WOLFSBURG, Germany – Aerodynamics play a key role in every modern vehicle – the better it is, the more efficient it becomes, through being quieter and more fuel-efficient.
Over the years automakers have experimented with extreme vehicle shapes to demonstrate the innate relationship between atmospheric drag and power. Few have been more radical than the Aerodynamic Research Volkswagen car of 1980, a single-seat arrow badged as the ARVW that 40 years later it is still the most aerodynamic vehicle with a VW badge.
It was a mechanical result of the oil crises of the 1970s and intended to demonstrate how aerodynamics and vehicle construction could generate very high speeds from everyday power.
The first challenge was to squeeze driver, powertrain, and four wheels into a body with the smallest possible profile so the ARVWs shape was maximized at every turn for aerodynamic smoothness and was 84cm tall and 110cm wide.
Its wheels were faired-in, the underbody made smooth, and adjustable fins installed for high-speed stability.
The ARVW was built with an aluminium frame under a glass-fibre/carbon-fibre body. Power came from a 2.4-litre, turbocharged, inline-six engine, which produced 132kW, set right behind the driver and powering the rear wheels via a chain drive.
A water tank was installed to supply a spray into the turbocharger’s intake, the small engine needed few cooling vents, and the main cooling vent was in the nose to let air flow smoothly over a radiator and exit on top of the vehicle.
The result was a vehicle with a coefficient of drag of 0.15, a value far sleeker than any production vehicle.
In October 1980 a small team of VW engineers and a top-tier open-wheel race driver went to Italy’s Nardo test track to demonstrate the ARVW’s potential…
In the first hour the ARVW hit 355km/h; it eventually topped out at 362km/h, setting two world speed records in the process.
The shape of the ARVW would later find an echo in the radical European-only XL1. And as low drag coefficients provide sizable benefits to an electric vehicle’s range, advanced aerodynamics will play an essential role in the upcoming VW ID electric vehicles.