In the old days, spy photographers traveled the world hunting future models under testing by automakers in disguise. A few intrepid shooters keep the craft alive, but automakers have starting cutting out the middlemen and simply providing their own spy shots, posed by their publicity departments for maximum teasing. Here's the latest proof of how far the trend has gone: close-up photos of the upcoming Ferrari F70 supercar -- a 900-hp, V-12 hybrid monster -- published by Ferrari in its own magazine.
Decades ago, automakers went to extremes to keep details of new models secret, partly to gin up intrigue and partly to keep customers from delaying their purchases until the next model came out. Before Ford launched the first Mustang on April 1964, Lee Iacocca kept the car's image under wraps until revealing it in a daylong nationwide ad blitz and news push -- a trick Steve Jobs and Apple would use for new phones decades later.
But cars can't be kept behind closed doors like computers -- they have to be tested at speed, in a variety of climates and altitudes, for hundreds of thousands of miles. That means prototypes have to hit public roads, and even in obscure places, automakers still put great effort into disguises. Like the Ferrari F70 above, Mercedes-Benz often uses fake body panels that hide the new models' real shape; BMW, Toyota and others use vinyl wraps with swirling black-and-white graphics that can obscure key design features. And Ford's been able to take its testing of the next-generation Mustang, not due until the 2015 model year, on the road by hiding the new mechanical bits under the body of the current model.
Self-spy shots let automakers have a tighter control over what details come out early while attempting to build anticipation. Ferrari has already shown the central chassis of the F70 and announced it would be powered by a V-12 combined with a new hybrid system; the photos it released give a hint to the front headlamp assembly that resembles the F430 Italia, along with a door line that hints at a gull-wing opening. Jaguar released a string of images and even video of its F-Type roadster in swirling camouflage before its reveal at the Paris Motor Show last month. Even General Motors has tried the vehicular striptease, sharing photos of the 2014 Chevy Silverado pickup with its slab sides and new front grille treatment obscured. It's drummed up a little interest, but Iacocca might say surprises can work even better.