Hairdo and Don't: Wind Blocker Is Good; Chiffon Scarf Is Not

Highway 1 contributor Denise McCluggage is an author, syndicated automotive columnist and former international racing driver. She writes from Santa Fe, N.M

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

Bible, Hebrew. Ecclesiastes 1:6

And those returning circuits play hob with your hair in a convertible.

Well, not so much hair as coiffure. Mere hair blows about--and so what?--but hair done to a coif gets destroyed.

Top-down touring and hairdos have been at odds since time offered a choice. My theory is that the beehive killed the convertible, but perhaps the chronology is off. Anyway, big hair, however well converted to ceramic with hair spray, has never been compatible with convertibles. It's that whirleth that gets to it. That's hard to guardeth against.

The problem began with the movies. Hollywood loved the convertible because it made in-car shots simpler. At the rear, a process screen jiggling with traffic in grainy black and white. In the foreground, He and She (He at the wheel, of course, unless a quirk in character was being established) in plot-thickening conversation as He turned the wheel like a child playing at driving. (With disbelief refusing to suspend, I was always concerned that He kept looking at Her with only occasional glances at the "road.")

But never mind. She looked so glamorous with coy insouciance and a fan-induced breeze barely tousling her finger-waved coiffure. Ah, breeze. Breeze is to wind what tousle is to muss. And muss is what the real world got whenever it was seduced into the glamour of a top-down convertible with a grown-up steering wheel. Reality said things like, "Either that top goes up or I'm not going."

Hollywood also did the chiffon scarf thing. (Think Joan Crawford.) Swaths of airy fabric framing the face and floating gently on the soft evening air. Hah! Reality doesn't do float. It whips. And the whipping free ends of a chiffon scarf are capable of raising red welts across the face as if switched with fresh-cut willow. (Good for raising conjecture and eyebrows upon arrival at a party.) "Either that top goes up or . . . "

Snug-fitting helmets like those favored by open-cockpit fliers look dashing on the well-shaped head and certainly quell the whipping effect, but they flatten the hair like a slept-on down comforter. Some convertible passengers resorted to the under-chin-tied, sturdy-stuff scarf, but the babushka is always best on Russian grandmothers. And a Zis convertible doesn't pop readily to memory. "Either that top goes up or . . . ."

So the convertible died (with the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado). Even if the hair connection is coincidental, the convertible returned as hairdos fresh from the salon appeared to be styled by something climbing the Beaufort scale. And short hair returned to favor too. All top-down friendly.

But the best news is that most of the latest convertibles and roadsters have disinherited the wind.

First a word on what air does when confronted with a car. It deflects upward and then drops down, curling forward. The buffeting comes from the back of your head (thus the face lashing from scarf ends and hair strands).

Takaharu Kobayakawa, a Mazda engineer, ardent skier and devoted top-down driver, was motoring briskly slope-ward in an RX7, Mazda's speedy roadster. A pesky cold draft on the back of his neck prompted him to move his hand around experimentally to determine its source. The upshot: the first wind blocker, a flip-up/fold-down solid panel that fit just behind the seats in the RX7 and blocked the troublesome reverse flow of air.

Mazda's wind blocker first appeared in the 1988 RX7 and is available now in the 1999 Miata. The wind blocker, in blocking the wind, also lowers the noise level, thus improving both the sound system and conversation. The heater is more effective too, and hair is less disturbed (just an acceptable tousle effect).

BMW now offers a wind blocker option for its Z roadsters ($350) and for the 3-Series convertibles ($410). Jack Pitney in the public relations department says there's also a $20 baseball cap that works well for hair control. BMW's blocker is a stow-able, rigid mesh screen.

Mercedes-Benz uses flexible-mesh wind blocking on the SLK roadster (standard with the car). The blocker rolls up to fit in a pouch between the two seats.

Porsche's new 911 Carrera Cabriolet also has its Windstop ($245). All the German marques went with a mesh screen instead of the solid panel, believing that it better breaks up the air.

Volvo also preferred a mesh for its rigid wind blocker (standard) for its new C70 convertible. However, using it not only blocks the wind, but the use of the rear seats as well.


Chrysler chose a different route altogether for the wind-foiling design of its Sebring convertible. Starting with the LeBaron convertible, "we tried a number of buffeting fixes," says Scott Wilkins, who from 1992 to 1997 was the Sebring convertible program manager.

He and compatriots experimented with screens and a tonneau cover that fit over the back seats when not in use. But the change in airflow didn't meet their wishes. For the first time, they ran top-down tests in a wind tunnel and were prepared to do some fiddling with the design to achieve certain, subjective rating requirements for top-down comfort.

But, actually, as the Sebring convertible emerged from Tom Gale's design department, it was fine.

Explains Wilkins: "It's a combination of the cab-forward design with the short hood, the steep angle of the hood and the increased rake (63.6 degrees) of the windshield."

In a way, by the time the deflected air comes back down again, the car is gone. It's the difference between a pop fly and a home run, all thanks to the laminar flow of the air over the aerodynamic hood and windshield. Neat.

Either that top goes down or I'm not going.

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