QOTD: Why Are Today's 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
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.
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.
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