Featured: 10 Iconic Classics Shaped To Cheat The Wind

10 Iconic Classics Shaped To Cheat The Wind

By Isaac Wingold
July 8, 2016

As some will know, aerodynamic research dates all the way back to 1871, when Francis Herbert Wenham of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain designed and operated the world’s first enclosed wind tunnel. During this time, researchers and engineers were working hard to develop the first flying machines that the world had ever seen, and the wind tunnel helped them gather fundamental data that would  literally shape how the early airplanes of the coming years would look.

Just under a century later, the focus of aerodynamic research would descend from the skies and return to the ground, when automobile manufacturers, led by the pioneering work of aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm, started to see how streamlining the shape of a car’s body could have an improve fuel efficiency through the reduction of aerodynamic drag at high speeds. With the passing of each year, the field of study would continue to progress to eventually analyze factors like noise emissions and instability reached at high speeds, which would play a crucial role in developing some of the most impressive and exciting cars of all time.

BMW 328 Mille Miglia

Thanks to its wind-cheating body, BMW fared quite well during the Italian open-road endurance race when they crossed the finish line in Brescia as winners in their class. We recently drove one, and consider it a streamlined supercar for its time.

1934-1950 Tatra T77, T77a, T97, and T87

This was the first automobile designed with aerodynamics in mind, according to the principles of airship designer and engineer Paul Jaray. Renowned for its speed and comfort at speed, on its debut in 1934 it impressed the motoring press with how effortlessly it was able to reach the milestone of 90 mph (145 km/h). The car evolved into the T87, and more than eight decades later, these early Tatras still wear drag coefficients that shames most modern production cars.

There were smaller, more mainstream Tatras in development around this time, too, the V570 and T97. Both smaller models and the T77 are definitely the cars that inspired Adolf Hitler to prod his engineer Ferdinand Porsche into using Tatra’s approach as inspiration for what became the people’s car—the Volkswagen Beetle.

1952 (racing version) -1963 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Aerodynamics were of the utmost importance when working on the now legendary 300 SL, and with a drag coefficient of 0.389, you could say the work of the German engineers certainly paid off. Up front, this was made possible in part by canting the engine onto its side at more than a 45 degree angle.

1963-1967 Chevrolet Corvette

Despite General Motors’ best efforts, the C2 Corvette didn’t put enough function over form, causing the nose of the body to noticeably lift up at higher speeds. Funnily enough, Corvette’s chief engineer at the time, Zora Arkus-Duntov, would later say in an interview that the C2, “had the aerodynamics of a bad airplane”. Looks fantastic in the wind tunnel, though.

1949-1956 SAAB 92

The 3-speed 92 was the very first production vehicle from Saab, and given its free-flowing, continuous lines, it was able cut through the wind with ease and grace. Its drag coefficient of just 0.30 certainly helped the Swedish car manufacturer’s head engineer Rolf Mellde in coming second in his class at the Swedish Rally, just two weeks after the release of the car.

1914 A.L.F.A. 40/60 HP Aerodinamica Prototype

Designed by Marco Ricotti of Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Castagna in , this prototype made use of a streamlined teardrop-shaped body to reach a top speed of 86 mph (!) from its 70 horsepower engine.

1964-1965 Shelby Daytona Coupé

When the open top Cobras just weren’t cutting it anymore, Shelby’s engineer Peter Brock  incorporated a drag-reducing kamm tail and downforce-inducing ducktail spoiler into the Daytona Coupé. Despite the Shelby crew approaching the car with skepticism, it soon proved fast enough to outrun Ferrari’s venerable GTO at Le Mans.

1970 Plymouth Superbird

By positioning the Superbird’s rear-mounted wing so high up, “less disturbed” air could flow through, thus creating an optimally efficient downdraft and downforce. On a somewhat related note, the Superbird also made use of the Road Runner’s “meep meep” horn, which cost Plymouth an estimated $10,000 to develop.

1974-1991 Citroën CX

Thought of by many as the last true Citroën, the CX featured a Kamm tail, partially covered rear wheels, and series of ducts underneath the car to help distribute cool air to the brake discs. All of this helped this groundbreaking, French four-door achieve a commendable CD of  0.29.

1960-1979 Mercedes-Benz C111

The introduction of the C111 at the 1969 Frankfurt Auto Show marked the beginning of a new age of cutting edge automobiles from Mercedes Benz, as the sports car was constructed for research purposes. With its streamlined aesthetics, and a three-cylinder Wankel, the Bruno Sacco-designed concept car was initially capable of reaching a top speed of 160 mph, with later C111 derivatives hitting 250 mph.

Interestingly, the project nearly resulted in the surely what would have been the world’s first “modern” supercar, the 1991 C112: aerodynamic lessons learned equipped the car with active aero, active suspension, and a 400-plus horsepower V12 engine.

Image sources: Ted Gushue, daimler.compinimg.comcartype.commercedesclass.net,

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4 years ago

What about the Chrysler Airflow?

Jorge Azcoitia Moreno
Jorge Azcoitia Moreno
5 years ago

I can’t believeI read this on Petrolicius: “a three-cylinder Wankel”…

4 years ago

I was about to comment on the same thing…

Aapo Pispa
Aapo Pispa
5 years ago

Alfa Romeo Giulia of the ’60’s should have been listed. Despite its boxy design, it had excellent aerodynamics…

Cosmin Smaranda
Cosmin Smaranda(@cosmin_smaranda)
5 years ago

What about Aurel Persu’s car?

Mike Clarke
Mike Clarke(@mclarke327)
5 years ago

No Mention of the Bizzarrini Strada 5300 ? It had a Kamm tail design, slab sides like modern racers and was one of the fastest cars at LeMans in the 60’s. This design was years ahead of the Cobra Daytona.

Michael Banovsky
Michael Banovsky(@banovsky)
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Clarke

Just because it looks fast doesn’t mean it is. “Years ahead” of the Cobra? Simply…no.

Bristols, on the other hand…

Mike Clarke
Mike Clarke
5 years ago

I would answer that with just because a car is better known doesn’t mean it’s more aero dynamic. Giotto Bizzarrini was a Italian engineer that learned studied aerodynamics and worked at Alfa Romeo. Later At Ferrari using his Aero education to develop a well known model called the GTO. After leaving Ferrari he joined the Iso Rivolta Company and made what he considered a modern version of the Ferrari GTO. This car was developed prior to the Daytona cobra and had a Kamm tail built into the design. The A3C also had a 50/50 weight distribution and aero dynamic slab sides. Slab sides are being used today. The A3C was THE most aerodynamic car of it’s era only to be finally beat out by the GT40 in 66. Yes we’ve all heard about the Cobra Daytona and it’s Kamm tail but this all took place after the A3C. Bizzarrini was a brilliant one man show, building world class race cars, engines and racing systems on his own, he didn’t have the backing of large companies, just his intelligence.

John Lambert
John Lambert(@fourwheelsteer)
5 years ago

Shame there’s no mention of the ouststanding British streamliners produced by the Bristol Areoplane Company (Car Division); the Bristol 401 and 403 in particular as road cars or the Bristol 450 racing car.