The Formation of the Torpedo Tourer

The development of the torpedo tourer brought about a crucial change in automobile design: from its inception about 1910 and for twenty years thereafter, the torpedo tourer was, across the world, the standard shape for an automobile.[i] The formation of this early modern shape that lasted so long and had such a consistent following is worth examining, especially from an art-historical point of view.

Before the torpedo tourer, all commercial motorcars were dominated by the characteristics of the horse carriage (Fig. 1): the power unit and the passenger compartment were clearly separated, giving the engine the visual independence of a horse. Indeed, all parts of these early cars were clearly articulated.

The torpedo tourer shape (Fig. 2) incorporated the engine, driver, and carriage in a unitary design. The features of a torpedo tourer are indicated by its name, a complete or unbroken torpedo shape adapted to the size and function of a touring car. A torpedo shape was used in racng cars from the turn of the century, but the early torpedo racers did not have complete or unbroken shapes. I will point out that the design team that created the first torpedo tourer created, in the same year, the first complete and unbroken torpedo racer.

The features of a torpedo tourer can be seen clearly in the 1910 Knight-engine Mercedes (Fig. 3), especially when it is compared to the earlier forty horsepower Benz of 1906 (Fig. 1), and to the later Model “T” Ford of 1912 (Fig. 4). The Benz and the Ford have a broken silhouette and, therefore, are not torpedo types. In both cars, the hood and the carriage are not joined: in the benz, a gap separates the two; in the Ford, a narrow, small hood runs into the flat expanse of the scuttle (a metal sheet joining the windshield to the rear of the hood) which cuts it off from the rest of the car. Both cars have seats which project above the body line. But the Mercedes has the silhouette of a torpedo tourer, nothing breaks the line that runs from the top of the radiator to the rear deck, the top of the seats are within the carriage, and no gap or projecting scuttle separates the hood from the rest of the car.

Art historical methods can be used to analyze the formation of the torpedo tourer shape. For example, the same methods traditionally proposed for describing the development of the Gothic cathedra can be applied to the formations of the torpedo tourer. That the changing aesthetics of mediaeval architecture had been due largely to structural alterations was a position held by prominent German architectural historians, led by Frank Kugler. However, to present the new aesthetic and body improvements of the torpedo tourer as determined by internal structural or chassis changes is a method that does not apply (although a car is a particularly functional object and, therefore, is perhaps especially subject to mechanical changes). For although detachable rims, front wheel brakes, and shaft drive were developed between 1905 and 1915, during this period there was no functional or structural innovation important enough to have changed the entire outline of the standard gasoline car.[ii] The French approach to the development of the Gothic cathedral traditionally has been archaeological and descriptive. For example, de Caumont explained the formation of the Gothic cathedral as a development of architectural parts from the Early Christian basilica, a triforium added here, an expanded clerestory there; while Focillon described it as an aesthetic turnabout involving a new concept of light, space, and form, that depends on collective changes to produce new effects. Similarly, the torpedo tourer formation can be seen as a continuous development of changes, of added and subtracted parts, that at one point meant a substantially different car. Or, the torpedo shape can be seen as a new aesthetic thing, a design different in essence from the car designs of the past.

In analyzing the development of the torpedo tourer, a method similar to the one used by Focillon is the most meaningful. The classifying approach of de Caumont, listing body changes from about 1905 to 1912, is necessary but missed the main point: the abrupt aesthetic departure of the torpedo tourer is well documented. And further, even if a defining feature of the torpedo tourer, such as the continous line from the hood to the rear deck, were shown to have come about slowly through many model changes, it existed finally as part of the new and complete aesthetic of the torpedo tourer. This sequence of changes that resulted in the straight, hood-to-rear line is outlined by the cars in Figure 5.

In 1905 (top figure), cars usually have no front doors, which leaves a gap between the seats and the hood; when windshields are used they are placed far from the driver and directly over the end of a low hood. By 1908 (middle figure) the standard car has changed and looks more like a torpedo tourer: a front door visually connects the front with the rear of the car, and the windshield is attached to the rear edge of a curved scuttle that projects above the hood. The improvement means a smaller windshield that could be placed closer to the driver in order to give him more protection. By 1912 (bottom figure), the transition to the torpedo design generally has taken place: seats sunk below the body line are invisible from the side; the hood is raised to the level of this line; and the scuttle is either level with it or smoothly curved. From the windshield to the back seat-rest, the whole upper edge of the car is unbroken. These drawings make clear schematically that although the formulation of the torpedo tourer proceeded by a slow and continuous change of parts, the end result of the process was a unified, fixed type that was aesthetically new.

But only to notice the aesthetic turnabout and to follow the historical changes in design would be an incomplete analysis of the formation of a type. For the formation of the torpedo tourer, an analysis also must take into account some persistent national differences in car design, some relations of style to function, and long-term lingerings of older designs.


In reconstructing the circumstances surrounding the turnabout in body design,[iii] it is possible to isolate the one event that was the most important for the adaptation of the torpedo shape to the touring car,[iv] the annual Prince Henry tour, held in Germany from 1908 to 1910. Specifically for this tour, German manufacturers chose to apply knowledge gained from racing design to improve their touring car chassis, and the stylistic distinctions between the racer and the touring car broke down with the subsequent transfer of body improvements.

From hindsight, one could say that the regulations of the Prince Henry tour, based upon the Herkomer races that preceded it (1905-1907), almost necessitated a radical change in body design.[v] This is so because the regulations specified that touring cars were to be entered in speed races. Naturally, those cars that met the touring dimensions set for the race but that were shaped like torpedos had an aerodynamic advantage and could go faster. This, rather simply stated, was the origin of the torpedo tourer; the regulation in effect called for a combination of a racer and a tourer.[vi]

Regulations of this kind were new. Before, races were held for racing cars, the object to achieve the fastest time over a set short distance. And touring events were held for touring cars, tests of reliability over a long distance or tests for hill-climbing ability. But never before in international competition were speed-racing events held for touring cars. In the Prince Henry competition, touring cars were judged on speed and reliability, and additional points were given for comfort and appearance.

Only the Germans by developing a new prototype, the torpedo tourer, were able to make the most of the regulations of the Prince Henry races. Competitions from other countries who entered torpedo tourers copied the design from the Germans.

None of the French entries could be called a torpedo tourer, and although they placed a second in the Herkomer races, less than ten French cars were entered in both 1908 and 1909. The lack of French response to the new regulations of the Prince Henry races corresponded to a decline in the French contribution to racing progress altogether. At the turn of the century, the French motor designs of Panhard, Mors, Renault, de Dion, and Darracq were the most advanced.[vii] By 1908, however, in their own grand prix, a French car did not place among the first three finishers, and most finished well down the list. The Germans, indeed, won all three positions, a Mercedes first followed by two Benzes. As a result, the French manufacturers sabotaged their own grand prix. In 1908, they signed a pact to abstain from grand prix racing, a vow they kept in effect until 1912. The French grand prix of 1908 meant that France had definitely lost the lead in motorcar design to the Germans, who between 1909 and 1910 became largely responsible for transferring the torpedo design from the racer to the commercial car.

Nor did the English develop any innovative body designs for the Herkomer and Prince Henry tours. On the contrary, they voiced strong opposition to the German innovations o the touring carriage. Motor magazine in 1908 accused the Germans of participating with “palpable racing cars” and other bodies that belonged to “the ‘sardine’ order.”[viii] However, by 1910, Vauxall had entered a torpedo tourer.

Unlike the French and English, almost all the German car manufacturers who entered the race treated the new regulations as a challenge to their designers. To meet the strict 1910 regulations of the Prince Henry tour, almost every German manufacturer entered a torpedo tourer. Thus, the Germans were the first to produce the torpedo type on an industry-wide basis.

But all their designs had been based on that of the first torpedo tourer which was built by Benz for the 1909 Prince Henry race (Fig. 2).[ix] The two Benz designs for 1909, the Prince Henry model and the Blitzen racer (Fig. 6), established models for the shift in car aesthetic that occurred in 1910.[x] And the creation of the two models resulted from a critical changeover in the company’s personnel.

When Hans Nibel was elevated to the post of chief designer in 1908, he and his body designers proceeded immediately to rework the Benz line.[xi] The sudden change in aesthetic which then took place can be seen in a comparison of the two new 1909 Benz designs with previous cars, specially Benz cars.

The Blitzen[xii] was stylistically important for two reasons: it was the first racer to completely enclose the driver except for his head and shoulders in a torpedo shape;[xiii] when adapted to the tourer, the unbroken torpedo shape of the Blitzen became a defining feature of the torpedo tourer.

Earlier speed racers never achieved an unbroken torpedo shape: Camille Jenatzy sat on top of his 1899 torpedo racer; the 1906 Stanley Steamer torpedo could be called more accurately two half torpedos broke by a driver’s compartment open completely to the floor; and in the 1908 Napier racer, the driver sat outside at the rear of the torpedo vessel. Early grand prix racers were even less unbroken and less torpedolike than these speed racers. The Brookland Benz (Fig. 7) and Mercedes grand prix racer (Fig. 8 ) of 1908 had approximately the equivalent broken shape, with projecting spare tire, gas tank, fenders, seats, and steering wheel; the Benz only appeared less broken because the driver’s

compartment was boarded with a sheet of metal. Although a Benz racer approximated a Mercedes in 1908, by 1909 this was no longer true: Mercedes-Daimler stopped producing racing cars in 1908 while the Benz firm in that year elevated Nibel to chief designer and voted large sums of money to racing. The result was that Nibel could sponsor a Blitzen design that either eliminated or housed within its new sleek torpedo shape projecting parts of a standard 1908 grand prix racer.

It was Nibel’s design team that refined the torpedo racer shape to an enclosed unity; and in the same year, these men created the first completely unbroken torpedo tourer, the 1909 Benz Prince Henry model (Fig. 2).[xiv] Thus, the innovators of the complete torpedo racer were the first to apply the design to a touring car.[xv] No other touring car in 1909 came close to matching the features of the Benz Prince Henry model: not only were the seats and scuttle lowered to give an almost level hood-to-rear line, but the car’s outline had the general smoothness that was a standard feature of the next generation of cars. The tourers which Mercedes entered in the Prince Henry tour point up the revolutionary design from Benz. The first Mercedes Prince Henry model from 1908 (Fig. 9), more a racer than a tourer, fused a jagged hood to a bulbous carriage, creating a disjointed, nontorpedo effect. A high, flaring scuttle and projecting seats interrupted the hood-to-rear line. Although the second Mercedes entry (Fig. 10) was designed a year after the Benz, in 1910, the lines of the car were jagged and lacked the overall smoothness of the Benz; the hood was not flat, and the scuttle was broken, and the seats projected.

The Benz Prince Henry model became the prototype for the typical standardized commercial car for the next twenty years. The new shape was created in 1909 when the design team under Nibel made the first unbroken torpedo speed racer and then transferred this racing aesthetic to a touring body.


Although the adaptation of the complete torpedo shape to the tourer was a turning point in car design, at many levels the older, broken models endured. Long after the Prince Henry races, most luxury cars carried a broken, nontorpedo body and were covered with an ornamented surface. Particular circumstances help to explain the conservative, broken body and surface decoration on luxury cars at this time (Fig. 11). First, the luxury car, unlike most cars of other functions, usually was equipped with a closed coachwork, which at this time meant an exceedingly high roof, and thus a high broken body line. It was considered proper for a gentleman’s vehicle to allow passengers to enter without stopping or removing their hats. Second, a hangover of the carriage lingered longest with luxury cars. Their shape reflected the horse-drawn coach with its passenger “box” clung between the wheels and with all parts and functions clearly articulated. Third, contemporaries often described the luxury car shape as not standardized but highly ornamented. In 1912, Frederick Talbot, as was typical of English manufacturers, denounced the effect an American mass-produced car made, and thereby defined the luxury car.

The American contemporary is conventional, tawdry, with “mock” stamped everywhere. This is because the American manufacturers regard the body in the same light as the bolts and nuts holding the whole fabric together. The carriage is built in accordance with certain hard-and-fast specifications concerning dimensions, colour, upholstering, and appointments. When a man buys his American car he knows that thousands of others are like his acquisition as two pears on the road . , , every high-priced British automobile possesses a pleasing and striking individuality. The broad outlines of the schema of embellishment may be the same in half a dozen vehicles, but in details they will be found widely different.[xvi]

Although detailing and unique shapes were normal for luxury town carriages, the reverse was generally true for luxury town carriages, the reverse was generally true for inexpensive cars of vehicles serving less functions. The standardized American car, as well as the nonluxury vehicle, were typically smooth without curved surface lines. As a result, they tended to look alike, prompting the publication of charts exhibiting radiator grills for those who cared to know the differences between makes. Manufacturers of mass-produced and utilitarian cars were already disposed toward the smooth uniformity of the torpedo tourer, so that when the torpedo carriage was available after 1910, they, in contrast to luxury establishments, applied it quickly to their designs. Not only was the simple torpedo outline more easily fabricated and standardized than the conventional broken carriage, but it looked uncomplicated and efficient. This appearance was better adapted to the advertized claims of mass-producers; in a time when the initial purchase price for cars was very high, they campaigned for efficiently designed machines available through standardization at a minimal purchase price. An outlandish as well as unfamiliar example typical of the immediate transfer of the torpedo shape to utilitarian vehicles, was a car that looked like a thermos bottle, described in a 1911 Scientific American: “The vacuum bottle on wheels . . . carries out very effectively the lines of a torpedo-type car, with its long wheel-base, narrow neck in front, port hole-side openings, and general suggestion of a ‘long, low, rakish-looking craft’.”[xvii] During the transition to the torpedo tourer, ca. 1910-1914, luxury cars were usually of the pretorpedo type, with broken, curved lines, while vehicles of less function, less luxurious, or mass-produced, were less curvaceous and inscribed, and more often torpedos.

However, during the changeover to the torpedo tourer, cars that had different functions did not always receive correspondingly different shapes and designs. Although the body of the luxury car was normally broken and inscribed with detail, it was not always. The surface of the 1910 English Daimler tourer (Fig. 12) was smooth and unornamented in spite of its conventional, nontorpedo carriage. Another 1910 luxury model was fitted with two features not normally found on luxury cars, a torpedo body and an undecorated, smooth surface. Typically this advanced design was German, a 1910 Knight-engine Mercedes (Fig. 3).

Nor did the design of mass-produced and utilitarian vehicles progress consistently during the changeover period. The Model “T” Ford (Fig. 4), the classic example of the mass-produced car, retained its broken shape although most mass-produced cars adopted the torpedo silhouette. An observer could not predict with assurance whether a luxurious or utilitarian vehicle would be either broken or unbroken, or curvaceously linear or smooth on the surface. As the shift to the torpedo occurred, the couches geologiques of car shapes, national types, functional types, old-fashioned types, did not necessarily change over consistently.


After its formation, the shape of the torpedo tourer changed little for at least twenty years; then, in the ‘thirties, “airflow” shapes slowly replaced it. Over this long period, the only large change in commercial car design was the shift in proportion of the size of the cab in relation to the size of the carriage. Because the torpedo tourer remained the standard carrier of civilized people for over two decades, it could not have failed to impress itself as one of the dominating shapes of modern design.

Besides its importance in its own right, the history of the torpedo tourer does provide a new measure and control for some of the traditional art and architectural-historical findings based on this period. For example, if seen from the point of view of the development of the torpedo tourer, the Adler which Groipus designed in 1929 (Fig. 13), was a conservative design; his car was a type established twenty years before by the 1909 Benz Prince Henry model and, therefore, was not especially adapted to the changing “biological necessities,” as Gropius would have it, but was at the tail end of a formal continuity. If seen within the context of the history of the torpedo tourer, the Gropius car typified the formalism of which Hannes Meyer accused him of 1930;[xviii] indeed, the Adler was remarkably similar to the cars called “neoplatonic,” that is, formally and functionally perfect, by the French magazine L’Art vivant in 1930.[xix] The description was untimely in view of the “airflow” designs that transformed car design in the next decade.

As a racing and touring type based on a complete or unbroken torpedo were developed at the end of the first decade, so also a “future-car” type based on a complete torpedo was developed at this time. Like a torpedo tourer, this “future-car” type based on a complete torpedo was developed at this time. Like the torpedo tourer, this “future-car” schema based on the torpedo shape persisted for decades, going at least as far back as 1913 and continuing until the 1942 Hudson Program Five designs, if not further.[xx] The 1913 date was accounted for by a short article the Scientific American ran on the “future-car.”[xxi] The project (Fig. 14), although it owed much of its smooth continuity to racing designs, especially to the Benz Blitzen, was the clearly identifiable torpedo “future-car” schema: a complete torpedo body with few projecting parts, a wraparound front window, numerous side windows without any windows in the rear section, and partially enclosed wheels.

As the history of the torpedo tourer provides a control against which a designer’s responsiveness or creativity can be measured, the comparably long-lived torpedo “future-car” offers a similar check. The explanation of the importance of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car (Fig. 15) in the catalogue of the 1968 Machine Art show of the Museum of Modern Art is an example. “The most original reconsideration of automobile construction had been done by Buckminster Fuller. Probably only a genius who was both artist and engineer would have undertaken such a task . . . Among its revolutionary features, it introduced into the automotive field streamlining similar to that used in airplane fuselages, with most of the running gear enclosed.”[xxii] The same features describe the Scientific American “future-car” in the 1913 article: “In outward appearance the ‘car of the future’ resembles a submarine boat more than it does a carriage. Its long cigar-shaped body encloses everything except the heels, and even they are covered for almost half of their diameter

. . . Wind resistance and the danger of sliding are reduced to a minimum in this design and a number of racing cars constructed on these lines have proven that greater speed can be attained. The tendency towards ‘streamline’ bodies is clearly evident, although opinions differ as to the ultimate design which will be evolved.”[xxiii] Fuller’s car was not new, being based on the torpedo “future-car” developed twenty years before.

The “future-car” was one of a set of schemas that also included a racer and a tourer, all of which were based upon the unbroken torpedo shape. Together they formed an aesthetic turning point in car design at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. Although according to H. R. Hitchcock there was no “stylistic integration” in architecture until after the First World War, before this time in another field of modern design, a new and complete aesthetic was standard and widespread.[xxiv]


[i] Recent literature about the torpedo tourer includes: Anthony Bird, “Bodywork and Accessories,” Antique Automobiles (New York, 1967), ch. 6; Bird, “Edwardian Developments, 1906-1914,” The Motor Car, 1765-1914 (London, 1960), ch. 8; Ernest F. Carter, “In Search of Perfection,” Edwardian Cars (London, 1955), ch. 4; Cecil Clutton and John Stanford, “The Quest of Efficiency,” The Vintage Motor-Car (New York, 1955), p. 31; Hans-Heinrich von Fersen, Autos in Deutschland 1885-1920, eine Typengeschichte (Stuttgart, 1965), pp. 75-76; Fersen, “Die Torpedokarosserie,” Die Automobilkarosserie im Wandel der Zeit (special printing from the Karmann-Post, company newspaper of the Firma Wilhelm Karmann Gmbh., Osnabruck), pp. 7-10; Kent Karslake and Laurence Pomeroy, “The Golden Age,” From Veteran to Vintage (London, 1956), ch. 1; George A. Oliver, “The Move Towards Simplicity and Untiy,” A History of Coachbuilding (London, 1962), ch. 3; L. T. C. Roth, Horseless Carriage, The Motor-Car in England (London, 1950), p. 167; Jacques Rousseau and Michel Iatca, “Le premier torpedo profilé,” Les plus belles voitures du monde (Paris, 1963), p. 66; David Scott-Moncrieff, “The Years of Consolidation, 1905-1909,” “The Years of Refinement, 1910-1914,” The Veteran Motor Car (New York, 1956), chs. 5, 6.

[ii] Scott-Moncrieff, Veteran Motor Car, pp. 72-73.

[iii] According to Laurence Pomeroy, “The Golden Age,” there was also a sudden improvement in engine performance toward 1910, that applied to high performance as well as to utilitarian cars. On pp. 9 and 11 he reproduces two graphs: (1) B.H.P./liter vs. R.P.M., for engines built from 1900 to 1910, and (2) Tapley figures (1/grade vs. M.P.H.) for typical cars from 1905 to 1953. “The most significant feature of these curves is not so much the characteristics at each end of the first decade of the twentieth century, but the fact that the car built midway, in 1905, is very far from midway in engine performance.” For more on a technical break by the same author, see “Ancient to Modern,” The Grand Prix Car, 1906-1939 (London, 1947), ch. 17.

[iv] One of the first examples of the torpedo shape used in racing cars was Camille Jenatzy’s 100 horsepower electric car, La Jamais Contente, that set the world speed record at 65.79 m.p.h. on 29 April 1899. Another early example was the American Stanley Steamer Racer which Fred Marriott drove 127.66 m.p.h. in January 1906.

[v] Because there is no accepted English name for these German competitions, “tour” and “race” will be used interchangeably to describe them.

[vi] The regulations of the Herkomer and Prince Henry tourer were continually modified from 1905 to 1910. These changes were charted in “Die Entwicklung der Satzungen von Rennen and Turenkonkurrenzen; VII; Die Herkomer Konkurrenzen; VIII, Die Prinz Heinrich Konkurrenzen 1908-1910,” Automobilwelt-Flugwelt, LXXXVI (20 July 1910), 2. For example, in the competition of beauty no points were awarded after 1905 and in 1908 it was dropped from the program; and in 1909 and 1910 stricter building dimensions were required. Generally the regulations progressed from a loose to a precise wording; although there were changes, the aim of the regulations throughout was to keep the event an endurance and speed trial for cars of a touring description. For an example of the complex point system, see “Wertungstabelle der Prinz-Heinrich-Fahrt 1908” 9D-54, Museum Archiv, Daimler-Benz Gmbh., Untürkheim). The most complete photographs of the Prince Henry tour were published yearly by the Continental Gummi-Werke Aktiengesellschaft (Hannover).

[vii] See Laurence Pomeroy, The Evolution of the Racing Car (London, 1966), p. 32.

[viii] Henry Sturney, “My Way of Thinking—Touring Cars in the Prince Henry Competition,” Motor, XIII (14 July 1908), 701:

I see that Mr. Edge has drawn public attention to what must have occurred to every student of the motor press in regard to the Prince Henry competition. I refer to the participation of palpable racing cars in what was intended to be a contest for genuine touring cars . . .

Referring to the differences between certain English and German entries in the 1908 Prince henry tour, another 1908 issue of Motor continued (“The ‘Prince Henry’ Tour,” Motor, XIII, 16 June 1908, 568):

Here, at any rate, on had a genuine touring carosserie, which is more than can be said for, say, the car of another lady starter, to wit, Frau Eisemann, who drove a low-built Horch, with the topmost point of the carosserie scarcely higher than


It was, in fact, a racing type, although quite within the loose wording of the regulations. The same must be said of the Mercedes special types, the Adler and the Benz. Other bodies belongs to the ‘sardine’ order.

And before the Prince Henry tour, certain of the English disapproved of German Herkomer models; indeed, in 1906, Mr. Manville, Chairman of English Daimler, declared that he would not compete again because the Germans were entering disguised racing cars (Karslake and Pomeroy, Veteran to Vintage, p. 220).

[ix] Recently, Fersen, Automobilkarosserie, pp. 7-8, suggested a German origin for the torpedo tourer; a German origin was also suggested by observers of the Prince Henry race, e.g., “Die Entwichlung,” Automobilwelt-Flugwelt, LXXXVI (20 July 1910), 20. Still the design team at Benz never was suggested as being key to the development of this type. The French claimed a “first” for the origin of the torpedo tourer; see Rousseau, “Le premier torpedo profilé,” p. 66. The English writers Karslake and Pomeroy devoted the seventeenth chapter of their book, From Veteran to Vintage, to the Herkmer and Prince Henry tours in order to establish the first car that performed like a sports car. Because their pick for the first sports car, the 1910 Austro-Daimler Prince Henry car, appeared a year after the Benz Prince Henry entry, it was not the first torpedo tourer.

[x] As shown above, with the development of the Blizten and Prince Henry cars, both of 1909, the Benz firm moved to the forefront of racing design. However, Benz showroom models remained the pretorpedo types. All the body types listed in the 1910 Benz international catalogue were available in almost identical form in 1904. In 1911, the first torpedo models were added, a “runabout” and a limousine. By 1912, the Benz international catalogue listed only cars with torpedo bodies. For a description of Benz models from the period, see Fersen, Autos in Deutscheland, pp. 66-81.

[xi] Hans Nibel’s appointment came at the end of an administrative shake-up in the Benz firm. As Carl benz aged he became less responsive to change, and his company lost money as it steadily sold fewer cars, 603 to 1900, 385 in 1901, 226 in 1903, and only 172 in 1903. To sales manager Hans Ganss, the handwriting on the wall was clear as early as 1901, when he moved to persuade the directors to build a shaft-driven prototype. Most of these were returned as unusable. The following year, he engaged Marius Barbarou, works manager for Adolphe Clément, and a team of French technicians; they also produced a “lemon” that did not have the expected horsepower, and the car was a sluggish hill-climber. “Ganss had falled between two stools, no one wanted to buy either the antiquated Benz cars, now almost a joke, or the Parsifal Benz models, which were poor motorcars. Matters went from bad to worse and the financial year 1903-4 showed a deficit of half a million marks” (David Scott-Moncrieff, Three-Pointed Star [New York, 1956], p 133). In 1904, when the Benz firm was struck with two misfits and debts, Ganss resigned and the company reconsolidated around Carl Benz, returning after a long vacation to the advisory position of Aufsichtsrat. With Carl Benz back, the company regained financial stability in 1905; but it was only in 1908, with the elevation of Hans Nibel to the post of chief designer, that the shift in body types came about. Although the revolutionary design changes from Benz corresponded exactly to the time of Nibel’s appointment, documents which may have given Nibel full credit for the designs were destroyed in World War II. Therefore, wording such as “the Nibel design team” is used.

[xii] Literature specifically about the Benz Blitzen includes: “The Sensation in Racing Car Design: the Blitzen Benz of 1909,” The Annals of Mercedes-Benz Motor Vehicles and Engines (Stuttgart-Unterürkheim, 1961), p. 102; William Body, “The Blitzen Benz Mystery,” Veteran and Vintage Magazine, VI (December 1962), 124-128; Body, “Further Thoughts on the Big Benz Mystery,” Veteran and Vintage Magazine, VII (January 1963), 148; Body, “Further Information on Blitzen Benz,” The Veteran and Vintage Magazine, VII (February 1963), 194.

[xiii] The similarly sleek three-liter Vauxhall, driven at 88.6 m.p.h. over a half-mile by A. J. Hancock, made its appearance after the Blitzen, in December 1909; another unbroken torpedo speed racer that appeared shortly after the Blitzen was the Fiat S76; according to Gianni Marin and Andrea Matei, trans. Rodney Walkerley and Lyon Benzimra, The Motor Car (New York, 1962), p. 62, after the success of the Benz Blitzen, Fiat “retaliated” with this mammoth car.

[xiv] For technical tests made on this car, see A. Riedler, “Untersuchung eines 100 PS-Benz-Rennwages der Rheinischen Gasmotoren-Fabrik Benz and Cei. in Mannheim im Laboratoriums fürKraftfahrzeuge an der Königl. Technischen Hochschule zu Berlin,” special printing from Wissenschaftliche Automobil-Wertung, Berichte I-V des Laboratoriums für Kraftfahrzeuge an der Königl. Technischen Hochschule zu Berlin (Berlin and Munich, 1 August 1911).

[xv] Although it is not known whether the Blitzen or the Benz Prince Henry model was designed first in 1909, it is clear that the complete torpedo shape was developed first within the problems of a speed-racing car; the shape was then adapted to a touring car for the Prince Henry competition—where a touring car was expected to come closer to a racer than before.

[xvi] Frederick A. Talbot, Motor-cars and Their Story (London, 1912), p. 133.

[xvii] Arthur Buxton, “The Automobile as an Advertiser,” Scientific American, CIV (25 March 1911), 30.

[xviii] Hannes Meyer, “Offener Brief an Herm Oberbürgermeister Hesse, Dessau,” “Erfahrungen einer polytechnischen Erziehung,” Bauten, Projekte and Schriften (Teufen, 1965), pp. 100-113.

[xix] Gaston de Pawlowski, “L’Esthétique néo-platonicienne de l’automobile,” L’Art vivant, CLIV (November 1931), 551-555.

[xx] Michael Lamm, “Hudsons That Might Have Been…,” Motor Trend, XXI (March 1969), 84-86.  In America, the torpedo “future-car” schema reached its greatest popularity when it was proposed by the leading industrial designers Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes. For illustrations, see Arthur J. Pulos, “Dynamic Showman,” Industrial Design, XVII (July/August 1970), 60, figs. 4, 5; and Raymond Loewy, “Streamlined Transport,” Industrial Arts, I (Autumn 1936), 178.

[xxi] Walter Baunard, “The Future Car, How Car Bodies Have Developed at Home and Abroad,” Scientific American, CVIII (11 January 1913), 28-30. Also in 1913, Alfa specially built Count Ricotti a Castagna-bodied 20/30, closely paralleling the torpedo “future-car” schema. Peter Hull, Alfa Romeo (London, 1964), p. 140.

[xxii] K.G. Pontus Hultén, The Machine (New York, 1968), p. 143. Reyner Banham stated that the Dymaxion Car and even German racing cars from the early ‘thirties belong to another “Machine Age” from that of the torpedo tourers, in Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (New York, 1960), pp. 328-329.

[xxiii] Baunard, “Future Car,” p. 28.

[xxiv] H. R. Hitchcock, “The International Style Twenty Years After,” Architectural Record, CX (August 1951), 92.

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agee - evans 3


James Agee

A Cautious Prometheus?

Bruno Latour

A New Page

Nicholson Baker

The Art of Donald McGill

George Orwell
Henry Ford-Model T

My Life and Work

Henry Ford

Against Interpretation

Susan Sontag
John Ruskin

Railway Stations

John Ruskin

The Lamp of Beauty

John Ruskin

The Long Goodbye

Raymond Chandler

Industrial Design and…

Reyner Banham

Clip Art

Nicholson Baker