Friday Flashback: the 1930s Streamliners (Film)

Since the dawn of the automobile and aviation at the turn of the 20th century, aerodynamics have been something of a “black art”, with very few people really having a grasp on how things worked. If you look at a top-level racing series like Formula 1- where cars designed by a guy named Adrian Newey have been a dominant force since the late 1980s, regardless of who was driving them or what was powering them- you might be able to make the case that they still are, regardless of how much progress CFD programs have made. The video below, however, isn’t about F1. It’s about the aerodynamic science behind the everyday cars real people drive.

Well, drove, anyway- because this is all about the automotive “streamliners” of the 1930s. More specifically, it’s a look inside Chevrolet’s research facilities circa 1936- an era when the shapes of cars came from the minds of designers operating on their own intuition, and not by market research or economy-driven computer simulations.

How did intuition fare? Usually, not that well. All the same, a few designers got it right- and those streamliners, like the Chrysler Airflow and Tatra T77- became design icons with drag coefficients that rival some of today’s most efficient designs. But maybe, just maybe, that’s a bad thing, because these car designs from 1936 look pretty good to me.

Watch the GM-produced “Streamlines” educational video, below, and see how those old cars look to you. Then, let us know what you think on our Twitter page, or in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


Streamliner – 1936 Chevrolet Documentary

Source | Images: Chevrolet, via Core 77.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.