It had several nicknames in its day, but I only remember a few of them: Wing, shelf, tea tray or ironing board. We used to always call it the picnic table. And nothing screams SPORT more than a huge picnic table!
I’m not entirely sure which specific picnic table started my fascination with this phenomenon, but it must surely have been either the Lamborghini Countach or the Porsche 930. They were of course both the mandatory poster hero for any teenage boy’s room, and were often the basis of my dreams – both asleep and awake. I clearly wasn’t the only one with these feelings, as soon enough there seemed to be picnic tables present on every street corner.
Of course the more official name for the picnic table was: The spoiler. As we all know, it’s an aerodynamic aid which helps control the airstream around the cars bodywork. In a nutshell, the main objective of the front spoiler is to limit the amount of air flowing under the car, while the rear spoiler – the picnic table – assists in pushing the rear of the car onto the tarmac at high speeds to enhance traction and controllability. It was the rear spoiler which led to my many wet dreams, and it was clearly the spoiler mostly in focus among the public. Needless to say, within the world of motorsport the spoiler had been utilised for quite a while in the pursuit of downforce and subsequently better handling.
The continuous development of spoilers on the racetracks motivated young motorists, and the coolest kids from my childhood neighborhood who owned cars, weren’t shy to utilise both power drills, double-sided tape and various ingenious rubber, plastic or fibreglass constructions. These boulevard racers were of course all the rave. Young men with Mazda 323s or similar hatchbacks had to settle for small roof spoilers – a modification which several of us reckoned only resulted in a very subtle improvement. Those lucky enough to own a coupé or saloon naturally had the space for some much more serious constructions in their quest for maximum downforce.
The elder generation – typically parents – just couldn’t comprehend the immense gains that these spoilers offered. While shaking their heads in despair they spoke of quackery and clever marketing. Us younger enthusiasts could simply conclude that these old dinosaurs had finally lost the plot and just didn’t understand modern technology. How could they not see that a car without spoilers would frankly be utterly uncontrollable and shouldn’t even be allowed onto public roads.
However, I don’t recall the girls being particularly interested in the technical abilities of these spoilers. That perhaps explains why some young men decided to put aside the rule book of aerodynamics and simply go for maximum style instead. There were some rather extreme designs to be found. If the spoilers didn’t give us downforce, they would surely give us something else instead…
Out on the racetracks – and it was of course here that the huge picnic tables truly had their justice – the spoilers grew and evolved in perfect harmony with increasing tyre width.
In the American CAN AM class, that perfect harmony went AWOL. To the tune of More is Better, they went all-out with spoilers so large that you almost struggled to spot the racecar hidden beneath.
Only later in life did it finally dawn on me that the main purpose of spoilers is of course to protect the paintwork – much more so than anything concerning aerodynamics. After all, automotive history is packed with examples of women insisting to sit – or even lie – on top of cars rather than sit in the seats within the cabin as intended. I cringe at the thought of suffering paintwork. Rather than having to constantly shoo women away from the bodywork of your beloved classic, an appropriately placed spoiler can help protect your car from this hedonism.
Purely for the purpose of illustrating the complications arising from women on top of cars, I have assembled the following evidence material which clearly supports the argument: Everyone needs a spoiler!