What Unmarked Black Helicopter Pilots drive on their days off?
September 8, 2007 9:57 PM   Subscribe

The unmarked black cars cars: why is their existence a secret?

A couple weeks ago I was at a gas station in Flagstaff & noticed about six cars that were completely covered with some sort of black material. At first glance, the cars (sort of Scion-shaped, I guess) looked like they were painted black, but they were actually covered with a bunch of panels of black stuff that was criss-crossed with some sort of black tape. The black material stuck out over the edges of the doors to form "flaps" of about six inches. There were no other markings, period. Oh, except for the plates. They all had Kentucky dealer plates. The drivers were men of varied ages & ethnicities. Some of them carried 3-ring binders. I approached one of the drivers & asked him why all the cars were wrapped up like that, & he refused to say. Wikipedia tells me that there's a Toyota plant in Kentucky, so I'm thinking this was some sort of top-secret long-distance driving test of some sort of car of the (near) future.

Just curious if anyone knows what was going on here.
posted by univac to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Test drives of new models, they often obscure the actual body shapes of unreleased new models to keep them secret before a major launch to keep them out of magazines or to keep the psin on the new model a secret until they can shape it to their will.
posted by iamabot at 10:04 PM on September 8, 2007

My brief barbershop readings of Car and Driver magazine lead me to believe that this is common practice to avoid giving away the shape of the next year's model cars.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:04 PM on September 8, 2007

New car prototypes need to be road-tested. Often in hot places (often in Death Valley, CA for instance) to test the motors. They are often camoflaged in tape and cardboard panels so that their true design can be revealed at a future unveiling (car shows, etc). All (ok, read most) the car companies do this.

Possibly you saw the 2009 Scions, or any one of a number of other brands.
posted by artdrectr at 10:11 PM on September 8, 2007

They are indeed camouflaged prototypes. I'm guessing they probably looked like some of the cars here. The companies want to disguise design elements both to keep competitors from ripping them off and because they are not finalized. Getting the first pictures of these cars is actually a lucrative niche for photographers, as magazines are eager to be the first with shots of highly desired new models before the official unveiling. So next time, try to take some pictures.
posted by kyleg at 10:18 PM on September 8, 2007

Yep, you'll find similar new-model 'spy' photos at Jalopnik.
posted by holgate at 10:25 PM on September 8, 2007

As I suspected.

@kyleg: lucrative?

So if I weren't so lazy & had reached for my DSLR I could've made money off this sighting?
posted by univac at 10:32 PM on September 8, 2007

being in the market for a new car for the first time since the rise of the internets, I've found the coverage of these new prototypes quite extensive. Leftlanenews.com and insideline at edmunds.com also feature these shots.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:55 AM on September 9, 2007

univac - If you want to know more, here's an article from the Telegraph about two of the top players in the spy shot game. A separate (horribly written) article mentions that Priddy anticipated getting a few thousand dollars for some shots of a new Mercedes Benz model. To make that kind of cash, it really has to be a first look at a high-end car; I doubt Scions are that much in demand but you might've gotten a couple hundred if it was a first look or something unique.
posted by kyleg at 1:19 AM on September 9, 2007

Except they don't pay for pics of cars wrapped in cardboard? Isn't it when it comes off?
posted by A189Nut at 6:06 AM on September 9, 2007

They absolutely do pay for pics of cars wrapped up.
posted by bonaldi at 6:32 AM on September 9, 2007

I used to live near the GM proving grounds in Milford, and now I live near Chrysler HQ in Auburn Hills (both in Michigan). It's quite common to see wrapped cars around here.

In Milford it was no big thing to see photographers hanging around certain areas of the fences and out on the road outside the proving grounds.
posted by disclaimer at 8:04 AM on September 9, 2007

There's a viral marketing component here. Reverse psychology. But I would pay to avoid getting a look at some of the new cars, like that Euro Honda, for example.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:28 AM on September 9, 2007

Univac - lucrative enough, apparently. My friend works in security at the GM Tech Center. One of her jobs is to fly to distant points carrying designs/photos of prototype cars for whatever reason. GM used to send such printed matter via Federal Express, but one day "exclusive photos" of an upcoming model appeared in an automotive magazine. So now all such print matter is transported under lock and key and with a human bodyguard.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:24 AM on September 9, 2007

I saw something similar several years ago (and also asked about it on AskMe :) There's something sort of sinister about them. I, too, got a "military black ops" feel about them, and was kinda relieved to get the same answers you're getting.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:50 PM on September 9, 2007

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