Monday, September 21, 2015

John Tjaarda's Streamlined Sterkenburg

1930s attempts at streamlined automobiles seldom fail to interest me.  The efforts were earnestly done, but limitations of engineering and materials states of the art in those days resulted in what to our eyes are quaint, awkward-appearing vehicles.

Not all of what are now called concept cars resulted in production models.  But perhaps the best-known successful concept-to-production evolution was from Briggs, whose lead stylist was John Tjaarda.  The resulting production car was the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, a sub-luxury model that most observers credit with saving the upscale brand from extinction.  More information about this can be found here.

Along with streamlining, another popular avant-garde automotive concern during the 1930s and for a decade or two beyond was placing a car's motor at the rear.  I find this preoccupation puzzling because having the engine in the rear has few advantages and many defects.  So the notion that streamlined, rear-engine cars were the wave of the future was most likely the product of group-think rather than rational thought.

As it happened, Tjaarda's rear-engine Sterkenburg concepts (the name having to do with Tjaarda's ancestry and its lands near Utrecht in the Netherlands) evolved to the front-engine Zephyr.  This was a good thing.


The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, end-result of the concepts shown below.

Tjaarda (I think) posed by what seems to be his first Sterkenburg-type concept.  I do not know if it's an actual automobile or simply a body mock-up, though I suspect it's the latter.  Very low for its day and very racy towards its rear -- it would be appropriate for a 1930s pulp science-fiction magazine's cover art.  Assuming this is from about 1930, the strongly V'd windshield is also an advanced feature.  The front fenders are probably less aerodynamic than they look, and the separate headlight units are definitely drag-producers.

A running circa-1933 rear-engine prototype from Briggs.

Rear 3/4 view of the same car.

Tjaarda's patent drawings dated 1 November 1933 of the Sterkenburg displayed by Ford at the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair.

The car on display.  It seems to be a facelifted, mockup version of the running prototype pictured above.

Another view of the Sterkenburg concept mockup.  Signs credit it as a Briggs product.

These are photos of a Briggs prototype with a front-mounted motor that appears to be an evolutionary step towards the '36 Zephyr.  Note that the front fenders flow over the rear-hinged (suicide) front door.  Flow-over fenders didn't reach production in America until the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special appeared.  The grille-hood combination is not very different from that on the unsuccessful 1934 Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows.  When the Zephyr was launched, it featured a more conventional ship's prow grill designed by Bob Gregorie of Ford.

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