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.

Read the rest of this entry ››

When Volkswagen Took a Walk on the Wild Side

by James Kraus

JK - 1 (48)

“Place Pigalle” by Stanley Black and his Orchestra Montmarte, 1957. Capturing the atmosphere of a night in Paris.

At the height of the Swinging Sixties, everyone was (literally and figuratively) letting their hair down and doing things that would have been unheard of (or at least kept private) just a decade earlier. It was the era of satellites, moon launches, the pill, James Bond, The Beatles, the Twist and the Watusi.

Automobile manufactures were building family sedans with extra punch, and with the debut of the Lamborghini Miura, we witnessed the birth of the supercar.

Read the rest of this entry ››

A Concise History of the Alloy Wheel

by James Kraus

1968 BMW 2800CS riding on unusually elegant alloy wheels featuring a polished chrome centre cap discreetly concealing the mounting lugs. Visible fasteners on a contemporary automobile are generally considered to represent a lack of refinement, yet seem to be embraced when they appear on otherwise highly stylized wheels. These were produced for BMW in Italy by FPS (Foundry Pedrini Siena).

Today, alloy wheels are all but ubiquitous and are used by automobile manufacturers as a key styling feature, often used to differentiate model ranges and equipment specification. They started becoming popular with the general public in the 1980’s, but were in fact offered sporadically since 1924.

Previous to the development of the alloy wheel, wheels were formed of two pieces of pressed steel, the rim and the disc, either welded or riveted into a single unit. Or, they were fabricated of a steel or aluminium rim, connected to a centre hub by metal spokes. A transitional design was a hybrid utilizing a steel disc for strength and an aluminium rim for weight saving. Such a design was used by Porsche and Jaguar in the 1950’s. Another example was the Borrani Bimetal, used on several Italian sporting models.

Read the rest of this entry ››

End of an Era: The Last Air-Cooled Automobile Engines

by James Kraus

Air-Cooled Engine

Air-cooled horizontally opposed 12-cylinder powerplant

I have always been a fan of air-cooled engines. I even enjoy the mechanical noises that emanate from their insides, unmuffled by water jacketing and walls of cast metal. It serves as a reminder that the car is powered by an engine containing many precision parts moving in high-speed synchronization, akin to an Audemars Piguet running on high octane fuel.

Read the rest of this entry ››

Ten for Twenty: 10 Automotive Designs that Withstood the Test of Time

James Kraus

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

The test of time may well be the harshest test of all. Styles change and the public’s tastes and requirements change. Yet a cohesive, intelligent and functional design can sometimes overcome these obstacles. I have assembled a list of ten cars that enjoyed a lifespan of twenty years or more. The requirements were fairly simple; a candidate had to be mass-produced and sold as a passenger car for at least two decades by its original manufacturer in basically the same design configuration with no more than superficial changes.

In order of decreasing longevity, here are the survivors: Read the rest of this entry ››

Volkswagen-Porsche: On the Right Road?

by J Kraus

1970 VW-Porsche 914-6

1970 VW-Porsche 914-6

While members of the Porsche and Piech families gather today in Salzburg to confront the reality of the €9 Billion of debt they have assumed in taking control of Volkswagen, search for Arab investors to ride to their rescue and decide how to integrate the two companies, there is another long-term issue within the VW-Porsche empire.

While Toyota concentrate their efforts and resources developing and marketing three major automotive brands (Toyota, Lexus and Scion); Volkswagen-Porsche is currently host to no less than eight (Skoda, VW, SEAT, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti.) What no one seems to notice is that VW is following the classic GM playbook to the letter, only with even more brands. This strategy worked well for GM…until it didn’t.

Read the rest of this entry ››

Tribute: The Volkswagen

by James Kraus

1952 Volkswagen Type 113

Volkswagen Type 113

Nearly anywhere you live, it has a name. Käfer (Germany), Beetle (US, UK), Coccinelle (France), Maggiolino (Italy), Fusca (Brazil), Buba (Croatia). It was the most mass-produced single model in automotive history and was like no other car on the road.

Under direction from Adolf Hitler to develop a affordable mass-produced car for the German people, Ferdinand Porsche came up with the concept that was to become the first VW, inspired heavily by the work of fellow Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, designer of the mechanically similar Tatra T97.

Parameters laid down by the Führer included mileage of 7 L/100 km (36 mpg), air-cooling, seating for four and the ability to cruise endlessly at 100 km/h (62 mph) on the newly-built German Autobahns.

Read the rest of this entry ››

Automotive Logos: History and Revisionism

by J Kraus

JK - 1 (10)

Newly revised Citroën logo

Word has recently reached me here at Auto Universum world headquarters that Citroën and Lancia both have announced that they were revising their classic logos. This only a year after Fiat found it necessary to “revise” the storied Abarth badge.

The Citroën logo managed to survive 90 years before suffering the current debasement. The classic badge was a representation of the double helical cut gears that were the original product of André Citroën. The dual pattern allowed the silent meshing of normal single bevel gears without generating side thrust. They had been very difficult and time-consuming to manufacture until André obtained patents and licensing rights for new processes that would allow the gears to be machined cheaper and more accurately. When Citroën began building cars in 1919, the logo followed. It adorned all their ground-breaking designs: the Traction Avant, the 2CV, the DS, the GS, and the SM.

Removing the old sharply defined points leaves the new logo appearing very little like gear teeth and a bit flaccid. It in fact calls to mind a pair of boomerangs. I am aware that things are changing quickly, but last I looked, Citroën was still domiciled in France, not Australia.

Read the rest of this entry ››