If you owned a car in the previous decade, there is a very good chance that you know what is called a radiator. A radiator serves to provide cooling for a vehicle’s engine, and it comprises thin tubes with circulating water cooled by the air.
For decades now, the radiator has been the engine cooling device in most cars and even airplanes. However, before radiators became very popular, there were air-cooled engines that featured on select mid-20th century vehicle models.
Air-cooled engines, like the name implies, typically provide much greater airflow than radiators. It has been the preferred choice amongst aircraft manufacturers for a while now, and automakers are beginning to get with the program as well.
Weight savings and superior airflow are amongst the upsides to an air-cooled engine. However, a considerable disadvantage is stricter emission levels which are less difficult on radiator engines.
Below is a list of some popular cars without radiators:
1. Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle is a 2-door salon produced by German automaker Volkswagen between 1938 and 2003. It truly is a blast from the past, and a number of millennials and GenZers probably have faint memories of it.
The Beetle enjoyed immense popularity and came fourth during the Car of The Century competition in 1999. It was also one of the earliest cars to have air-cooled engines, amongst other features.
The earlier models of the Volkswagen Beetle generated 25 horsepower from the 1131cc air-cooled engines. They also notably had a stubby exhaust, rear-engine, and a muffler design with a distinct engine note.
2. Fiat 500
The Fiat 500 was produced and marketed by Fiat between 1957 and 1975 across a single generation. It was a city car with four seats, a rear engine and two-door salon, and two-door station wagon body styles.
It is often regarded as one of the very first city cars to achieve the level of success that it did. Stakeholders in the auto market also look back on it as an iconic model with museum exhibits and anniversaries.
The Fiat 500 had an air-cooled 500c engine, which generated 22 horsepower and a manual four-speed transmission perfect for hilly places. Besides these features, it could seat four passengers and also sported a fabric roll-back with restricted roof rear seat access.
3. Tatra 603
The Tatra 603 was a full-size luxury car manufactured by Czechoslovak automaker Tatra between 1956 and 1975. Its importance was seen in the fact that Tatra reserved it for the oligarchs and high-ranking officials in socialist Czechoslovakia while exporting the models globally.
Tatra 603 models sported an air-cooled 2.5-liter V8 engine, a triple headlight design, and a separate petrol burning heater in the cabin right beneath the front seats. Its design was often considered strange, and it remains one of the most popular cars with an air-cooled engine.
4. Porsche 917
The Porsche 917 is a sports race car and the brainchild of the German automaker, Porsche. It notably got the Porsche brand its first wins at the 24 hours of Le Mans competition in 1970 and 1971.
After getting a feature in the Steve McQueen’s film, LeMans, in 1971, the model’s fame skyrocketed. The very car driven in the movie got auctioned off in 2017 for a Porsche record, 14 million dollars.
Besides its popularity, the Porsche 917 was also notably built on a lightweight tubular space frame chassis which was fitting for the prototype race series. It had a mid-engine design and an air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine which also produced 540 horsepower that could hit 60mph in 2.5 seconds.
If you want to know what an air-cooled engine feels like, a Porsche 917 would be a great choice.
5. Corvair 500 Sport Coupe
The Chevrolet Corvair was in production between 1960 and 1969. It is the only American-produced car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine that has been mass-produced. Over 1.8 million units were manufactured, and the Corvair 500 scooped the MotorTrend Car of The Year Award in 1960.
Here’s an interesting fact: the name “Corvair” is a blend of Corvette and Bel-air, and the air is a reference to the cooling system.
Corvair 500 Sport Coupe models had an air-cooled 2.3-liter flat-six engine yielding 80 horsepower with a 3-speed or 2-speed automatic transmission. Better and more powerful models were produced in the mid to the late 60s until it was eventually discontinued.
6. Citroen 2CV
The Citroen 2CV was a front-wheel drive economic family car produced by Citroen between the 1948 and 1990 model years. During that time, Citroen produced almost 4 million units of the Citroen 2CV which made it one of the first front-wheel drive models to sell that much.
Primarily designed for farmers who still had to use horses and carts in France, the Citroen 2CV was also exported globally. It was often praised for its chassis, low ownership cost, uncomplicated maintenance as well as minimal fuel consumption.
The Citroen 2CV also sported a 600cc, V2 air-cooled engine, which could only produce 9hp. Add to that, a soft torsion suspension which enabled the car to traverse light off-road situations.
7. Porsche 911
Not to digress, but isn’t it curious that the 911 is the second Porsche car on this list? That speaks to the popularity of air-cooled engines with the brand.
The Porsche 911 debuted in 1964 as a sports car with a rear-mounted, flat-six engine. It came fifth in the 1999 Car of The Century poll, and in 2015, it was named the best premium sports car on the market by Car and Driver.
Between 1964 and 1998, all Porsche 911 models had air-cooled engines, after which water-cooled engines became standard. The pre-1998 models had air-cooled flat six-cylinder engines, which, however, had to meet more complex emission requirements and eventually forced the adoption of a water-cooled engine.
A particularly interesting and powerful variant was the 911 Turbo which also sported an air-cooled 3-liter engine producing 261 hp, thanks to the KKK turbocharger. These variants, however, gained terrible public perception because of the oversteer, which often resulted in crashes.
8. Trabant 601
The Trabant 601 was a variant of the Trabant manufactured and marketed by VEB Sachsenring between 1964 and 1990. During its run, over 2 million units of the Trabant 601 were produced, and it was certifiably the most popular vehicle in defunct East Germany.
Its selling point in East Germany and across Europe was affordability, reliability, and simple maintenance. The Trabant 601 featured a lightweight chassis alongside a 600cc air-cooled engine which was notably under-equipped, producing just 23 horsepower.
However, before its engine became obsolete, the Trabant 601 was considered satisfactory by millions of owners. It was also was one of the longest-lived vehicle models with air-cooled engines.
9. Morgan 3-Wheeler Euro 3
Production of the Morgan 3-wheeler was set in motion at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011 when the Morgan Motor Company made the announcement. It has a retro design, and looking at it from afar could make you think you traveled back to the 1940s for a quick minute.
The Morgan 3-Wheeler Euro 3 utilizes a 5-speed transmission, and much of the power emerges from an air-cooled engine generating 82hp.
While it’s not the most powerful car out there, the Euro 3 remains one of the “modern” cars with air-cooled engines as opposed to radiators. It’s a perfect choice if you are looking to experience the thrill of a vehicle with an air-cooled engine and a 1940s retro design.