1936 Le Corbusier Voiture Minimum

1936 Le Corbusier Voiture Minimum

Some designers don’t respect the boundaries of their professions. Their creativity overspills its banks. Frank Lloyd Wright went so far as to style dresses for ladies who commissioned houses. Raymond Loewy designed everything from cigarette packaging to Studebakers, to NASA Skylab interiors. And legendary architect Le Corbusier labored for years to interest a manufacturer in his Voiture Minimum, a “minimalist vehicle with maximum functionality,” as he described it, with unique, function-driven style. 

In his attempt to launch a generic everyman’s car at the same time as VW's Beetle was also being developed, Corbusier lowered production costs by specifying flat-cut sheet metal instead of expensive die-stamped bodywork, simple tubular bumpers, and flat glass all around. Unfortunately, despite his thoroughly worked-out design and exhaustive efforts at promotion, no manufacturer showed the slightest interest in licensing the concept.

Simple functionality, combined with a large interior volume and minimal exterior bulk, affordable to build and repair, the Voiture Minimum made sense in a pure, Bauhaus-like function-over-form kind of way. Its rear-engine chassis would be the only major engineering hurdle to producing such a car today. And, since we’re going electric, that aspect would be a snap. Chic urban trendies would scoop up such a trendy Bauhaus-mobile like ice cream on a hot summer Sunday. 

Could a modern day manufacturer bring a fresh version of Corbusier's dream to fruition? The slab-sided little wonder would go a long ways toward relieve the boredom of all the lookalike jellybeans currently clogging our streets. In the meantime, full-size models of the original Voiture can be seen on current display in Paris and London museums, lending a three-dimensional reality to what, sadly, has remained an architect's fantasy.

Written by Jim Cherry