Aero-Nausea

As Longtime Readers know well, I absolutely hate the modern (circa 1980?) trend of using wind tunnels to design cars.  Because aerodynamics have unbreakable rules, it stands to reason that if wind tunnels are the sine qua non of car design, then eventually all cars will look the same.

And so it is:

It’s not incredible that so many cars look so similar. It’s incredible that cars look different at all.

Well, they don’t  look different, not at all.

And it gets up my nose, because it’s all part of the Great Global Homogeneity Conspiracy.  (Okay, there is no conspiracy;  people form naturally into herds of one kind or another, so no conspiracy is really needed.)

All you need is for Government (the ultimate homogenizer) to mandate that all an auto manufacturer’s car models combined can only do x, and the rest is history.  In the case of the above, x is emissions, where Gummint has imposed its nonsensical CAFE restrictions (To Save Our Planet And Make The World A Better Place For Our Childrennnn!!!), so the manufacturers have to make cars as sleek as possible, lower wind resistance / drag, and because it’s therefore easier to lower fuel consumption by making cars teardrop-shaped, bring in the Almighty Wind Tunnel.

Here’s the part of the linked article which really gets up my nose:

Suzy Cody, GM’s head of vehicle performance for aerodynamics, says this technology is the bridge between design and engineering. “Look,” she says, “it doesn’t matter how great your aerodynamics are if only ten people buy the car. Design matters. And active aero helps enable design.” But what if, I posit, there’s a propulsion breakthrough? Right now, aerodynamics are tied to miles per gallon and electric range. What if we had batteries that were good for 600 miles of range and charged in ten minutes? Could we stop worrying about every crease in the bodywork? Could we just give those designers the flared fenders and not sweat it? In other words, would aero cease to be such a big deal? Cody, unsurprisingly, seemed aghast that I would suggest such a thing. “Even if you had a battery like that, good aero gives you other options. You could have a smaller battery, make the car cheaper, give it more passenger space, make it quieter. Aero will always be important.”

Silly me.  And here I was, thinking that for any manufacturer, what the customer wants would be more important, but no.  We have to let the Dilberts create the products — and when Engineering controls Marketing, you get bullshit statements like the above, and stupid shit like this:

“We can affect aero maybe 10 percent one way or the other—if the coefficient of drag is .30, maybe we can get it down to .27,” Karbon says. “And that might represent three-tenths of a mile per gallon in fuel economy, depending on the vehicle.”

Only an engineer (or a total dork, some overlap) can get excited by this.  It’s the same as the wankers who get rigid erections because their supercar beats a competitor to 60mph by 0.1 seconds, paying little heed that this means nothing, absolute nada in the real world (as does that breathtaking 0.3mpg saving in fuel consumption).

This obsession with aerodynamic perfection means that instead of getting great-looking cars like this:

…we get homo-cars [sic]  that look like this:

I know, I know;  y’all are going to mock me for loving old stuff more than the new stuff — Mr. Free Market in particular is going to be snorting into his whisky glass when he reads this — but the problem with the New Stuff (as manifested by the Toyota Prius above) is that it all looks the same.  Note, from the same manufacturer, the Yaris:

Or, changing brands from Toyota to Nissan, this:

…or even VW, once the owner of the most iconic of car shapes:

No.  Just… no.  It’s small wonder that if you said to me: “Kim, you have to buy a small car, and you could have any car you like,” there would be no doubt what I’d get:

Not aerodynamic, too small, completely pointless and with absolutely no safety features whatsoever.  It’s my (over-) reaction to enforced homogenization.  (And most annoyingly to the enviro-weenies, the Moke gets close to 50mpg.  So there.)

But here’s the thing:  I bet I could pull more chicks with the Mini-Moke than with any of the above-pictured sleek and efficient econoboxes.

And I’m not even interested in pulling chicks.  But you know what kind of chicks would prefer the Moke?  This  kind:

…while everyone knows what kind of chick gets pulled by a Prius:

Screw conformity, the hell with efficiency, and fuck aerodynamics:  I want a car that’s FUN and looks either splendid (like the Morgan Plus 4 at the top), eclectic (like the Moke), impressive (1954 Mercedes 300 SC), or flat-out gorgeous (hello, E-type).  No doubt I’ll soon be marked as an undesirable and hauled off to the gulag  for re-education just because when it comes to cars, I choose character and beauty over efficiency.

Just wait till they hear my opinion of those “efficient” automatic transmissions…

18 comments

  1. In the mid 1980’s I was puzzled when I found out there was an extra $500 discount off the price of a full size Chevy Silverado if you bought it with the 5 speed manual. I was sure I could get better mileage with an auto transmission so I called a friend in charge of fleet sales for a large Chevy dealer and he laughed a bit and then explained how CAFE worked for Chevy. He told me that no one who drives like a normal person gets better mileage but they have test drivers who can use a 5 speed manual on a test track and get slightly better mileage so the more manual transmission trucks they sell the better the average in an unreal world works out and lots of people, remember this was 30 years ago, like shifting gears and pushing the gas pedal and they will never get the mileage the test drivers can get but reality does not matter. I am thinking things have not changed since then.

  2. If by “efficient” automatics you mean the god-awful CVT rubberband boxes, I believe you’d be pontificating to the chapel singers here. I don’t give a shit how efficient it is. I don’t care that it can park at the RPM where max torque is made and then vary the speed by adjusting the gear ratios. I call that ‘slipping the clutch’. Constantly. Every. Damn. Day. Forever. Are they going into industrial trucks where pulling power is king? No? How about F1 cars? No? Then the engineering spud who thought they were a good idea can bite me.

    These days, even many car thieves can’t drive a manual transmission, so just having one is an anti-theft device. Unfortunately, they’re equally hamstrung in 1/2-ton class trucks. Before picking up my current truck, I found a 4-door, longbed (!!!) Ram 1500 with a 5-speed. I was stoked. Until I looked up the towing capacity: 4300-5300lbs, depending on the rear-end gearset. I realize the 6-speed out of the 3500 series might be overkill, but there’s gotta be SOMETHING better.

    Kim, if you want to go look at a ‘reasonable’ use of electric technology, Google “Zombie 222” and check out Bloodshed Motors.

  3. And yet there’s still a good market for retro styled vehicles- witness the Mustang, the Camero, the Fiat 500, various modern Mopars, the Ford GT, and the Mini, to just throw in a few quick examples.

  4. I’d probably pick the VW Thing or a 1940s – 1950s era Jeep over the Moke, but no arguments about the Morgan or the E-type.

    1. There probably is a portion of the buying public that actually likes the current-day unidesign. The cars, after all, really do look like suppositories. Mmm mmm.

  5. Many people buy a car as an appliance. You don’t grumble about the shape of your refrigerator and they don’t grumble about the shape of their car. My wife loves her 4cyl Camry because it meets her needs – reliability, comfortable seat, excellent fuel economy, adequate performance, good visibility (the anti-Camaro). What’s not to like? Well, how about the terrible Toyota corporate front? There are other front ends that are as bad – some look like they are pre-crashed. Incidentally, her car reminds me of the saying that it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. When the OEM tires need replacing, I’ll be looking for a performance tire. I wonder if Pilot Sport 2s come in an appropriate size?

    ps – the Camry’s garage mate is a 1st gen Cayman S. Lovely car, 6 speed MT, but 3rd gear redline is 100mph. Not that many places in the US you can get into higher RPMs in most gears and retain your license.

  6. I shall forever have fond memories of my ’69 BMW 2002—on which I installed a Weber carburetor, headers (well, four-banger, so header), 320i rims (and rubber) and up-graded shocks and springs. Not much for aerodynamics, but visibility and drive-ability? Oh my!

  7. Kim;
    How could you exclude the ’65 E type Jaguar coupe when you are showing cars that can be aerodynamic
    AND beautiful. Ok so the E types Cd may be a bit more than a Prius (spit) but which one would YOU be willing to be seen in?

  8. Can’t see a Moke without thinking of The Prisoner.

    When I win the lottery and build my island estate, I’m going to have a half a dozen Mokes as runabouts.

  9. I was always drawn to some of the early aero cars. Citroen DS and SAAB 96 come to mind. Not necessarily pretty, but weirdly efficient. Competition proven. They each won the Monte Carlo rally way back when.

  10. I got my chick with a 1967 Sunbeam Tiger. Not terribly aerodynamic but it had more than enough horsepower to make up for it and still gave about 28 mpg on leaded regular. The Tiger was replaced by a Toyota land cruiser which ran into the wind like a 4×8 sheet of plywood. 14 mpg downhill with a tail wind from that one.

    The chick who rode shotgun in the Tiger (and in everything I’ve driven since) said that I reminded her of Maxwell Smart. She was as pretty and sexy and smart as Agent 99 – and still is – and we celebrated our 42nd anniversary two weeks ago. I’m not claiming that British racing green Tiger and my leather USN pilot’s jacket helped but Maxwell Smart needs all of the help with cool that he can get.

  11. It’s idiotic tech weenies like the designers of the new genderqueer cars who don’t get the beautiful difference between the form and function of the Spitfire, the Lancaster, the Mosquito and the Mustang, all powered by the same Rolls Royce Merlin, but all designed to fill very different roles, but doing it with magnificent style.

  12. You overlooked an important design feature of all those new cars:
    European pedestrian safety. They mandated cars have to have a smooth, rounded surface contour to make crossing the road safer for the idiots that wander across roads without paying attention to traffic. We get the same shit by default.
    If you wonder if it makes a difference, just watch a few Russian crash videos. I think reality shows that they probably make no measurable difference. I suspect there may be a narrow speed window where it might help, otherwise, ppffiiiittt.

  13. Tried my hand selling cars one summer in the mid-60’s just to not think about college, and worked for a BMC/Lotus dealer in the foothills of L.A.
    Our dealership runabout was a Moke.
    When we needed to pick up some new cars from the BMC Distributor which was located on the opposite side of L.A., four or five of us would pile into the Moke and make our way via L.A.’s famous/infamous freeway system to BMCD, usually just after the morning rush-hour. What an experience: Zipping along at 60-65 mph being passed by 60’s Galaxie’s, Buicks, etc., just inches away … and the looks you got from the average driver – PRICELESS!

  14. The whole car thing reminds me of the despicable ’70s and ’80s in the motorcycle realm; Japanese manufacturers had taken over and “UJM” – Universal Japanese Motorcycle – became an oft-repeated pejorative. We now have Universal Automobiles, each indistinguishable from another, both outside and inside. As much as I decry the stultifying uniformity among vehicles, I accept that battle has long been lost, and choose to focus energies elsewhere.

    My pet peeve (one among many) is the fucking idiots at the drawing boards who decide that reasonable fuel mileage – for whatever their personal definition of “reasonable” may be – decrees a miniature fuel tank be used. One U.S gallon is 231 cubic inches – the equivalent of a cube just under 6.250 inches on a side. As a somewhat impractical, but still useful, exercise, get a standard 6 inch cube shipping box, climb under your car and see how many places near or around the fuel tank such space can be found. It’s usually easy to find the space to add 3 gallons to an existing 12 gallon tank, and often 4 or more; 3 gallons in a Toyota Corolla is another 100-120 miles depending on weather and driver, about a 25% increase in range. With precision moulding techniques and CAD, finding that capacity increase should be simple.

    Perhaps the design engineer’s bladder, posterior and/or traveling companion(s) preclude more than a couple hundred miles at a stretch, but there are some among us who do not suffer such frailties. Back in the day, I used to commute monthly some 850 miles each way on an R90, to which I added a 9 gallon Krauser main tank to replace BMW’s 5.8 gallon stylish but insufficient original issue, and a 5 gallon temporary on the luggage rack, allowing just over 600 non-stop miles at a time; I really wanted 850, but that was unattainable.

    (This range obsession comes as a result from being involved Way Back When in the ferrying of light aircraft; the dollar delta, not to mention time, between flight to destination and disassembly, ground transport, and reassembly, was, to say the least, rather significant. Often this involved overflight of areas where fuel and service were, for all practical purpose, non-existent or nearly such, so a lot of slide rule time was spent in computing maximum successful range under varying weather conditions and laying in such emergency options as were possible. As a result, I’ve come to desire just as much range as it is possible to procure; a couple more gallons in my Universal Automobile gives me options and margins otherwise unattainable. I’ll unhappily drive something that looks just like everything else, but please stop making me captive to rural petroleum distributors.)

  15. I’ve had two Jeep Wranglers since 1992, and with every new iteration they keep rounding off bits here and there, so it’s gone from about as aerodynamic as a brick to slightly more aerodynamic than a brick. Plug in a six cylinder engine and you get about 17 mpg, but it does stand out among all the little aeroweenies in a crowded parking lot.

  16. It rather depends what you’re buying. You certainly CAN make a good looking, aerodynamic SUV– but nobody really makes one (Porsche tries, as do other lux/performance brands, but it’s pretty half-hearted) because those things are largely designed by committees that put design aesthetics stone dead last on the list of priorities. Every economy car, SUV, and family hauler generally looks like whichever one has set the market trend for sales, because the market battleground there is for gadgets, cargo and people space, and other generally boring and useless things. You can only knock so many edges off a washing machine.

    You can’t get away with that when it comes to sports cars, or even performance luxury stuff– because nobody will buy it if it looks like garbage. This is why the current crop of pony cars all look quite a lot different with significant nods to their herritage, though they’re all extensively wind-tunnel tweaked. It’s why a modern Ferrari looks very little like a modern Lamborghini or Porsche, etc, and on down the food chain.

    The Lambo Miura is one of the best looking things ever made by man, for example. It’ll also kill you if you dare take it over 120 mph due to its terrible aero. A modern one will do that in second gear with a yawn.

    Aerodynamics are critical to the design of a car that’s actually fast and stable over ~100 mph. And there’s really nothing keeping said aero from being massaged into a pretty body, it just isn’t done in market segments where nobody cares and the extra expense of doing it can’t be justified.

  17. An old “poem”, from either R&T or C&D:
    “Ugly little Mini-Moke
    Are you just a British joke?
    People laugh as you pass by
    Like a tea-tray in the sky.”

Comments are closed.