Whale Tails, what are they? Do you love or hate them? Whale Tails are a very specific type of spoiler. A spoiler is a device that is used in performance cars to “spoil” or ruin the laminar flow of air over the car’s body as it moves. What this basically means it that as a car moves forward, the air rushes over its body in a smooth, even flow. It’s a little like the way water from a tap curves around the dish that you are rinsing.
So why do we want to disrupt this flow? Whenever fluid flows over an object it creates a force called drag. What this does is to slow down the motion of the object. Have you ever stuck you hand out of the car window as you are driving? If your palm faces the road, you can quite comfortably keep your hand out the window. However, turn your palm so that it is vertical, and immediately the drag force increases, pushing your arm backwards. Large drag forces can shave those critical few seconds off a car’s performance and dictate whether it wins a race or comes dissonantly second. Spoilers act to reduce the drag force on a car, and so help it move through the air more smoothly.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, and to improve the car’s drag co-efficient you can compromise on its handling and looks. So the trick is finding a balance. You want improved drag, not too much loss of handling and something that still looks great! Porsche is renowned for being a conservative marque, as the 911 proves. They believe in few drastic design modifications, but rather an overall general improvement of their already rock solid engineering. So when the 911 RS appeared in 1974 with a Wale Tail spoiler, it caused quite a sensation. Such a drastic departure from the aesthetically pleasing tapered rear section of the engine bay altered the cars appearance dramatically. Although the previous model year had already introduced a ducktail to the engine lid, this was much larger, horizontally angled and even had a rubber rim to protect pedestrians! At the same time though, Porsche introduced many other subtler and not so visible modifications such as larger brakes, stiffened redesigned suspension and larger rear wheels. These changes made this model year a very successful street and rally car, which perhaps helped to soften the changes to the body. It is also regarded as one of the most collectible classic Porsches.
A variant of this original Whale Tail remained on the 911 until 1989, and their influence is apparent in several other marques of the time such as Ford, Chevrolet and Saab. Fast forward to the present day, and spoilers are still being used, although to a somewhat less apparent degree – some are even retractable and in the case or certain BMWs hardly visible in plain sight. Porsche itself has a small nod to the old Whale Tails on its current 911 series such as the 911 Turbo S and the new 911 GT3 which has a large combination whale tail and rear wing. Modern computers allow for detailed drag profiling of cars and so modern spoilers can be designed to be both unobtrusive and very effective in comparison to those around their advent.
So now that you know what a spoiler is, how it works and why Porsche decided to use it you have all the motivation behind the design. Whether you find it aesthetically appealing or not, is very much based on your own opinion. Some aftermarket spoilers can have the effect of making a decent looking car appear ready for takeoff at JFK. Although in the writer’s opinion, I feel that when tastefully applied it only adds to the performance appeal of the car. Just watch a spoiler of the new GT3, and my point is proven.