Having a keen interest in car design I’ve long been interested in the effect the search for aerodynamic efficiency has had on their appearance.
In the post war years cars were styled by designers who didn’t have the benefit of wind tunnels to help them see how their cars actually behaved at high speed, so they took inspiration from the aircraft industry and sculpted shapes that looked sleek and fast.
This approach gave us some of the most beautiful cars ever made such as the Jaguar E-Type (designed by ex-aircraft designer Malcolm Sayer) and Lamborghini Muira, cars that looked amazing but turned out to be not particularly aerodynamic or in the case of the Muira, not stable at all at high speed. But they did look incredible.
Now though with the benefits of computer aided design and full sized wind tunnels, car designers can do remarkable things to manipulate the way air travels over and through a car. In sports car design the quest is for low drag as well as high downforce to press the car more firmly to the road as this improves grip and allows higher cornering speeds to be achieved.
High downforce is usually obtained by having a big wing hanging off the back of the car but although that creates plenty of downforce it acts like a bit like a parachute at high speed and substantially reduces high speed efficiency.
The brand new McLaren 720S is right at the forefront of aerodynamic efficiency. It carefully manages airflow through the car and it has a big wing at the back that rises up when it’s needed and drops back down when it’s not. Unusually it channels air through the headlights, along the side of the car and up over the doors into the engine. Very impressive but it’s created possibly the ugliest headlight design of any recent sports car and one that’s proving to be extremely controversial.
You can’t argue with the wind tunnel results but is this taking things a bit too far? In my opinion it’s ruined the style of an otherwise stunning looking car, easily the most impressive looking McLaren since the F1 and in my opinion way out in front of what Ferrari and Porsche are doing at the moment. But I just can’t get past those headlights.
I spent less than 5 minutes in Photoshop and blocked the air intakes and I have to say I think it improves the look enormously. A couple of percent less efficient at the limit maybe, but a lot more pleasing on the eye the other 99.99% of the time… I think it’s a compromise worth making.