Evolution of the car body

The one constant thing to rely upon about car body designs is that they’re always changing.

Even from the early days of automotive engineering, designers and tastemakers have been working tirelessly to reshape how a car looks for a continually evolving marketplace.

In the beginning…

However, the industry had to grow from auspicious beginnings. Just like the first days of television were heavily influenced by radio programming, the first cars took their cues from what was already proven in the market. The pioneers of the craft looked to what many people were currently using for transport – boxy wooden carriages attached to horses, such as stage coaches or farm wagons – and evolved their ideas from there.

Using wood as the basis for design, however, posed a range of severe limitations. It was heavy and hard to transport to and from factories. Wood is hard to bend and shape without breaking it up into multiple pieces, which weakens overall structural integrity. It’s also prone to taking damage from the elements over time, not to mention being susceptible to shrinking and expanding with the change of seasons.

A new material would be required to take cars into the future.

Enter steel

Durable, pliable and lightweight, car bodies with a steel structure seemed like a natural fit for the gas-powered vehicles that were quickly overtaking horse-drawn carriages as the default transport option of society. New metal fabrication technologies allowed steel and aluminium to be shaped in brand new ways, offering designers sleek angles and long lines that were never before possible.

Wood remained in use for car bodies, particularly in Britain, for a while but was used mostly for purposes of classic style rather than purpose. You can see steel cars of the early era with wooden trims, for example. Today there’s only one manufacturer in the world, Morgan Motors, who uses a type of hardwood for the body substructure.

Dodge was the first manufacturer who, in 1914, offered the public the Dodge Model 30: a car with an all-steel body. Until that time, the use of steel was limited to plates that covered a wooden frame. Along with a raft of other innovations such as a sliding gear transmission the new standard had been set and other manufacturers quickly fell into line. By the 1930s, all cars were being designed with steel manufacturing in mind.

Looking to the future

New steel handling methods like drop and power hammering, and drawing and stamping, gave designers new tools to create modern designs with. Later, oxy-cutting and brake pressing extended capabilities even further. Laser cutting machines afforded bold experimental designs. These innovations ended the era of hard-edged crates on wheels and welcomed in the flowing shapes of the modern era.

As metal forging technology and the use of materials such as carbon fibre were developed over the years, cars became increasingly safer, more durable and cheaper. More importantly, cars became lighter which increased fuel efficiency.

Who knows where the designs of tomorrow will take us? ShapeCUT, with its range of steel cutting services, will be watching with great interest.