The subject of car design is something that causes much angst and outcry on the internet. As a car’s design can triumph or fail purely based on looks alone. A part of all of this debate is the rear wing of a car, with certain designs achieving legendary status, while others remain much maligned.
Not all rear wings were designed equally though. As over the years, a number have been all show and no go with little or no functional aerodynamic effect still somehow managing to achieve iconic status among car-nuts the world over.
Others though have continued to show that science and tech are essential to the design of a car, making them faster and more agile at high-speed while doing little or nothing to enhance the visual appeal of a car.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, rear wing or no rear wing, or simple style over functionality, there is no doubt that some cars would be utterly worse off without them.
These are our picks for the most iconic rear wings ever seen.
Escort RS Cosworth ‘Whaletail’
A real slab of 1990s yobbery, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth was blessed with the iconic ‘Whaletail’ spoiler. It wasn’t just for show either as it actually cleaned the air at the back of the car, making it stable at high speed. Oddly, some Escort Cossies were cheated of their rear wing, losing around 5mph of top speed. I mean, can you imagine an RS-badged motor without one?
One man is thought to be responsible for the rear wing of the Lamborghini Countach, a self-made oil magnate named Walter Wolf. You see, Walter didn’t like his wingless Countach ordering three bespoke built examples with a rear wing that would become standard fit on the production models.
Ironically, it didn’t do much for the aero of the car either and depending on who you ask, its either a fantastic addition or ruins the design.
Would the F40 be the same without its iconic slab shaped rear wing? Well for starters it would become a bit of a handful at high-speed as it does actually provide aero stability at speeds of up to 201mph.
In what Ferrari dubbed the “ultimate eighties power statement,” it’s near impossible to think of the F40 without its full-width squared off wing, visible carbon fibre weave and all.
Porsche Panamera Turbo
With its two-stage foldout deployment, the wing attached to the Porsche Panamera Turbo has to be the ultimate way to show off in traffic. Reminiscent of Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit with its deployable wing, there is no denying its colossal cool factor with its deployment signalling that warp speed mode has been engaged.
BMW M4 GTS
The BMW M4 GTS came in for a bit of criticism when it was launched due to the massive price tag (£70k more), and that it was perhaps a bit difficult to live with. Regardless, it makes this list thanks to its massive adjustable carbon-fibre rear wing, which is cleanly mounted by a pair of pristine CNC-milled aluminium supports to the rear boot-lid. The fact that it helped the M4 GTS blast around the Nurburgring in only 7 minutes 28 seconds adds to the wow factor.
As a piece of automotive engineering design, the wing attached to the back of the Plymouth Superbird that has never been repeated. It was fully functional as well; allowing the top of the wing to flow through undisturbed air creating downforce to push the rear wheels into the ground at speed. The downside of all this height, as you’d expect, was that the wing could make contact with the roof of the car when opening the boot. Which is not that great.
Porsche 911 ‘Ducktail’
After being phased out over two decades ago, the Porsche 911 ‘ducktail’ has seen a resurgence on the recent non-turbo 911 GTS as an optional extra, and on the stunning Singer reimagined 911s. We have no idea if its design provides any aerodynamic benefits whatsoever, but we don’t really care as it looks ace.
Volvo 850 T5-R estate
The king of all Q-cars, the Volvo 850 T5-R knew a thing or two about flying under the radar. Part of this subtlety was its design including that tiny rear wing, forgiving the bright yellow paint of course. In a car that was 1990s fast, you’d think a wing this small was purely cosmetic but think again. As it actually worked to stabilise air at the rear of the car, reducing wind noise as well – which is all very clever stuff indeed.
According to the Veyron’s designers, the biggest challenge of creating it was the aerodynamics. Including how you keep a 250mph car on the road. The Veyron’s active rear wing produces 100kg of downforce along with drag optimisation for the back of the car at high speed keeping it glued to the road. When going for a 250mph speed run, the wing stows completely using the cars’ high-speed mode operated via the ignition key.
Subaru Impreza 22B
Essentially a repurposed WRC rally car with number plates, the Impreza 22B may look like a standard Impreza shorn of two doors. But its sizeable rear wing does have an undeniable presence about it that completes the visual aspect. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the 22B is one of the best looking fast Subies ever built due to its design, and obviously, due to the frantic pace it delivers.
Toyota Celica GT-4 WRC Edition
A proper homologation special, the Celica GT-Four was a Group A rally car with number plates and a tax disc. The rear hoop was functional as well as wild to look at, with its cool factor cemented by a set of lift blocks that came with the car from the showroom, allowing owners to lift the spoiler from its factory set position to its proper WRC rally spec height. Very cool, I think you’ll agree.
The rather subtle rear wing of the NSX makes this list for a few simple reasons. First off, we love its seamless design and the way it blends in with the design of the car. And the fact that Honda could have simply plonked a massive rear wing on it but didn’t. Making the original NSX one of the most understated looking supercars of the era. Also, we came to this conclusion without mentioning Ayrton Senna or Suzuka – aren’t we good…
In a car that is chock full of window licking design cues, the rear wing of the Sagaris may have looked like a load of old Meccano bits propping up a piece of see-through plastic. But it actually had a purpose allowing the driver a clear view when reversing. Yes, we were surprised too, a TVR with a piece of almost sensible engineering – who would have believed it.
In a car crammed full of aero slats, intake vents and curves that all have one purpose – keeping the 600bhp hyper-car attached to the ground at high-speed. The key feature of all of this though, that active self-adjusting rear wing that can automatically change its height and angle depending on the speed and conditions.
Even cooler is the speed at which the wing deploys when you switch the GT into full attack mode, with the car lowering itself in a couple of seconds pushing the rear wing into position in a flash.
The McLaren P1 also boasts an active spoiler with the use of the track-only Race mode raising it by some 300mm as the car hunkers down in maximum attack giving us a full view of the beautifully engineered support struts. It also acts as an airbrake as well, helping stabilise the car as you mash the brake pedal at three-figure speeds and if we are being honest, it does complete the stunning design of the P1, doesn’t it?