The Flying Fortress

The wind in your hair: streamlining

Posted in Aesthetics by flyingfortress on August 15, 2009


If one single design aesthetic must be chosen to represent dieselpunk, I would choose streamlining.

It came to me instantly. As soon as I finished reading Zagglenack’s recent post, I knew I had to write about streamlining. Those flowing, organic curves, the cab set waaaaay in the back of the car, and the performance difference that can be achieved by applying a few simple principles of aerodynamics make for a beautiful example of form-follows-function design.

Put simply, streamlining is the designing of an object so that it has the least possible air resistance. This tends to lead to designing objects so that they have the smallest possible surface area at the front and then gradually fill out into a sideways, point-forward teardrop shape (modified as necessary to generate lift, etc). I’m no engineer, so if you’d like a thorough, mathematical explanation of how it works, you should check the Wikipedia entry, this Aerospaceweb page, and (for the truly brave), MIT’s OpenCourseWare materials for Aerodynamics 16.100.

These principles of aerodynamics had been in development since the birth of flight, but it wasn’t until 1922 that the first streamlined car, the Ley T6, was invented. Its inventor, Paul Jaray, was an engineer with a background in designing zeppelins who would later go on to design streamlined cars for Tatra motors. As automakers witnessed the performance benefits that it offered, streamlining became the dominant style for the 1930s and 1940s and would maintain a lasting influence in automotive design.

Update 08/24/09: I’ve just found a big gallery of streamlined vehicles here.

By now, you must realize that all this is merely an excuse to post pictures of beautiful cars.

The 1930s style:

1938 Mercury Eight and 1939 Studebaker Commander

1938 Mercury Eight and 1939 Studebaker Commander

1937 La Salle

1937 La Salle

1936 Nash Lafayette

1936 Nash Lafayette

Above photos by Richard Doody

The 1940s style:

Packard 180 Convertible Victoria

Packard 180 Convertible Victoria

1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper

1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper

1940 Lincoln Continental

1940 Lincoln Continental

Above photos by Steve Brown

Streamlining wasn’t limited to cars alone, it caught on very quickly with buses and railroads, too. It even managed to influence appliance and furniture design in American households. Ebay, Craigslist, and the like are filled with vintage items that take on elements of this aesthetic, so you can bring a little streamline into your home if you’re as taken with it as I am.

Incorporating streamlining into a dieselpunk work

Streamlining is great for any kind of competitive event in a dieselpunk universe. Whether a character needs to shave  another few seconds off of his or her time in an upcoming race or an air force mechanic needs to give a pilot that extra edge over the enemy, a quick mention of streamlining can add a note of authenticity to your story. Visual artists, sculptors, and modders (whether computers, cars, or anything) can incorporate streamlining principles directly into the kinds of shapes their vehicles and objects take.  Start with a point and stretch it into a soft, sloping curve. Can anyone think of any examples of streamlining in modern film, art, or design? I’d love to see them.


  • It seems the design of the Daleks in the Dr. Who series was influenced by streamlining.
  • The Morgan Motor Company makes beautiful — and expensive — streamlined cars.

3 Responses

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  1. seraphimish said, on August 15, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Where’s my Phantom IV, yo? Beauty

  2. […] Art Deco look and the Streamlined look really work well for casemods and likely for other home electronics as well. I’d love to […]

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