Chasing Tails

Every time I edit shots from a trip to the race track, I always end up with several pictures where most of the car is already out of frame, but the tail remains. It’s not unique or difficult to produce these; they are just byproducts of burst shooting and panning. Still, they always end up being some of my favorites in any given gallery. There’s just something about catching the rear quarter panel of a car as it runs away from the camera. Images taken from this perspective capture speed in a way that my others can’t, no matter how strong my panning game is.

As I was putting together the magazine feature for Rennsport Reunion V, I set these special shots aside just for The Garage. Porsches are an exceptional subject for tail shots. All race car manufacturers try different iterations of wings as car development progresses, but Porsche has always owned the process like none other. Porsche engineers knew the importance of aerodynamics early on--even their wingless “streamlined” post-war designs command individual respect amidst their contemporaries. The fanaticism for function and speed at Porsche lead to the beautiful (and slippery) shape of the 356, whose silhouette can still be found in every 911 that rolls out of Stuttgart to this day.

From the 911 to the mighty 917, Porsche’s street and race cars are often nicknamed according to the shape of their tail. Off the top of my head, I think of the “entenbürzel (cum ‘Mary Stuart’),” “walflosse,” “langheck,” and “kurzheck” tails. Better known by English-speaking fans as the “ducktail,”, “whaletail,” “longtail,” and “shorttail” variants of the two cars. I won’t even try to breakdown the numerous rear wing versions found on the back of the ever-progressing 935 and 956/962 race cars (honorable mention goes to “Moby Dick” though). 

Porsche may not be the only automaker that obsesses over its rear ends, but the wild designs of the 60s-90s place them head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to memorable aero. Unfortunately, today’s more subdued designs don’t really inspire much nicknaming. That’s not to say you can’t use them as markers. I can’t be the only one who uses the wing to identify a GT3 vs. a GT3 RS. One day, we'll start seeing truly unique wings on the back of cars again. I bet they’ll first be seen on Porsches, and I bet they'll still look good running away from my lens.