Public history

The French Quest for the Silent Car Body: Technology, Comfort and Distinction in the Interwar Period

Up until the First World War the open tourer had been the predominant car type in France. Then, during the 1920s, it was swiftly replaced by the closed sedan. The closed car revolution was accompanied by an intricate discourse on body noise and silence: motorists and journalists for example criticized noisy cars, test drivers praised the silence of certain car models, and automotive engineers investigated means to quieten car components with special consideration of the closed body. To unravel this multifaceted discourse the paper will describe the French quest for the silent car body and differentiate three different meanings of silence: mechanical silence, comfortable silence, and aristocratic silence. It will be argued that claims and judgments about automobile silence depended greatly on context and more general cultural connotations of noise and silence. The silent car body concomitantly symbolized engineering excellence, driving comfort, and social prestige.

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