A Flathead engine, with its valves ensconced in the block, was still a competitive design in the low-compression, low-speed engines of the prewar era. That changed and changed quickly with higher-octane fuels allowing for higher compression ratios, and improved metallurgy and shorter-stroke engine designs enabling considerably higher crankshaft speeds.
The large-volume combustion chambers and upside-down valve placement required in a flathead engine conspired to limit the compression ratio to around 8.4:1, after which power and fuel efficiency both decreased.
1961 Pontiac Catalina with the original 8-Lug wheel; introduced mid-1960.
American cars of the 1960s were certainly not renowned for their braking prowess. Except for a handful of exceptions, disc brakes were not widely available until 1967 and the drum brakes provided were generally small in size and nowhere near up to the weight and power of the cars to which they were fitted. Continue reading →
The 1960s were the final years of glory at General Motors. They had the lion’s share of the U.S. car sales, as well as a good portion of the European market via their Opel and Vauxhall brands. In the U.S, they built America’s only cars with four-wheel disc brakes, fuel injection, turbocharging and independent rear suspension. Before the decade was out, they would add another arrow to their quiver, the first American postwar car with front-wheel drive. Continue reading →
U.S.-spec 718 Boxster. Is the driver braking? Turning? Who knows? Who cares? Porsche doesn’t; but you should.
Everywhere outside of North America, rear turn indicators are required to be amber in colour. This is due to extensive research going back decades demonstrating amber conclusively outperforming red in terms of recognition time. The latest studies by the NHTSA in 2008 and 2009 show a significant reduction in collisions when vehicles are equipped with amber rear indicators (assuming of course that drivers actually use them.) Continue reading →
Unsafe At Any Speed, Ralph Nader. First Edition; November, 1965.
Fifty years ago, new 1968 autos sat glistened in showrooms across America. These were a bit different from previous new cars; for the first time in history their design was heavily influenced by U.S. government regulations. New federal legislation required reductions of harmful vehicular emissions, and increased safety for drivers and passengers. Today Auto Universum looks back at the history of automotive safety design and the background of the numerous safety features that greeted new U.S. car buyers in 1968. Continue reading →
Fifty years ago, new 1968 autos began appearing in showrooms across America. These were a bit different from previous new cars; for the first time their design was heavily influenced by the U.S. government. New federal regulations covered two key areas of automotive engineering with twin goals in mind: a reduction of harmful vehicular emissions and increased safety for drivers and passengers. Today Auto Universum looks back at the early years of emission reduction. Continue reading →
Don Draper in his Starlight Silver 1965 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
One of the few value segments of the vintage car market is what Auto Universum calls American Glamour. A lack of enthusiasm for refinement and elegance has kept prices subdued, a welcome state of affairs waiting to be exploited by those who with a taste for the good life. Continue reading →
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 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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 twelve 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 ››