The science of aerodynamics has been taken to the edge time and time again.
The terms 'wing' and 'spoiler' are often used interchangeably, but they are two different things. A spoiler is used to disrupt airflow around or behind a car and can be utilized in different ways. On passenger cars, it's most often used to reduce drag by shaping the air either from the front or back of the vehicle, or both. On sports cars, they can be used to increase stability by smoothing out the air behind the car to reduce lift as well as drag. On racing cars, spoilers are also used to change handling characteristics, often in conjunction with other aerodynamic features.
A wing for a car is less subtle and used to increase downforce rather than disrupt air. It's the exact opposite of how a wing is used on an airplane, which creates lift. The downside of using a wing is that it increases drag. While that drag can offset acceleration and top speed, it increases grip on cars and helps them corner faster consistently.
Over the decades, the science of using aerodynamics through the use of spoilers and wings has become incredibly sophisticated, and the line can blur between the two. They can also look incredibly cool, and these are our favorites.
Shelby showed off the GT500 Dragon Snake at the 2019 SEMA show. It comes with more power, a Shelby-tuned suspension system, and a wide-body kit. What stands out at first look though, is the extreme drag-style spoiler at the back of the car. A wing is only of use to drag cars at initial acceleration, but a spoiler helps it move through the air and remain stable as it sprints towards top speed. With a little over 800 horsepower, the spoiler on the Ford Shelby GT500 Dragon Snake is not just for show.
Most of the cars on this list are modern, but it would be remiss of us not to include Ferrari's iconic supercar. The perfect proportions of the Ferrari F40 are beautiful, but the high and proudly squared-off rear wing is the real statement of intent. It rises from the edges of the car rather than being bolted on, and is as functional as it is stylistic. It's high enough to keep out of the airflow from the sleek bodywork and is almost six feet wide.
Ford's modern take on the iconic car that slapped Ferrari in the face at Le Mans in 1966 takes advantage of more advanced technology. It's not a new idea to take the inherent drag generated by a rear wing by using it as an air brake when needed, but it's a rarity on a production car. The active aerodynamics on the Ford GT increases the angle of the wing under heavy braking to improve the cars stopping power. That's not the only trick hiding up the GT's sleeve, though. Drop it into track mode, and the GT's ride height lowers while the wing raises to its highest position.
The fixed U-shape double layered wing on the Koenigsegg Jesko is a beautifully sculpted affair. On anything less, it would look absurd. The wing measures almost half the length of the car if you count the mounts. It's mounted from the cabin to the top of the wing to minimize air disturbance underneath the massive unit. Overall, the aerodynamics of the car produces around 2,200 lbs of downforce, and that wing must make for a sizable proportion of that force.
Honda has shown us that you don't have to spend crazy money to get some big aero in the back of a performance car. While many people will tell you that a rear wing on a front-wheel-drive car is pointless, they are wrong. The Type R uses a stiff rear suspension setup to encourage the car to rotate better on tight corners at lower speeds. However, at higher speeds, that can make the car unstable at the rear. The wing on the Civic Type R generates 66 lbs of downforce at 124 mph to make sure things don't get the wrong kind of exciting at high speeds.
If you do want to spend crazy money, go ridiculously fast, and get some serious aero on the back of your car, the McLaren Senna has it covered. Like the Ford GT, the wing acts as an air brake when the driver wants to slow down. The wing also constantly changes its angle of attack through a lap and works in concert with the dual-flap wings mounted in the front fenders. At full throttle, the rear wing flattens out to aid the drag reduction system in making sure the car cuts through the air as efficiently as possible.
The Zenvo TSR-S is a wild hypercar from Denmark and takes the idea of active aerodynamics to a whole new level. Not only does it adjust on the fore-aft plane, but two hydraulic actuators shift the the wing up to 20 degrees on the car's longitudinal axis. Zenvo's founder, Troels Vollertsen, calls it a "centripetal wing" and acts like an anti-roll bar. It achieves that by angling the opposite way to the corner and make the downforce favor the inside rear wheel. The jury is still out on how effective the system is, but with 1,177 horsepower at its disposal, it definitely needs a wing of some sort.
There's some really cool aerodynamics at work on the Pagani Huayra, but the wing is the coolest piece of the puzzle. It takes the idea of controlling where downforce is applied at the back, like the Zenvo TSR-S, but with a more elegant solution. There are two flaps on either side of the rear wing that operate independently to distribute the force. There are also two more flaps at the front, and the whole system works together based on readings of speed, yaw, lateral acceleration, throttle position, and steering angle by the ECU.
Like the Ferrari F40, it would be remiss not to mention the 1970 Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Daytona. Mopar was on a mission to dominate Nascar as the 1960s ended, and part of the plan included bolting monstrous great wings on the back of the race cars in 1970. However, to homologate them, Dodge had to build versions for the road as well. The result is one of the wildest and most iconic muscle cars to be seen on the streets of America.
While not technically a production car, we're including the original FXX-K on the basis that it's just so damn cool. It's a developmental track day car, and while it's got an insane hybrid power system that combines a V12 and an electric motor to make 1036 horsepower, Ferrari insists that it's not a LaFerrari variant but a standalone model. Its most unique feature is the aerodynamics at the rear. The "winglets" on each side are stabilizers, but, when required, a wing extends out, and the stabilizers direct air over it. In total, Ferrari says the aerodynamics on the FXX-K can apply a total of half a ton of downforce but uses that ability selectively.
The rear wing on the Lamborghini Huracan Performante is made from carbon-fiber and mounted on tall hollow struts. It's not the most spectacular looking wing on this list, but, and remember this is Lamborghini we're talking about, it's one of the more subtly clever ones. On the front of each strut is a small air intake that feeds that air through the hollow area and into the internal cavity of the wing. That means to change the amount of downforce actively, the wing itself doesn't have to move.
The Dodge Viper ACR doesn't care about active aero. Neither does it care about an electronically controlled chassis or clever forced induction methods. There is absolutely no subtlety to the Viper ACR, and that goes double for the wing. Add the Extreme Aero Package, and the wing mounts get even taller. The wing itself is the first mass-produced carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) wing for a production car. It weighs just 7.5 lbs but provides 1,000 lbs of downforce at 150 mph. That allows it to turn a headache-inducing 1.50 Gs in turns at over 140 mph.
Not only is the classic 911 'Whale Tail' iconic, but a convenient desk for law enforcement officers to write a speeding ticket on. It can also hold 40 bottles of beer, but neither of those is why it exists. It started out as a ducktail on the Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS in 1973, but that was replaced by the whale tail a year later on the 911 Carrera 3.0 RS and the Porsche 911 Turbo. The thick rubber edge is designed to protect pedestrians while the shape of the spoiler reduces rear-end lift and keeps the car from oversteering at high speeds.
While the whale tail wasn't the first spoiler on a production car, it was the first to popularize them and helped the 911 become the most identifiable sports car in the world.