QOTD: Why Are Today's Race Cars So Ugly?

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
qotd why are todays race cars so ugly

When was the last time you saw a pretty race car? Maybe I’m turning into Walt Kowalski, but it seems to me that the racing machines of my youth looked nicer. Is there a purer shape than Jim Clark’s Indy 500 winning Lotus 38? Is not the Lola T70 sensuous? Some of Jim Hall’s Chaparrals, like the 2H “vacuum” car and the 2J streamliner with its center mounted high wing look a little odd, but even the 2J has an aesthetically pleasing shape, something you can’t say about a modern Formula One racer, with it’s dizzying array of airfoils, winglets and canards.

I suppose we can blame those aerodynamic aids. You could say that those F1 cars are flying on the ground, balancing between increased downforce for cornering and decreased drag for straight line speed. Ironically, though, the machines that popularized the management of aerodynamics and downforce were actually attractive. Jim Hall and Colin Chapman were aero innovators, but their cars still looked good. Most of the Chaparrals looked great, and I don’t think anyone ever said that a Lotus 72 or Lotus 78 was anything other than beautiful. One reason why the Porsche 917 has become such an iconic race car is that it looks good in addition to being brutally fast.

“Form follows function” often does result in nice styling and design. Modern race cars, however, might be too functional to be concerned with aesthetics.

Can you name a modern race car that looks good? Alternatively, what do you think is the best looking racing car of all time?

Photos by the author.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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3 of 61 comments
  • Snavehtrebor Snavehtrebor on Jul 27, 2015

    I don't think it's purely down to relating to the cars that were prevalent when you first got the racing bug. I'm in my 40s, and while the mid to late 80's Group C and IMSA GTP cars will always "look like a race car should look" to me, I can relate to examples from just about every generation. Porsche 908/3 (Gulf) Lancia 037 (Martini) Lancia Stratos (Alitalia) Ferrari 641 Ferrari 512S (Sunoco) McLaren F1 GTR longtail (Gulf/Davidoff livery) Audi R15 (the first car, not the R15 Plus) Jordan Peugeot 197 (the "snake car" from the Benson & Hedges days) Sauber C18 Porsche 962LH (Shell/Dunlop from '88 LeMans) For me, the more interesting question is, can you separate these cars from their liveries? So many iconic cars look right in a certain set of decals & paint, and seeing bodies-in-white might change the perception.

    • Th009 Th009 on Jul 28, 2015

      In spite of the uhh, not pretty, Nissan, endurance racing has plenty of good-looking cars (and I'm not talking about Daytona prototypes): 2003 Bentley Speed 8 2004 Audi R8 2008 Peugeot 908 2015 DOME S103 Personally I prefer the 908 LH to the 908/3, but both are classics.

  • Tubbess Tubbess on Feb 26, 2016

    As to whether aesthetics and technology are irreconcilable, I don't think it's necessarily an either/or choice. I have seen some cars which employ the latest aero-features that actually have some visual appeal. The scg003s comes to mind. Anyway, the current crop of GT's still look good, even to an old geezer like me. I do find it amusing, from the everything-old-is new-again department, that these ultra-new state-of-the-art prototypes incorporate features like fenders, running boards and tail fins. Go figure.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.