Mechanical Engineering

Front ends, air flow, boats and aesthetics

August 01, 2018

So I promised our marketing department I’d do a blog on our recent adoption of a telemedicine benefit for our employees.

I mean it’s topical and cutting edge and cool and relevant and I’ve got some fun things I want to share. And I really intended to do that. But then, while working out of our San Francisco office, I saw my first Telsa Model 3 in the wild. And wow … I have to say ... that’s one ugly front end!

Yikes.

So first off – I am hardly a Telsa hater by any means. Rather, I stand in deep admiration and strong appreciation for their accomplishments - nothing short of amazing. Disrupting a highly inertial and deeply engrained business like the auto industry is no small feat. And let’s face it – the Tesla Model S is an absolutely gorgeous car, so it’s possible that for me the Model 3 is simply paling in comparison.

Likewise, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and automotive styling is always going to be strongly polarizing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which quirky cars are initially going to make us blink but grow on us over time (like the Scion XB), and which quirky car’s “ugly” has real staying power (e.g. the Pontiac Aztec). Apologies to Walter White.

Car styling will always be controversial and subjective. If I felt the Telsa team had merely taken some aesthetic risk, I’d probably be more accommodating. But in this case, I have a suspicion - and it’s just a suspicion, mind you – that I know what happened.

Conventional internal combustion cars have a pretty good reason for that gaping hole in the front. That’s where the air runs through the radiator to cool the engine – and the air necessary to feed combustion comes from. At the advent of car design, the engineers and designers simply stuck the radiators right out in front in all their glory for everyone to see. Form clearly followed function here!

As car styling became more aggressive (and to protect the somewhat fragile radiator from debris), the radiator began to slink back under the hood – leaving the necessity for adding access holes for air to enter. And car designers adapted this “form follows function” feature, often with gorgeous and iconic results.

Like shutters on houses far from hurricanes, it’s a visual component whose purpose was lost but our aesthetic expectations persist.

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