What is the most dominant, and generally most memorable feature about any car? It’s the front fascia – the grille. And if you ask almost any automotive engineer what’s the purpose of a grille, they’re likely to tell you (… and very matter-of-factly) is that grilles – regardless of whether they’re ahead of the radiator, atop the fenders or behind of the wheel wells – are designed to either allow cool clean air to enter a space under a car’s skin, or to allow hot dirty air to exit a similar space … and they’d be correct.
However, if you ask an automotive designer what’s the purpose of a grille, they’re likely to tell you it’s the car’s indivisible spirit; and that it represents the car even more than its name and logo … and they’d also be correct. That they’re both correct tells us just how dominant and memorable grilles are; so let’s take a look at the driving force behind, the grille.
The Distinctive Mod
They can be simple or elegant, vented or meshed, moulded in plastic or fully chromed; but they’re always distinctive. In fact, it’s because they’re so distinctive that custom and aftermarket car grilles have continued to make so many strides beyond strictly functional and purely fashion constraints.
Aftermarket grille manufacturers have always been keen to capitalize on the kinds of cooling and venting advantages that usually don’t become recognizable until after a car’s already been put into production; and that they’re able to accomplish this now with increasingly lighter and sturdier materials, means there are even noticeable weight advantages to be gained by switching to a custom grill.
When a bolt-on modification that sheds heat and weight also makes a car look better, there isn’t a downside; and suffice it to say that when it comes to grilles, it’s not difficult to visualize just how effortless it is to bring performance and style together.
Letting the Cool Air In
Interestingly enough, when you look at the evolution of grilles, it’s hard not to wonder if auto manufacturers have somehow been a little more conflicted about the overall importance of grilles than the aftermarket has.
The bulbous flamboyance of chrome draped grilles in the ’40s and ’50s, which gave way to the thinly slatted designs of the ’60s and ’70s, which somehow morphed into an almost total absence of grilles in the ’90s and ’00s, all seem to be proof of that. Progressively smaller factory grills in the past were intended to improve overall aerodynamics by forcing air to go around cars and to save fuel, but it was done so at the expense of lost cooling … which in reality, doesn’t save fuel at all.
Aftermarket grille manufacturers have known this since the ’40s, and they’ve never lost sight of the fact that a grille is still a grille, and that it has a prime job to do.
Providing Cool Air to the Engine Compartment
The underhood temperature on an average car can range from 125°C to between 175°C and 200°C when turbochargers are mounted. Not only is the air that comes in through the grille helping to keep things cool, but if there’s any type of ram-air induction under the hood, there’s also a good chance that the compartment is pressurized – which means the grille is probably helping to feed it too.
Protecting the Radiator and Other Engine Bits
Sticks and stones don’t always have to break bones, but they’ll quickly penetrate the radiator, oil cooler or other assemblies on modern cars … especially when travelling at high speed. Far from only being a source of engine cooling, today’s grilles – often backed by rear-side mesh material – are also a source of engine protection.
Keeping the Brakes Cool
Under normal driving ( … normal being a very relative state), a car’s front rotors and disc brakes can be expected to reach 175°C. Air that’s introduced and ducted through the grille not only helps dissipate the heat from the pads, but provides a lot of the flow-through for cooling ventilated rotors.
Grilles no longer hide behind, or reside above bumpers – they integrated with them – along with head- and parking lamps, and a host of sensors, cameras, and other features designed to help today’s cars do things that couldn’t have been imagined even a generation ago.
Today’s broad-faced factory grilles may easily be the most pronounced grilles ever, but it’s not surprising that the free-flowing aftermarket variants are largely responsible for making some of today’s biggest performance gains possible.
The Last Word
When you look at them, it’s easy to see how grilles have developed the way they have … and how aftermarket models have led the way with making those changes matter. Not only have car grilles evolved into statements about how we visualize our vehicles, but essentially how we can expect to be visualized sitting in them. A subtle but stylish grille on a good looking car does, after all, have something to say about its owner too.
If you’re ready for the noticeable performance, and undeniable style benefits that come with switching to an aftermarket grille, now’s the time to do it. You’ll be glad that you did.