The space race impacted on the way cars were designed and made, can you help me with my Dissertation?

7 replies [Last post]
Joined: 2012-09-10

Hi All,

I hope you can help. I am currently doing research for a dissertation
which I am now beginning to assemble. I have chosen to write about how the
influence of space travel altered the way vehicles were designed and
how the need of the public to have something that was reminiscent of
the rockets influenced the industry. I was wondering if you could give
me any information on how these events may have impacted the vehicles of yesterday. and what
was the outcome. You may have firsthand exeperience of the changes which would be a great help. 

Thanks for looking


Chris Martin
Joined: 2011-08-20

If by the 'Space Race' you are referring to the post WW2 and fifties one upmanship between the USA  and the USSR (as was) then I suggest you read at least The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, but be aware that a British RAF pilot had already flown faster than sound, and it was kept quiet, before the Americans decided to make a big deal of Chuck Yeager's claimed feat.

A hunger for new cars, and new designs in the late forties led Harley Earl, head of General Motors design, to add fins to Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs apparently inspired by the new jet age shapes.

Against this backdrop, there was a growing public interest in all things 'space race' so it was not surprising that designs became even wackier through the fifties but his only really applies to America. Yes, some of that design influence filtered through to the British subsidiaries but it would be a lot harder to get too excited about an FE Victor showing any extra-terrestrial influences. And how did Yuri Gagarin's Vostock have any influence on the average Ivan-in-the-street and his wheels is even harder to define except to suggest that maybe the (very poor) governments budget was stretched too far which was not helping the Soviet car industry move forward at all. So, space race influence on next generation Lada? Zero. Nowt. Nilski comrade!

As for other nationalities I think the spin-off from these two competing to spend more to be the first here, or there, was farily minimal.

The real influence even in UK or USA would only manifest itself in motoring terms as fairly insignificant marketing tricks, y'know crappy names like Rocket, Meteor, Satelite, Telstar etc and maybe the odd chrome badge shaped like a missile or a star, certainly no great artistic leap forward either.

If you are serious about your research, you need to start with the Right Stuff, (the book is better than the movie, as always) then read up on Harley Earl, there is much available, but I would start with a copy of Stephen Bayley's 'Harley Earl And The Dream Machine'. This should at least give a perspective on the era and the car industry. From there, in the USA at least, Chrysler were not far behind, and, influenced by the 'Jet Age',  tried gas turbine cars in the sixties, and by then GM's styling department was now run by Earl's successor Bill Mitchell who despite the oft-repeated shark stories was obviously influenced in turn by Earl and his fifties dreams.

Having said all that, it is hard to see how much of this filtered through to the British car industry, was a Ford Corsair REALLY a scaled down Thunderbird? I have owned both, and I still can't see it. So while the best Brits looked stylish - Aston, Jaguar, Jensen, even Cortina at a pinch, it is hard to relate any of these to anything that was on a moon mission.

Interesting  subject to choose though, please do keep in touch and let us know how it goes.

Chris M.


Joined: 2012-09-10

Thanks Chris, I will check out the Right Stuff and report back. I knew of Harley Earl and the creation of the 'first concept car', although the more information I can glean the better.  I can see what you mean about the lack of european rocket cars although possibly there were some toned down attempts like the Anglia, Daimler Dart but they were not quite the Bat 7!

America led the way on the wacky far out designs front



Alfatastic's picture
Joined: 2011-07-22

Because of the space race all Engineering was standardised so as many surpliers could make the same parts to the same quality by using the standards which developed over the years to become ISO9000 etc, this was a major influence on many areas of modern engineering including cars, other advances included advanced exotic materals, and batteries etc, which all impacted modern cars from F1 down. The looks of cars influence is probably minimal

Swordfish's picture
Joined: 2011-08-26

There was supposed to be all sorts of Scullduggery over the Miles -M52 which was part of an ongoing exchange of technology and was developed into the jet plane, that possibly became the Bell-X1, nicknamed glamerous Glenis, that as given in the Right Stuff and other American journals as the plane that broke the sound barrier.

We have since seen an LSR car that has achieved that on land ,however some said that the Budweiser special complete with sidewinder missile had already done that back in the 1970s.

You then have to wonder at the relevence of such to the use of private transportation, as indeed with motor racing which is supposedly to improve the breed.

However it was through a problem on his Pontiac Fierro that an engineer working on the Challenger Shuttle, associated the fire problems some Fierros suffered from down to leaking O Rings, and pointed one of the investigators in that direction regarding the rubber O Rings being re used on the launch rockets that failed in the infamous 1985 dissaster, not helped by the exceptionally low temperatures.

Back down on earth, most bewinged behomoth cars in the 1950s had their styling more akin to jet fighters, than rockets, and were given similar names which often derived from boat ones-Corsair etc.The wings were claimed to give better directional stability on the the Mopar foreward look cars and in particuler the 145MPH Hemi Chrysler 300s.

I seem to recall having been given a book in the 50s that not only showed the Rover Jet Gas Turbine car-based on an Auntie Rover 75 lower body,, but also a prewar rocket car driven by one Baron Von Opel, a tad different from a modern Corsa, although I think some kids think they own or otherwise, rocket powered ones.! 


Joined: 2014-02-21

Here get insightful information reminiscent of the rockets influenced the industry. I was wondering if you could give
me any information about your perfect professional advice and guidance to this subject.

Simon John
Joined: 2014-04-16

Early vehicles were pulled by human or animal power. Steam engines
powered locomotives and ships in the ninetheenth century. The
internal-combustion engine was invented in the 1880s and used almost
immediately in cars and trucks.

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Jack kevin
Joined: 2016-05-02

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