Vellum Venom Vignette: A Primer on Black Plastic?
Can you explain black plastic on cars? I saw an Audi Q7 with black plastic all over the bottom, but then a Q5 doesn’t have it. Sometimes the plastic isn’t black but color coded like an Eddie Bauer Ford or something else.
I may just want some back story or history lesson or someone to help me learn to enjoy this crap on my car.
Scientific American has an impressive overview of cellulose, bakelite, etc. development leading to the creation of our modern plastic world. Such relevance naturally leads to a discussion of why plastic bumpers are so awesome.
Pontiac excellently touted the (body color) Endura nose of the ’68 GTO, but the first of the breed is probably the Lotus Elan. The Ford Sierra’s strikingly integrated plastic bumpers were part of my tribute to Uwe Bahnsen, but the Renault 5 was the first everyman’s car with them. It’s not perfectly integrated, but the 5’s shape is pure 1970s “aerodynamic wedge” fantasy.
The benefits of plastic bumpers are both clear and muddy. Today’s cheaper, sleeker, more integrated plastic parts are a significant safety and collision repair improvement, thanks to cars like the wonderfully engineered 1973 Mercedes ESF 22. But they also weigh less (even older implementations with metal reinforcements) in a crucial location: less weight at the corners has less rotational inertia for more poised transitions requiring less torque in handling maneuvers.
So you better love these things. But love them in black plastic? Not as much.
Like my experience with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome after taking a seemingly benign medication, with every car design benefit comes a risky side effect.
The ever-lowering cost of plastics means beancounters can over-reach with abandon. Think of the 2001 Pontiac Aztek, before the modest smattering of extra paint to mask the ugly. Fleet-spec truck grilles aside, a base model vehicle with black bumpers has gone by the wayside: try finding a 1990s Explorer, Accord or Camry on the road with ‘em.
And today’s black (trimmed) bumpers likely imply you own a premium spec motor: the Audi All-Road and Ford Raptor come to mind.
Oh, the irony. Did this sufficiently “help you learn to enjoy this crap on your car?” Fill in the gaps, Best and Brightest.
[Images: Ford, Audi]
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