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Gavin Green decries the trend to ugly car engines

Published: 01 June 2012

On the 20th birthday of the marvellous McLaren F1 road car – it was launched two decades ago at a Monaco GP party – I am reminded of one of its many virtues. But one that never received the praise it deserved. Namely, it’s superb engine presentation.

Designer Gordon Murray wanted a very beautiful (ie not full of plastic gubbins) engine bay. BMW engineering chief Paul Rosche, who crafted the fabulous 627bhp 6.1-litre V12, cast most of the tube work into the heads and blocks to avoid clutter. There were no plastic pipes or covers, the scourge of the modern motor.

Now I know that cynical readers may think: well, what do you expect for £634,500? But my point is that most modern engine bays – almost all, in fact – are ugly, messy things. And they shouldn’t be.

Even the fast car manufacturers, who pride themselves on what-goes-on-beneath-the-bonnet, take little or no interest. The otherwise fabulous Jaguar XKR-S reveals a large black plastic tray when its hood is opened. There is nothing else to see, certainly no metallic cam covers, spark plugs or juicy exhaust manifolds. Only the words ‘Jaguar’ and ‘supercharged’, on the plastic tray, given any hint of the excitement beneath.

BMW’s otherwise excellent M5 has lots of ugly plastic trunking plus a black plastic mat. When what you want to see is a stupendous twin turbo V8. Even Alfa, past masters of under bonnet presentation, has lost the plot. Under the hood, the otherwise handsome Giulietta is just plain ugly.

I think only Ferrari does a half-decent job of engine bay design these days.

I think all this matters. Car designers fuss over shutlines and wheel-arch gaps and the visual relationship between nose slats and grille. The interior designers insist on just-so hews of plastic and the correct tactility of that slush-moulded dash. They even fuss over the boot finish.

But when it comes to the working bit of the car, it’s about as stylish as your old boiler. I’m sorry, but this just isn’t good enough.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience