Sometimes, they get it rightRecently, with the increased cost in gas, there has been a sharp increase in the limits of aerodynamics, sometimes as a design study, other times as a practice in public relations to create a buzz. Many years ago, volkswagen introduced its vw arvw test vehicle that looked more like a race boat than a car. It tested a very low drag coefficient of 0.15, about the same as an f-15 jet, but it wasn't the company's only foray into aerodynamics. Several years ago, vw built a three-wheeled, bullet-like car with bobsled-style seating that was made more for lower consumption of fuel (thanks to its anemic engine) than for aerodynamics, but here it was realized that to increase fuel consumption, perfecting aerodynamics was a must.
More currently, in june 2005, DaimlerChrysler put its philosophy of "leaving familiar paths and giving chance to new ideas" to practice when the company unveiled what it considered to be the shape of the future of the automobile. The project was the mercedes-benz bionic car, a concept vehicle based on examples in nature. For the first time, in the case of the mercedes-benz bionic car, the engineers at the mercedes-benz technology center (mtc) and daimlerchrysler research looked for a specific example in nature whose shape and structure approximated their ideas for an aerodynamic, safe, spacious, and environmentally compatible car. They found what they were looking for in the boxfish, an angular but nonetheless very streamlined little fish covered with numerous hexagonal, bony plates that provide it with lightweight armor. While hardly the quickest fish in the sea, the boxfish is highly maneuverable with minimal effort.
When the boxfish shape is applied to a car design, the results are impressive. The drag coefficient value for the car's final design ended up being 0.19, one of the most aerodynamic designs ever penned. This unique vehicle project was a compact car with two doors, four comfortable single seats, a panoramic windscreen, a glass roof, and a large tailgate. In addition to the boxfish-like basic shape, the low drag coefficient was made possible by a number of other aerodynamic features: rear wheels almost completely shrouded with sheets of plastic, flush door handles, and the use of cameras instead of exterior mirrors. Fuel consumption of the 140-hp direct-injection diesel engine was 84 mpg with a maximum speed of 190 km/h (118 mph).
Sometimes, they get it wrongBernd rosemeyer was seen as the motor racing idol of his day. In just a few short years, the former motorcycle rider shot to stardom in the era of the silver arrows, winning all possible titles in the auto union 16-cylinder type c, from the european championship to the german road racing and german hill-climbing championships. He took the chances of a superstar and nothing could possibly distract him from the fruits of competition: fame, fortune, and immortality. He considered 13 his lucky number. He was married on july 13, 1936, and 13 days later, he won the german grand prix at nrburgring, which he again won the following year on june 13, 1937. His last victory came on his thirteenth start of the 1937 season at the donnington grand prix.
Three weeks after the last 1937 grand prix, in late october, rosemeyer bested rudi caracciola's speed in a german record week held on a stretch of autobahn between frankfurt and darmstadt (now the a5) by pushing his auto union to a speed of 252 mph. Afterward, rosemeyer commented on his record-setting experience: "at about 240 mph, the joints in the concrete road surface are felt like blows, setting up a corresponding resonance through the car, but this disappears at a greater speed. Passing under bridges, the driver receives a terrific blow to the chest, because the car is pushing the air aside which is trapped by the bridge. When you go under a bridge, for a split second the engine noise completely disappears and then returns like a thunderclap when you are through."
Caracciola and the mercedes team, determined to earn back bragging rights, had a few strings pulled to allow for a new attempt the following january. On january 28, mercedes team manager alfred neubauer verified that weather would be clear of gusty winds, but only until 9 a.m. just past eight, caracciola regained the record for mercedes with a speed of 268 mph, noting that "the road seemed like a narrow white band, the bridges like tiny black holes ahead. It was a matter of threading the car through them..." The first person to push himself through the crowd to congratulate caracciola was rosemeyer, who smiled and said, "my turn now."
The modified 6.5-liter, 545-hp auto union streamliner was rolled out onto the autobahn around noon, and caracciola, concerned about the increasingly poor weather conditions at the far end of the road, suggested to his rival and friend that he wait and try again the next day. Rosemeyer said not to worry, that he was one of the "lucky ones." Later, rudolf caracciola said of his young rival, "bernd literally did not know fear and sometimes that is not good. We actually feared for him in every race. Somehow, i never thought a long life was in the cards for him." After two preliminary runs, rosemeyer was on his third and final attempt at 11:47 a.m. when the car was caught by a gust of wind, skidded to the left and then to the right and off the road, somersaulting several times through the air. The 28-year-old rosemeyer was thrown from the car and died by the side of the road. Today, on the frankfurt to darmstadt autobahn, just beyond the langen-morfelden crossing and set back among the trees, stands a small monument to the once great rosemeyer.
As aerodynamic as his car was, equally that of his rivals at mercedes-they could slice through the air, appearing to slip between the molecules-he crashed because of a simple gust of wind no stronger than that which rustles the leaves in a tree. The aerodynamics that helped rosemeyer and auto union achieve the speed that day were the same that led to his demise.