Racking, Stacking and Packing them in

With the headline ‘Six vehicles fit into one standard container’ an article in SHD Logistics brought to my attention a novel method for securing vehicles during shipment. It’s really not a bad idea, making better use of the space available with standardised ‘racking pods’ that can be fitted inside a 40′ container to raise vehicles above floor level, such that up to twice as many can be squeezed in. Previously, loading in this way would have been a much slower process, using wood to form the necessary supports.

CCS storage approach

Means of fitting multiple vehicles in a shipping container (Consolidated Car Shipping)

This kind of ingenuity made me think of the Chevrolet Vega. Regardless of what you think of rust-prone 1970s subcompacts (it might have been named after the brightest part of the constellation of Lyra, but the Vega was far from stellar…) we have to take a moment to admire the manufacturer’s vision.

At a time when Geoffrey Boothroyd and Peter Dewhurst still had a lot of work to do to convince the world of the merits of design for manufacture, the humble Vega was a lightyear ahead in design for logistics.

Like most cars made in the USA, the Vega would be distributed by rail… but where a conventional tri-level ‘autorack’ car transporter could have carried fifteen or at most eighteen (very short) vehicles, General Motors and the Southern Pacific Transportation Company designed a special wagon, called ‘Vert-A-Pac’, that could hold thirty cars… by shipping them all in a nose-down configuration.

A conventional car transporter, with fifteen vehicles aboard.

A conventional car transporter, with fifteen vehicles on board.

Chevrolet Vegas and Vert-A-Pac transporters.

Chevrolet Vegas and Vert-A-Pac transporters.

The Vega had special clamping points on the floor pan to hold it in place, and was designed so that fluids (coolant, fuel, screen wash, oil, and battery acid) would not drain away when it was held in that position. Upon unloading at the closest railhead, the Vega was ready to be driven straight to the dealership. With over two million Vegas being made from 1970–1977, the cost savings must have been considerable.

How’s that for a distribution strategy? No other cars ever used the system, though, so all the Vert-A-Pac railway wagons returned to more conventional uses when production ended. Nowadays, no vehicle achieves the efficient packing density of the Vega… at least, not until the end of its useful life.

Car cubes

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