Testing Hot Wheels in a Wind Tunnel Is a DIY Aerodynamics Class

Aerodynamics is not rocket science… it’s a part of rocket science, so it’s still pretty complicated. But who says we can’t start small? Say, using an improvised wind tunnel to showcase the aerodynamic properties of Hot Wheels models.

In contemporary times, conventions related to pedestrian safety, visual trends and, of course, aerodynamic efficiency mean it’s become more difficult than ever to introduce outstanding designs. And with EVs’ push for efficiency—you wouldn’t want anything to eat into that range—things will only get worse, right?

Well, I wouldn’t push the panic button just yet. For one, the past few years have brought some EV prototypes that easily stand out, despite, you know, everybody having apparently penned everything in the nearly fourteen decades that have passed since the world was swept off its feet by the Benz Patent-Motorwagen.

At one end of the scale, we have 2017’s REDS. This is an electric car study by Chris Bangle, the man whom people used to blame for odd BMW designs (no, really, we don’t need to go down this rabbit hole today). The thing is designed for megacities where vehicles spend up to 90% of their time stuck in traffic and has a top speed of 75 mph. So the REDS need not concern itself with being too slippery, which is why, for instance, the angle of its windshield reminds one of a combine, and I mean this in a positive way.

At the other end there’s the McMurtry Speirling. Coming from a British startup, this fan car uses a downforce system that was banned in motorsport decades ago, so it will stick to the road like nothing else. Oh and it can make fun of that Demon 170 that Dodge just launched, since its can sip electrons and hit 60 mph in 1.4 seconds and pull a 7.9s quarter-mile (the 1,000 hp dual-motor electric setup and the low weight also help).

So now that we know there’s still hope in the EV realm—hey, Dodge is ready to sacrifice some drag coefficient to make that 2024 Charger EV more muscular-looking—let’s get to the Hot Wheels stuff, okay?

Observing vehicle aerodynamics with Hot Wheels toys

Many content creators dream at massive audiences and go to great lengths for it. However, the Instagram account that offers us these toy car demonstrations does things the other way around. In other words, it uses a simple recipe.

The enthusiast behind the DreamCars.Diecast social media label has improvised a wind tunnel using basic stuff like a cut-up plastic container and some paper rolls. Nobody knows where the smoke comes from, with people assuming this is a form of vaping (or perhaps the videos are also sped up). It doesn’t matter, though, as we can all think of ways to do this at home, but please don’t get into vaping or that sort of stuff over this kind of play.

The whole adventure reminds me of some special homework my class had for physics class in high school. I chose to build a miniature hovercraft, while one of my cheekier colleagues pulled a stunt similar to what we have here. He might’ve been motivated by the fact that animating the thing allowed him to light up a cigarette and blow some smoke over various wing shapes in front of the whole school… guess we’ll never know.

And since Hot Wheels are 1:64 scale models, the demonstrations in the videos below are accurate enough to highlight a few basic aero principles and perhaps stimulate the hunger for deeper knowledge.

If you’re willing to go as far as studying the Bernoulli equation for fluid dynamics, I say good for you—you’ll “know” why people put wings on 100 hp Civics.

1969 Dodge Charger 500: almost good enough for NASCAR

However, just by looking at how the smoke passes over the shapes of these tiny cars, you’ll notice a few aspects. Let’s start with the 1969 Dodge Charger 500. This came as a way to improve on the aero drawbacks of the regular Charger for NASCAR purposes. And while the front grille was no longer recessed and the rear window didn’t create that much of a negative pressure zone, the effort wasn’t enough, with Chrysler reinventing the NASCAR game by introducing the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird.

Notice the area around the rear window? You’ll want the air to either stick to the surface of the car or let go, since “hesitating” like this generates drag and can lead to lift.

Lotus Evija: How to make up for not being lightweight anymore

With 1972 hp and 1,254 lb-ft of torque from four wheel-mounted electric motors, the Lotus Evija has both the need and the space for standout aerodynamics. Plus, it needs all the downforce it can get to make up for the fact that its battery-powered nature means it’s as far from Lotus founder Collin Chapman’s featherweight car-building principle as possible.

One of the main principles with the real hypercar is to have the air flowing through the body rather than around it. And even though the toy version fails to do that, the way in which the smoke is channeled by the deep diffuser is what brought this one here.

McLaren Elva: no windshield, no problem!

The windscreen-defying Speedster trend (a Viper like this would be sweet) doesn’t seem so popular anymore. Still, machines like the McLaren Elva will always have my respect for exposing their occupants to the elements in a way that makes me think of a motorcycle that’s much less likely to bring you to the ground.

The party trick of the Elva has to be its Air Active Management System (AAMS). It channels the airflow via the vehicle’s nose from a splitter intake and away from the occupants, so there’s no windshield, at least not in standard. Heck, even without the active aero, this toy car seems to be doing a decent job at keeping the in-cabin smoke in check. And when you think that you could buy hundreds of thousands of such Hot Wheels for the price of a real Elva, that’s quite a big deal.

Mazda REPU: make your bed

This is one of the vast pickup truck camp. You don’t need anybody pointing out that an open bed will cause drag and affect your gas mileage. Even so, seeing the smoke going banans around the bed of this Mazda REPU is an entertaining way of highlighting that fact.

Why the REPU? It’s all there in the name: Rotary Engine Pickup. Sold in North America between 1974 and 1977, this was the only Wankel-engined truck, so if you’ve got the brap-brap bug, you know how to deal with it.

What do the engineers tell us? At highway speeds, a tonneau cover can cut drag by around 5%, while boosting your mpg by an average of 1.8%. add it all up for your annual mileage and you might just find yourself shopping for one

Corvette C6.R: What? The ‘Vette wasn’t always mid-engined?

Now that we live in the age of the mid-engined Corvette, brilliant machines like the C6.R may seem older than they are. However, this endurance racer, which entered service back in 2005, is still one heck of a machine, as its trophy cabinet can demonstrate.

One may argue that the LS7.R engine of the C6.R was even more impressive than its aero. And I’m not here to debate that—I have to admit, while the front end keeping the air away fron the underbody is interesting, I chose to end with this one for the sheer level of visual accomplishment it delivers.

Of course, there are wackier Hot Wheels around, such as these five castings Mattel is modeling after real builds. But we need some future wind tunnel shenanigans, won’t we?



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