Race to Be the First Beetle

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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.


Marketing the American Dream, Automotive Design Division

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →