czechoslovakia.

Here is Wikov Type 35 car, having the similar airplane-fashion approach
to its design.

Back in the US:
Teague Car: a curious three-headlight rear-engine sedan design
proposal published in the 30s

Possibly the very first streamlined car

Another aerodynamic oddity, mostly forgotten today –
"Rumpler Tropfenwagen"

Edmund Rumpler presented "Rumpler Tropfenwagen" in Motor show
in Berlin in 1921. (See German-language Wikipedia

the curved window panes: they were used here
for the first time.
Aerodynamically speaking, it was almost sensational:
its coefficient of
drag was only 0.28. The driver sat in the front-center,
behind him was
space for four passangers. Only 100 cars were built,
however, due to
the weak 6-cylinder engine and the obvious absense
of trunk space.
(trunks were attached to the later models as an after-thought).
The car
became famous in the other way: Fritz Lang used a number of them
in his
legendary "Metropolis".

Some other patented ideas from the same company
(this one dated 1919):

Thanks to Daniel Wenzel for this tip.

First American Streamlined Cars & Vans

American "Airomobile" vs. Volkswagen

It all started with Airomobile’s first streamlined patents, 1934:

Automobile, Travel, Photography
Automobile, Travel, Photography
Automobile, Travel, Photography

Airomobile" was a prototype designed by Paul M. Lewis in 1934 (it was
built in 1937). It stimulated great interest and was clearly ahead of
its time. The 3-wheeled configuration provided streamlining and
economy: "They’re easier to streamline," Paul Lewis said, "Fewer wheels
mean less expense, greater simplicity."

Automobile, Travel, Photography

"Volkswagen and Airomobile
were both created about the same time, both strange to look at, their
engineering completely unorthodox, their purpose: cheap transportation
for the masses."

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Car, Travel, Photography

then something happened – social history took over. World War II cast
VW up and the Airomobile down. If the two cars had switched countries,
their success and failure might have been just the other way around."

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Car, Travel, Photography

is the emblem of "Lewis American Airways, Inc." issued in 1935 and
signed by the Company’s President Paul M. Lewis (designer of

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Car, Travel, Photography

Further reading: 1, 2

Other cool concepts from the same period:

"McQuay-Norris" – only 6 were made in the Thirties.

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Car, Travel, Photography
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A teardrop-shaped car, designed in 1934 Norman Bel Geddes:
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Car, Travel, Photography

"DYMAXION" – The Original American Van

Dymaxion Car
was a teardrop-shaped, 3-wheeled, aluminum bodied auto,
designed by
Buckminster Fuller in 1933. It was very much like a big van:
it seated
the driver and 10 passengers, but weighed less than 1000 lbs.,
went 120
miles/hr on a 90 horsepower engine, and got between 30-50 miles
to the
gallon of gas. "Fuller referred to it as "Omni-Medium Transport" since

it was ultimately intended to go by land, water, or sky.
Only three
were ever built."

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Car, Travel, Photography

Car, Travel, Photography

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Car, Travel, Photography

FASCINATION – An amazingly practical "Space Car"

This was Paul M. Lewis second car creation: "Highway Aircraft Corporation"
(Sidney, Nebraska) unveiled
"Tomorrow’s Car Today": the Fascination.,

which nearly revolutionized car design at the time. This sleek,
jet-tube-fendered three-wheeler even today looks very futuristic.

Car, Travel, Photography

Here is how this article describes it:
"First, let’s look under the hood (presuming it has one, somewhere).
While the
standard engine is an aluminum,
fuel-injected four-cylinder, a new type
of energy source is touted
as the vehicle’s soon-to-come power drive:
the Nobel Gas Plasma Engine.
engine is a closed two-cycle reciprocating engine that has no intake,

uses no air, emitting no exhaust at all! The fuel is self-contained
hermetically sealed in the cylinders which are initially charged
at the
time of manufacturing, carrying their own power supply
that will last
approximately 60 to 75 thousand miles with no fall of efficiency."

An environmentally safe engine that doesn’t need refueling for 60,000 miles
– why haven’t we heard of this miracle power source?
(GM or Ford
obviously must have sent out their minions to squelch
such a
potentially damaging competitor.)"

Car, Travel, Photography

although you may think that a three-wheeled craft may be
more prone to
rollover (the main reason why three-wheeled ATVs were banned),
brochure lays this assumption to rest:

"We can approach crossroads
at 40 mph and without taking our
foot off the throttle, turn the corner
at full speed. The car does not roll."

Cold War: Gas Mask Fashion

Posted: February 28, 2008 in History, Life, War, War Documentary

Experience You Don’t Forget

Those of you who remember the "hottest" days of the Cold War
(Cuban Missile Crisis, Brezhnev’s Fight with Imperialism, etc)
will know more about gas masks than modern generation.
Wear it once, get scarred for life. Here are some ultimately
creepy shots from "gas mask" nuclear defense craze in the 50s and 60s:

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion

History, Culture, Fashion
(Source: Vintage Photo)

Threat of nuclear destruction was very tangible then
(some argue, even as it is now).
Have a look at this comparison of nuclear bombs,
starting with the "microscopic" Hiroshima bomb:

History, Culture, Fashion

To scare yourself even more, read this excellent list of
Close Calls in the Nuclear Age.

October 25, 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis)
a security guard at an air base in Duluth, Minnesota,
saw a shadowy figure scaling one of the fences enclosing the base.
He shot at the intruder and activated an intruder alarm,
automatically setting off intruder alarms at neighboring bases.

However, at the Volk Field air base in Wisconsin,
the Klaxon loudspeaker had been wired incorrectly,
and instead sounded an alarm ordering F-106A interceptors armed
with nuclear missiles to take off. The pilots assumed that a full-scale
nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union had begun, and the planes
were about to take off when a car from the air traffic control tower
raced down the tarmac and signaled the planes to stop.
The intruder in Duluth had finally been identified: it was a bear."

"Bomb Paranoia" starts early: marvel at Hitler’s plans to bomb America in 1946:

History, Culture, Fashion
(Source: Modern Mechanix)

The "End of the World" as we know it:
This fascinating chart details the time-line of complete disappearance
of any trace of human civilization from Earth, in case of an "extinction
event": asteroid strike, or all-out nuclear war. After the humans are gone:

History, Culture, Fashion

– in 50 years all cities are overgrown with vegetation.
– in 1000 years most brick, concrete and stone buildings are gone.
– in 50,000 years all glass and plastics disappear.
– nuclear waste remains deadly for 2 million years.

History, Culture, Fashion

How much fun can you have with a gas mask on your face?
None whatsoever.

yet multitudes of people of various age and
occupation donned these rubber/plastic stifling contraptions,
most as an entirely justifiable part of the Cold War civil defense exercises,
but some – well, see for yourself. Could there be a type
of people who would adopt "gas mask fashion" for no apparent reason? –

History wears a gas mask

Weirdest faces in masks, from history’s worst nightmares:

One of the first gas masks (Zelinsky model) from 1913:

Panzer driver protective mask, 1917:

Red Army Chemical Weapons Protective Suit, 1930:

Gas masks apparently refuse to protect capitalists:

This could easily be a shot from apocalyptic movie
(the sign says "contaminated") –

The evolution of female beauty:

You don’t want even to touch these rats:

Early gas masks for horses:

Dogs did not escape this fate, either:
(See complete history of gas mask equipment for dogs here)

Pretending to be a mushroom does not help,
but wearing this full-body suit (Red Army, 1940) certainly does:

historic examples: vintage photography of people in masks,
impersonal face asking a silent question: "Why?",
"What did I do to deserve this?" and "How long will this go on?"

Nurses wearing masks, 1942:

This mysterious banquet occurs under very portentious slogan:
"Why wait until 1955? We might not even be alive!"

Considering this poster of atomic weather and back-then political situation,
they could have been right:

And looking at the next posters, I’d say these soldiers should don their masks,
and quickly:

This picture supposed to show the actual nuclear detonation as part
of Soviet war games in the 50s in Semipalatinsk:
(many soldiers perished as a result) –

This is THE first Soviet atomic bomb: RDS-1 from 1949:

Later model bomb (smaller and more lethal, of course):

Some of the Soviet machinery of that period looked positively weird:
this one TM-59 was supposed to clean up airstrips after contamination:

These girls are not in the masks yet, but soon will be:

Closer to our times:

"Pop!" goes the pop art

Modern pop art makes a good use of gas masks, making them a symbol of…
well, holistic wickedness? wicked innocence? Who knows:

(vector art by se7en)

Gas masks end up on customized bikes:

… in the bathroom:

… all over the street:

or at "Burning Man" avant-garde art competitions:

And we’ll close with the most emphatic image of all:
(nuclear fallout shelter? I only hope this is just a piece of art)