Art Deco and British Car Design

You may think of the French as producing the most strikingly streamlined cars of the 1930s, in lyric teardrop bodies hammered out with doses of Italian style and German science. But in his book “Art Deco and British Car Design: The Airline Cars of the 1930s“, Barrie Down reminds us that streamline design was the rage among car buffs everywhere in the ’30s, even in upright, country-house, Evelyn Waugh Britain.

Mr. Down reminds us that at the same time streamline cars were going on the market, ocean liners and trains were being streamlined, the better to compete with the nascent airline industry. His book also reminds us that the automobile industry of the time in Britain had yet to embrace mass production.

Cars were sold to the few, and the sellers were coachbuilders as much as chassis or engine makers.

To compete, each British car company had to offer a version of the season’s fashionable cut, and so each one presented an airline or streamline body or two. The resulting cars are rare, with wonderful names like the Triumph Gloria Flow-Free and the Riley Kestrel.

Many of these companies would not survive. But there are also glimpses of the future. We meet the young William Lyons, who impressed a man named William Walmsley. Together, their Swallow Sidecar company moved from teardrop add-ons for motorcycles to aero bodies for popular auto chassis. Swallow became Jaguar, of course, and two decades later produced more serious streamlining, driven by aerodynamics and racing.

Art Deco and British Car Design: The Airline Cars of the 1930s” by Barrie Downs was published in December of 2010 by Veloce Publishing. It is a gorgeous book of 144 pages with a suggested retail of $44.95.