The Story of the Light Sports Coupe

The Nineteen Thirties

As I have already stated in the introduction, the first true lightweight sports coupes were conceived in Germany and Italy during the nineteen thirties, for the purpose of research and motor racing, with only the Fiat 508c MM going into series production. The others were from Italy, the Lancia Aprilia based coupe by Pinin Farina, and Germany the  Volkswagen type 64, developed from the Volkswagen by it’s creator Professor Porsche. In time this would lead to the Porsche 356, one of the greatest cars of the class. As I have only limited data on the cars of this period, I have assumed that by their purpose and form that they conform to the spirit of the class.
As data is available for most of the post war cars, I will be more definite with my selection.
The two figures that stand out amongst the pioneers of automobile aerodynamics are Paul Jarey and Dr Wunibold Kamm. They both promoted the use of wind tunnels to refine the shape of car bodies at a time when most cars had the aerodynamics of a brick, they introduced  principles of body design that have had a major bearing on the shape of cars in use today.History records one big difference in their approach to the application of aerodynamics to a cars body form, Kamm promoted the cut off ”Kamm” tail form and Jarey the long tapered form of tail. Practical and aesthetic considerations have since led to both extremes to being compromised.  It could be envisaged that the lightweight coupe would not have been possible without their pioneering work, but fortunately their idea’s were followed up by various engineers of vision and led to the creation of the first of the type.
The Fiat 508c MM was conceived by Dante Giacosa, as an aerodynamic coupe development of his newly designed 508c introduced in 1937 as a means publicising the new model and was the result of wind tunnel tests carried out on scale models at Turin polytechnic In basic form the 1089cc engine in the 508c produced 32 bhp, giving it a maximum speed of 68 mph. In the 508c MM it was tuned to produce 42 bhp and with the improved aerodynamic form, a maximum speed of 95 mph was attained.The body shape was based on the principles of Professor Kamm, but was of a high build due to to the use of an existing chassis, it was constructed by the Savio Brothers of Turin. The “MM” designation short for Mille Miglia, was added as a result of a class win in that event in 1938.Another racing success was another class win in the Tobruk/Tripoli race of 1939. Production ran from 1938 to 1940, when approximately 400 were built.
Link to data sheet and picturesFiat 508c MM

The Lancia Aprilia Coupe was derived from the Aprilia saloon the first to feature unitary construction in  Europe, first introduced in 1937. It was light and had superb road holding due to having Independent suspension on all four wheels very rare at the time, by sliding pillar at the front as on the Morgan and a transverse leaf spring and torsion bars at the rear, this combined with it’s compact o.h.c  narrow  V4 engine with an output of 46bhp produced a lively performance for a 1352cc car with a top speed of 80mph . Fortunately a platform chassis was also available for specialist coach builders to work on and this was the basis of the Coupes created by Pinin Farina. Farina was interested in exploring aerodynamic body forms, and as he was very familiar with Lancia cars chose the Aprilia for this work. With the body’s following the Jaray principles of aerodynamics. Farina produced a series of five experimental cars and then the “Aerodynamic Coupe” model before the beginning of the second world war caused all such activities to stop.Lancia Aprilia Coupe

The Volkswagen was designed by the Porsche design bureau and was developed and ready for production by 1938 and it was decided to develop a sports version of it to be run in a race from Berlin to Rome and back to take place in 1939. Three cars were built, named the Volkswagen type 64, based on the Volkswagen saloon platform chassis with an aerodynamic  sports coupe body designed by Erwin Komenda of the Porsche design office. The tuned Volkswagen engine produced 40bhp and that was sufficient to give the car a maximum speed of 91mph, which would have been used a great deal in the race as it. was to be run the Autobahn recently built in Germany. The Volkswagen engine was ideal for this as it was designed to run for long periods on the autobahn a task it fulfilled with distinction in Volkswagens and the early Porsche coupes after the war. The race was cancelled due to the outbreak of the second world war, but Professor Porsche drove one of the cars throughout the war and that car survived to take part in post war motor sport in the hands of an Austrian driver. The next time the Porsche design office worked on a sport car it was a evolution of the type 64 but carried the Porsche name. Volkswagen type 64

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