The art of car disguise: prototype camouflage decoded | CAR Magazine

The art of car disguise: prototype camouflage decoded

Published: 07 November 2022 Updated: 07 November 2022

► How car makers disguise prototypes
► The 21 different types we’ve spotted

► Gallery: a car camo masterclass!

Car manufacturers go to great lengths to keep their future models under wraps – but automotive camouflage has evolved into quite an art form in recent years.

The disguises have increasingly become part of the marketing message; the prevalence of smartphones means that the chances of a secret prototype being spotted have mushroomed in recent years, so the car makers have taken advantage of that visibility.

Cue the recent Rolls-Royce Spectre prototypes being wrapped in a marketing message (see above). It’s as much about being seen as being hidden…

Traditional car prototype disguises

Since CAR started papping secret prototypes back in the 1960s, in our formative years, the industry has come a long way. Masking tape, vinyl sheets, black panels, zig-zag disruptive pattern material… you name it, and engineers have tried it to keep their precious new vehicles under wraps. Flick through our gallery above to spot the most common trends. 

Spyshots: keep abreast of new cars with our scoop section

The Evoque's party man motif

From the ARES Panther Viking helmet wrap to the Keith Haring camo adorning the 2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible (above, inset), there’s a host of interesting visuals adorning most modern prototypes.

Why car makers disguise their future models

There comes a point in every car’s development where the engineers have to bite the bullet and test prototypes on the public roads; there’s only so much that a CAD programme can tell them and the real world plays an important part in most new-car programmes.

From the psychedelic swirls of vinyl wraps, designed to distract prying lenses and eyeballs away from the curvature of metal panelwork, to the fully amorphous blanket preferred by certain French companies – this is an intriguing area of the business. Some, like Bentley, have even tried to make their prototypes look like a rival manufacturer’s models; in this case, the Continental family masquerading as a Merc S-Class!

Cheekily, Bentley stuck a Mercedes grille on the front of this 2012 Flying Spur prototype to put spies off the scent

Flick through our spy photo gallery above to see more unusual car disguises.

You’ll find Toyotas covered in what look like compact discs, a Hyundai sporting a black bra and an Alfa 8C covered in gaffer tape. In a postmodern twist, the camo is in fact now often the story – some pre-production engineering hacks increasingly look like mobile billboards and advertising hoardings.

Although maybe not this Audi A7 (below). This Hallowe’en special from a few years back still makes us laugh!

Audi A7 wearing a blanket

Click here to read more about prototype camouflage – where you can find out what happened when we wrapped our European editor Georg Kacher in BMW’s disruptive pattern material (below).

Now you see him, now you don’t…

The time we wrapped our European ed Georg Kacher in BMW camo

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words