Jet Age Mobile Telephony

James Kraus

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Automatic Electric Mobiltel car phone brochure, 1960

In the early decades of motoring; if you wanted to make a phone call while on the road, you pulled over, parked and fed coins into a public telephone.

Civilian in-car mobile telephones were first introduced in the 1940s. By the 1960s new models were developed incorporating significant improvements. Chief among these was the general rollout of full duplex operation allowing both parties to speak simultaneously. Full duplex phones obviated the need for a push-to-talk button in the handset and over and out-style communication. Another major advance, direct dialling, became available by mid-decade in selected markets.   Continue reading

Clear Tail Lamps: The Height of Automotive Fashion… Fifty Years Ago

James Kraus

1965 Cadillac Calais

1965 Cadillac Calais

Clear tail lights are quite popular today and appear on several new models as standard or optional equipment from the Toyota Prius to the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage. Many people mistakenly believe they were introduced in 1998 with the debut of the Toyota Altezza (Lexus IS) although the Toyota actually only had conventional tail lamps covered by clear acrylic; the design did not conceal the underlying red filter lenses. Clear tail lamps, like so many automotive technologies, actually first surfaced in the 1960s. Many of them were more sophisticated than some recent examples.   Continue reading

Advent of the Downforce-Inducing Aerodynamic Appendage

by James Kraus

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Ferrari 250 GTO

While aerodynamic efficiency was occasionally a consideration in the design of road cars as early as the 1920s, it was only from a perspective of achieving reduced air resistance. Interest in generating aerodynamic downforce did not manifest itself until the 1960s. Not surprisingly, experimentation and development first occurred in the competition arena.  Continue reading

How the Damper Became a Shock Absorber

by James Kraus

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Koni adjustable damper at the front of a Porsche 356C

One of the disparities in the automotive lexicon is the term bestowed upon the damper/shock absorber. In Germany and the majority of the English speaking world, it’s a damper. In the U.S., France, Italy and Spain, it’s a shock absorber. Deciding which is the more correct designation depends to a large degree on the era under discussion.  Continue reading

Milestones in Jet Age Air Travel

by James Kraus

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Air France Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde

Paying homage to its Jet Age subtitle, today Auto Universum takes to the skies in celebration of three significant milestones in jet travel that occurred in the final year of the 1960s: the initial flights of the Boeing 747, Playboy DC-9 and Concorde. Before examining these, it is worth a glance back to the very birth of the Jet Age.

World War II was the first major battle whose outcome was largely determined by air superiority. Airplanes had come a long way since WWI in aeronautics, airframe design and propulsion. Aircraft designers soon realized that further speed increases were being held back by the limitations of engine-driven propellers, the efficiency of which falls sharply as blade tip rotational speed approaches Mach 1.0.  Continue reading

The Wankel Motor: 1960’s Engine of the Future

by James Kraus

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World’s first Wankel-powered production car: the NSU Spider, 1964

Automobiles can trace their reciprocating-piston engines back to the early days of steam power. As internal combustion replaced steam as the preferred method of powering transport, the concept of using reciprocating pistons to convert energy into motion was carried over.

As the automobile matured, the efficiency and operating smoothness of the reciprocating piston engine gradually improved through the use of a multiplicity of smaller cylinders, shorter piston strokes, counterbalanced crankshafts and other refinements. By the dawn of the 1960s however; the automobile was seemingly falling behind aviation, which had switched to smooth continuous-combustion jet engines. A number of auto manufacturers experimented with gas turbine engines, but none entered mass production.

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Forgotten American Cold War Artifact: CONELRAD

by James Kraus

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Bendix AM radio, Volkswagen Deluxe Sedan, 1956. In the event of imminent thermonuclear attack, simply set the dial to one of the white triangles and stand by for further instructions.

Bendix AM radio, Volkswagen Deluxe Sedan, 1956. In the event of imminent thermonuclear attack, simply set the dial to one of the white triangles and stand by for further instructions.

In 1951, the U.S. government initiated the CONELRAD (CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation) system in an effort to prevent the possibility of incoming Russian bombers using transmitting signals from U.S. broadcast antennas as navigational aids.

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Michelin and the Birth of the Radial Tyre

by James Kraus

Advertisement for the Michelin X Radial Tyre, 1950

Today, radial-ply tyres are virtually universal, while back in the mid-twentieth century, they were considered exotic. The vast majority of cars still rode on tyres of bias-ply construction, the basic layout of the pneumatic tyre since the heyday of the bicycle.

Bias-ply tyres had reinforcing plies running across the entire tyre from bead to bead, each at an approximate angle (bias) of 35 degrees from the direction of travel. The design dictated that the ply configuration be uniform throughout the tyre: if there were four plies under the tread, there was by necessity four plies throughout the sidewalls.

Most passenger car tyres were built with up to four plies of cotton cord, while trucks and buses rode on tyres with as many as twenty plies. The downside of a high ply-count was excessive heat build-up within the tyre. In order to reduce the ply-count while retaining the necessary strength, Michelin developed the first tyre with steel cord plies in the late 1930’s for large trucks and buses. This breakthrough allowed reduced ply-counts back down to the two-to-four range, greatly reducing heat generation and prolonging tread life.

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Music from Modena: The Melodic Ferrari V8

by James Kraus

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Jean-Claude Andruet and Michèle “Biche” Espinosi-Petit on their way to overall victory at the 1982 Tour de France in a Ferrari 308 GTB

Why do Ferrari’s V8’s sound so delicious, almost as enticing and melodious as a V12? It comes from the use of a single-plane “flat” crankshaft in lieu of the typical cross-plane (two-plane) crankshaft. Workaday V8 engines utilize the cross-plane crank to optimize mechanical smoothness; an admittedly important consideration when transporting a hedge fund manager and his mistress to a performance of Die Walküre at the Théâtre de Genève in a BMW 750i, or a load of sensitive electronic test equipment behind a MAN TGX in route to the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

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The Advent of Fuel Injection

by James Kraus

Messerschmitt Me 109 fighter powered by a Mercedes-Benz V12 fed with Bosch fuel injection

World War II, and the events preceding, did much to seed the development of automotive fuel injection. The concept of injecting precise amounts of fuel into the engine, as opposed to relying on vacuum to draw in approximately the right amount always held promise. The potential of overcoming the carburettor drawbacks of sensitivity to g-forces and altitude changes increased the allure. The war sped things along.

By 1940, Italy was suffering from widespread fuel shortages due largely to the vast amounts of gasoline Mussolini sent to Spain in support of Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Shortages intensified when export of petroleum products to Italy was banned by the League of Nations.

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The Godfathers of Automotive Propulsion

by James Kraus

Prototype Lamborghini V12, with chief designer Giotto Bizzarrini, Ferrucio Lamborghini and chassis designer Gian Paolo Dallara. Sant’Agata, Italy, 1963

Please join me in saluting ten automobile engines that conquered time and defied obsolescence. Engines with staying power. All have all been offered for sale in the world’s most competitive markets for over 40 years. They represent a full range, from inline and opposed twins to V12’s in sizes ranging from 0.4 litre to 6.8 litres. Some were conceived as cost-no-object exercises; others, humble workhorse engines of the people. Still others were robust mainstream powerplants that attained immortality in the crucible of competition. A few are still available. Read the rest of this entry ››