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space cars
blog 4 Apr 2019

The race to the moon even affected our road vehicles

Patents
In the very early days of the race to the moon, technology developed by the various space programs had yet to make it to our homes. This, however, did not mean that our 1960’s products were not heavily influenced by the space mission.

During a recent visit to one of my favorite museums – the Louwman museum in the Hague, which boasts an enormous car collection – I was reminded of this when a car called the Pininfarina X (see picture left top - no prizes for guessing where the name came from) caught my eye.

With this space-age design, this concept car embodies a study of aerodynamics and fuel economy, as Pininfarina acknowledged that aerodynamics would be a crucial aspect of the next generation of cars.

The X prototype was powered by a 1089cc Fiat engine and was given a reduction of frontal area in order to achieve the goal. Impressively, the X has a drag-coefficient of just 0.23, a number still barely achieved by modern day cars, and which resulted in the X having top speed 20% higher than the Fiat from which its engine was taken.

In the 1970s, NASA engineers also started to busy themselves with vehicle aerodynamics, putting their originally space-oriented knowledge to earthly practice.

Seeing that virtually no-one will remember their (grand)parents driving around like the Jetsons, it is obvious to state that this prototype, like many, never made it to mainstream production. However, the general idea behind the design did, and can be found in automobile (design) patents from that era, such as, for example, the Pininfarina patent CH383793 on the bodywork for a sports car. A shape which is a bit more appealing to most car enthusiasts like myself.

About a decade later, in the 1970s, NASA engineers also started to busy themselves with vehicle aerodynamics, putting their originally space-oriented knowledge to earthly practice. Their efforts resulted in the rounding of vertical and horizontal corners on the front and rear of trucks and trailers. A shape we still recognise when passing trucks on the highway now.

 

This blog post is part of a series of 'Man on the Moon' articles to honour the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.