Race to Be the First Beetle

Do you think the Smart Car is so smart? Think again. It is one in a long line of minimalist vehicles. A new book, Voiture Minimum: Le Corbusier and the Automobile explores the famed “less is more” Modern architect’s involvement with the automobile, designing in 1936 “a minimalist vehicle for maximum functionality.” Take that Ferdinand Porche and your Nazi Beetle!!

Le Corbusier was not only an architect, he was a car enthusiast, who owned a Voisin which he used as a symbol of modernity. “In the Twenties and Thirties Le Corbusier was totally obsessed with automobiles,” says author Antonio Amado. “He knew all the new models perfectly, visited car exhibitions regularly, read car magazines and knew all the vanguard trends and revolutionary concepts being applied to cars, such as aerodynamics.”

In 1935, France’s Société des Ingénieurs de l’Automobile opened a major competition, calling for proposals for a practical and economical car to cost no more than 8,000 francs. Of course, it had to be small. Le Corbusier and his business partner Pierre Jeanneret submitted drawings for the Voiture Minimum. It was dismissed at the time as an architect’s dabbling. It has, writes Farah Alkhalisi in London’s The Telegraph, “since been hailed as the forgotten people’s car, a key influence on the Volkswagen Beetle, Citroën 2CV and suchlike.”

While the book could use a little better typography (someone had their finger on the type-shadow button), the images, particularly the sketches, are worth the price. And an introductory section on other architects who designed cars is of interest too.

(Read my farewell to child star Jackie Cooper on the Nightly Daily Heller tonight)

(See all the Daily, Nightly and Weekend Hellers here.)

All images are credited to the book Voiture Minimum: Le Corbusier and the Automobile (MIT Press), by Antonio Amado, translated to English by Barbara E Duffus.

6 thoughts on “Race to Be the First Beetle

  1. Pingback: Micro car book review (smart?) - Smart Car of America Forums : Smart Car Forum

  2. Antonio Amado

    Hi Steven, 
    I feel you did not like the font “Verdana”, but type-shadows are only in the titles of the chapters and on the cover. Really it is the first “bad critic” that I have read about the book. Everyway, it seems that you have read the book and you liked it, so thank you very much for your commentaries.

    Ah, the main translator (Spanish-English) was Penelope Hierons, not Barbara Duffus (French-English”.

    Best, Antonio

  3. wallisParnell

    I am looking of a minimalist electric car. Seems all we see, is vehicles with everything imaginable included. I would love a car like the Pruis, with nothing extra, except the radio, A/C, and thats it. bet if would sell at $15,000, instead of $23,000. With the new technology of the electric moter in each wheel,  the battery pack, and that all folks, the blueprint of this articles car, could be build, I bet for $6,000. Has anyone seen the…..Google this, ( Six-wheel Electric Car)? The market for DIY electric cars, now make available great info, and parts to convert to electric. I will be on this path next year, if a cheap, reliable electric car, is not on the market.
    Thanks Heller, your the best.

  4. Darek Johnson

    In the book “Small Wonder,” the author Walter Henry Nelson established that Porsche had experimentally designed the “Beetle” long before Hitler took interest, thus it was not “Hitler’s car,” as it is so often misnamed. Porsche, under Hitler’s domain, hand-built several cars, but the Furher soon converted the car factory into a weapons plant. Volkswagens were not mass-produced until long after WWII.
    Interestingly, one of Porsche’s early designs included electric motors on the drive wheels, thus, he may have been the first to design a “hybrid” system. The early cambios and Wesfalia’s (van/camper van) had step-down gears on the drive wheels, which effectively lowered the gear ratio — and speed — but increased the pulling power.