The Demise of the Exciting Engine Bay
Hot rods with no 'hoods' to speak of, bright orange big block V8's from the 70's, twin turbo sixes and even the humble four cylinders. During the past century of motoring, engines of all shapes, sizes and configurations have been proudly displayed under the bonnets of performance cars. The last couple of decades however, black plastic has replaced nearly all metal on show in the majority of engine bays. There are still great engines in there, (for now at least) hiding beneath the plastic, but it's such a shame that we can't see the well designed and engineered ICE's of modern performance cars.
Why We Love a Good Engine Bay
The looks of a well-prepared engine bay add up to more than just the sum of its parts. A car meet is not complete without at least a couple of special vehicles whose owners have spent absurd amounts of time, money and elbow grease to make their under-bonnet the best in show. These are always some of the most photographed and adored cars of the show, guaranteed, as people appreciate that while not always on display, a clean, well prepared engine bay is something to be proud of.
Polished metal and tidy wiring looms are something that also likely shows a high level of care and maintenance of the car and its mechanicals. A shoddy, dirty engine bay is often a sign of an owner who doesn't know/ care what goes on under his/ her bonnet. However, with the change to engine bays covered with plastic this approach may be changing...
The Problem with All That Plastic
All these plastic covers in modern engine bays have their purpose; whether it be protecting, tidying or just hiding some of the 'dirty' mechanical looking parts that modern buyers do not want to see. All these covers, however, do cause some practical issues, the first being visibility of all the mechanical parts that are paramount to the engine running efficiently and safely. Fluid leaks (oil, coolant, brake fluid etc..) cannot be spotted as easily from a quick inspection, often requiring plastic panels to be removed in order to check. This will likely not be a part of any car owners' regular checks, while a clearer engine bay would make these issues much easier to spot and sort while performing other regular maintenance tasks.
Therein lies the other issues with all this excess; the accessibility to mechanical parts of the engine, even just for replacement of regular wear-and-tear service items. The extra panelling will likely make access to certain parts of the engine bay more difficult and may require removal, this adds time and annoyance for the regular home mechanic, and will cause extra cost for those who use garages for their servicing and repairs. Also, to mention here, one of my personal pet peeves, the clips that often hold these plastic panels down. These tiny clips will fly off into the abyss of your engine never to be found again, or will simply break upon removal and require more cost and time to source replacements.
There is also mention for the excess waste caused here. These extra plastic pieces are likely not made from recycled material and will likely not be recycled at the end of the car's life either. In this modern world of EV cars and low emission hybrids surely, we should be trying to minimise the excess parts that we are adding to cars. This is especially relevant when those parts are under a bonnet, that, in the case of most car owners, will only be opened by the dealer for servicing and repairs or come time for the annual MOT.
Why This is Unlikely to Change
The chances of a let up in plastic panelling seems infinitely small unfortunately. Modern vehicles, with all their extra technology and numerous driver aids, are constantly requiring more wiring and sensors to be tucked in and around the engine bay. All these extra wires and parts are more and more likely to be covered up with yet more plastic, to give a cleaner aesthetic look that modern customers seek. The reduction in home mechanics (likely due to cars that are increasingly difficult to repair with basic tools) also means that the accessibility is not a major concern for the manufacturer or potential customer. The staff at authorised dealers will have specific tools to remove and replace plastic parts, while the extra time they can charge you for removing extra panels to service your car will add up to a nice bonus for the dealer's wallets.
The next generation of cars, moving towards electric powertrains, actually have little to no mechanical parts under their bonnets. This means that there is nothing to gain via having parts on show as they are likely as interesting as looking inside your washing machine. Fluid checks are more commonly performed via the car's onboard computer, rather than looking under the bonnet and, as previously said, very few people will work on their own vehicle anyway. All this means that we are unlikely to see an end to the plastic menace.
So, I leave you with one of my favourites and one of the last great sights in an engine bay, the fabulous V6 Busso engine from Alfa Romeo (pictured above). It's chromed metal inlet pipes and simple red lettering showing that it doesn't take much to give a satisfying look in your engine bay. For those of you who still have metal on show under the bonnet; clean it, polish it and relish in the accessibility you have when you get the spanners out. For those whose engine bay is full of plastics, well, just keep the spanners out of arms reach when those pesky clips start flying.
Please let me know some of your favourite looking engines in the comments below.