Vellum Venom Vignette: Flattened Fenders and Air Curtains

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette flattened fenders and air curtains

Mike writes:


I have noticed something on newer cars, and it’s been bothering me for awhile now. Perhaps you, with your deity-like omniscience (and access to inside information) will be able to provide some clarity.

As you can see from the picture below, a new Toyota has this vertical flat area around the wheels. And it’s not just this particular model of car — nearly every modern car I see on the road today has a similar design feature, though they vary in the width of the flat area around the wheel arch. Contrast this the Clinton-era Toyo at the bottom, where the body lines follow a graceful curve all the way to the fender opening.

To my eye, the wheel arch flatness looks terrible. Are every automaker’s designers on the same drugs, or is this done for an actual reason — i.e, aerodynamics, or possibly to make the wheels appear larger (another trend which befuddles me)?

Looking forward to your reply, thank you!

Sajeev answers:

Access to inside information in the car design biz? Deity-like omniscience? Hardly. I contacted two experts in aerodynamics and neither responded. Even worse, one is a longtime family friend.

Aesthetically speaking: I agree. The flattened fender arches add an unnecessarily complex or flow-killing stylistic element to a vehicle’s bodyside.

Realistically speaking: The hard transition provides an aero benefit I cannot independently verify. I reckon it reduces drag and/or turbulence around the wheels, especially when adding air curtains. The two might combine to “clean up” (technical term) airflow around the front wheels. Which implies your ride gets quieter and more fuel efficient — not just for fancy BMWs, but also for the Ford F-150 and Mustang.

Which begs the question, how much does this really help? Bullet-nosed faces of the 1990s are history and we still have pedestrian-friendly fronts with extensive amounts of frontal area. Perhaps that’s why air curtains are necessary: every little bit helps.

If you’re a Car Design Wonk, please chime in below or drop me an email.

[Image: BMW, the OP, Ford]

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 39 comments
  • V-Strom rider V-Strom rider on May 28, 2017

    My M235i has them - my least favourite part of an otherwise beautiful car.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on May 30, 2017

    Truly hate those flat arches, one reason I love my 2000 Lexus GS, it has box-flares! real, live box-flares! Todays cars are nearly indistinguishable from one another and the interiors even more so. The designers today strike me as being more interested in anime and comic books than in cars, hence cars and trucks becoming so cartoonish. I drove a Lexus NX loaner a few weeks ago and was embarrassed to seen in the thing, and not even because of the grille, but because of the giant flat wheel arches.

  • Fahrvergnugen NA Miata goes topless as long as roads are dry and heater is running, windscreen in place.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.
  • Fred Private equity is only concerned with making money. Not in content. The only way to deal with it, is to choose your sites wisely. Even that doesn't work out. Just look at AM/FM radio for a failing business model that is dominated by a few large corporations.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.