I saw a classic Oldsmobile last week and marveled at its gloriously large and decorative hood ornament. It was a beautiful winged angel, or some such wondrous creature. It's no wonder, given its size and inherent wind drag, that today's automobile manufacturers have virtually eliminated this most prized of car accessories. Still, you can find some car lines that have held onto this sacred (and very marketable) aspect of vehicle design. My personal favorites are the Mack Truck Bulldog, and the leaping Jaguar. Who really cares how much money they've spent on corporate fuel economy, these icons are part of our history!
Considering all of the comments and articles written about the ideal dream-car, I'm always surprised that so few people ever comment about their hood ornaments. Artists, lawyers, accountants, doctors, and engineers all secretly covet these status symbols, yet hood ornament design and characteristics are not openly developed or marketed. When you consider that anywhere from $100 to $200 million is spent to achieve a half-mile-per-gallon fuel savings, you'd expect to see a lot more funding to design and develop improved performance aerodynamics for these treasured ornaments. Someone's going to take the easy approach and suggest simply eliminating the hood ornament, but that's a decision by somebody more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than in engineering a beautiful piece of art.
If someone knows who to ask, I propose that we form a committee and study how we can improve the design for advanced-performance, low-drag hood ornaments. The technologies available as state-of-the-art low-drag characteristics are already in use on commercial planes, combat fighter aircraft, high-speed trains, and (get this) high-performance race cars. Why can't we simply use these icons of U.S. military strength and transportation ingenuity as the hood ornaments for the next generation of cars? We could also use a scaled-down engine assembly or fuel injector for the hood ornament. While these have less aerodynamic performance, they'd definitely appeal to the engineers among us.
Given the high incidence of car/deer accidents on our highways, we could even incorporate a turbine or vortex noise generator into the hood ornament design. The noise would drive the animals off our roadways and back into the woods, which would have the side benefit of making the hunters happy. With the explicit goal of accident reduction, we could get funding from the insurance companies.
These fashionable hood ornaments could be used to accessorize any desk-top pen & pencil set. A quick release latch would allow a corporate executive the ability to detach his or her hood ornament on the way to the office each morning. They'd simply reattach it to the car in the evening for their drive home.
As with all things automotive, this idea will probably start as an "after-market" accessory, but could rapidly transition into OEM production. With a standard attachment feature, the driver could choose from any number of hood ornaments each morning depending upon their mood. The options are endless.
This report is one of a series of occasional columns exploring the not-altogether-serious side of engineering by Ken Foote, a mechanical engineer at GDLS. You can reach Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail your comments to us at email@example.com.