Streamlined Rear-Engine Car Designed for American Market (Jul, 1931)

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Streamlined Rear-Engine Car Designed for American Market

REVOLUTIONARY features in motor car design, including such innovations as hydraulic steering and a streamlined body with the motor at the rear of the chassis, are embodied in an automobile designed by John Tjaarda, associated with General Motors Corporation. Tests of the novel car are now being carried out, and it is likely that the streamlined automobile will be put in production shortly. Prices of the car in various models, based on the cost of various experimental types, are expected to be remarkably low, ranging from $700 to $1800.

Advantages of the rear-engine type of construction include such features as freedom from noise and engine fumes and heat, more body room, adjustable road clearance, better dynamic balance permitted through elimination of the conventional drive shaft, and improved body suspension.

All four wheels of the car will be independently sprung. This is a feature of design which will no doubt soon be adapted by manufacturers of conventional type cars, many of whom are now experimenting with the idea.

Hydraulic steering gear of simple construction permits the steering wheel to be located on either the left or right side of the driver’s seat so that the car can easily be adapted to export markets where right-hand drives are popular. The chassis is hung from Adams suspension units, which are ingenious rubber mountings giving the utmost in flexibility and strength. As illustrated in one of the accompanying drawings, this unit consists of two toothed disks, between which fits a plate of rubber molded to fit. Lubrication is thus unnecessary, and the unit is noiseless at all times.

It is interesting to note that the streamlined car follows along the line of development predicted in the February issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. There is nothing strictly original in the idea of a streamlined car, nor in the mounting of a motor at the rear, both of these features having been incorporated in a British automobile designed by Commander Burney of the dirigible R-100 some months ago. But the adaptation of the idea to the American mass market, involving the production of thousands of cars, is a new development. It is not improbable that the flivver of ten years from now will resemble the photographs reproduced on these pages.

Until the perfection of air-cleaning devices, the mounting of the motor at the rear of a car suffered from the inevitable disadvantage of being forced to breathe dust-choked air through its carburetor, causing the motor to wear out too quickly. Some of the first automobiles, twenty years ago, had their motors mounted at the rear, and many of us can remember the days of the “side winder” which was cranked on the side, of the car.

Although designer Tjaarda is associated with General Motors, the promotion of the streamlined car is being carried on by a small group of automotive engineers and manufacturers who will probably place the car on the market as an individual corporation.

Commenting on the new car Mr. Tjaarda says: “Interest prevails at present for rear-engine cars, and for good reasons. The present-day car has almost attained its height of perfection. If streamlining is going to take seriously in the near future as is predicted the arrangement of our cars today affords so many difficulties that it is not worth while to consider such a step. For many years to come there will remain an active market for the type of cars to which we are now accustomed with progress having its way. However, there is no doubt that the rear-engine car is the car of the near future.”

  1. John Cena Game says: January 7, 20101:47 pm

    That’s awesome. It reminds of the Batmobile or something!

  2. KD5ZS says: January 7, 20103:20 pm

    Interesting that GM didn’t actually produce such a car until goaded by Volkswagen that used a rear mounted air cooled engine. (The Corvair.) Most rear engined cars were air cooled as putting a rear mounted radiator was not the most efficient way to cool an engine. In the super cars of today (Porsche, Ferrari, etc.) the radiator is mounted in the front, even if the engine is in the back.

  3. rick says: January 7, 20104:14 pm

    Yes KD52Z, GM did indeed need a lot of goading to produce a rear engine car. And I notice that, other than the dorsal fin, the car also looks a lot like a rather stretched-out version of the original VW beetle. BTW I had one of those early beetles and later on two corvairs.


  4. KD5ZS says: January 7, 20105:01 pm

    There was a lot to be said for air cooled engines– as the cooling system was essentially a drive belt that also drove the dynamo/alternator; unfortunately the engines were noisy and difficult to smog. A drive belt is much easier to replace than a radiator, water pump, thermostat, hoses, etc.

  5. rick says: January 7, 201011:34 pm

    I don’t recall exactly how many mpg I got back then but the corvairs I had were pretty spunky for all that. Of course they were also pretty light. Another thing i liked about them was the better traction i got in snow compared with the rear wheel drive cars I previously owned. The VW bug also had that same trait in snow but it was sluggish compared to the corvairs. Of course we now have front wheel drive cars and they are far superior to both the rear engine and front engine rear wheel drive vehicles. My Saturn has been consistently giving me 25 mpg city driving over the last 8 years I’ve had it as well as great snow traction. Now it will also go the way of the corvair and rear wheel VW.


  6. tcrosse says: January 8, 201010:16 am

    Looks a whole lot like the Czech Tatra of the period.

  7. hwertz says: January 8, 201011:07 pm

    Air-cooled engines were hard to smog for two reasons… 1) VW beetle in particular, was using a 1920s or so era engine throughout it’s life. It just wasn’t going to run as clean as even a 50’s-era one. 2) The air cooling would has hot spots as a conseqeuence (on a water cooled-engine, the water jacket would run near these hot spots to cool them.) Even a fairly brief leanout could overheat these hot spots, so the carburetor has to be tuned rich to avoid running lean under the carbuertors worst-case leanout conditions. (I’ve ridden in a beetle with electronic fuel injection retrofitted on and it actually ran MUCH MUCH cleaner, since the fuel injection could provide a consistent mixture it could be tuned much leaner than a carbureted setup could be.)

    I don’t know what’s up with the diagram on that second page, they have a FWD and RWD car having the same center of gravity. This read-engined car must have had an extrodinarily heavy front end to have the rear engine layout yield a centered center of gravity — my FWD Chevy Celebrity was 51% front and 49% rear, and I thought both VWs and Porsches (both rear engine..) were significantly rear weight biased.

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