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How car disguise works - and Kacher camo
26 November 2010 10:12
Ever wondered how they disguise top-secret car prototypes? Admired the psychedelic monochrome fizz splattered across future BMWs? We did, so we dispatched CAR's European editor Georg Kacher to Munich to find the inside story on car camouflage.
The black-and-white disguise seen on contemporary BMW test cars, such as the BMW 1-series M Coupe Georg is standing next to, is a thin plastic film supplied by chemical giant 3M.
It's stuck on to the prototypes' bodywork, sometimes swollen by disruptive padding to mask sensitive shapes, while all BM hacks use standard dummy headlamps to hide the real lights. This is proving a popular disguise, and we now see other brands, such as Jaguar, using similar disruptive pattern material.
Where's Georg Kacher?
Aha! You haven't spotted our towering Austrian journalist yet? That's because we wrapped him in reams of the BMW's black-and-white 3M-supplied disguise.
The stuff's so malleable we managed to hide most of Kacher's 6ft 8in frame. Honestly, the car camouflage is so effective, we think you'll agree he melts quietly into the backdrop of BMW's Fiz R&D think-tank in Milbertshofen, a suburb of Munich.
Car prototype camo: the background
Every car maker disguises prototypes when they operate on public roads or tracks, to stop nosy bystanders and professional auto spies papping their future wares. In this digital age, scoop photos and spyshots are disseminated globally in a matter of minutes.
Murray Dietsch, Jaguar Land Rover's vehicle line engineering director, said it's essential to disguise test cars, as knowledge about future product could damage sales of existing model ranges - and alert the competition to your plans.
'We use hard plastic cladding and body camouflage to try and disguise the final shape, so you don't know what it's like,' Dietsch told CAR. 'But we need to continue testing these prototypes and the disguise must not stop the car working normally. Furthermore, we often need to take a car from one workshop to another - so it must be easily removed for our engineers to work on it.'
Of course, there is a delicious irony here: 99% of onlookers would probably fail to recognise a prototype if it drove past them undisguised. Adding weird camouflage probably does more to attract attention than to disperse it.
'It's a doubled-edged sword,' admits Dietsch. 'But you only get one chance to make a good impression when you launch a car. It only takes one car to be photographed near launch and you lose all that build-up. Secrecy is still very important to us.'
Now, where is Kacher?
That's him on the right, by the way. He assures us this is not his usual Friday afternoon garb for an evening on the tiles in Munich's shadier nighteries.
>> See the full story on car disguise in the new and improved Agenda news section in the December 2010 issue of CAR Magazine