An Ode to the Clamshell Hood

There are a lot of features on a car that can get an enthusiast going. A clean set of rims, a deep metallic paint job, or fresh leather to name a few. But the clamshell hood I would argue is one of the best. There’s just something about seeing the whole engine tidy and exposed that is easily comparable to fine renaissance art. Some cars do it better than others but here are some of the first ones that come to mind for me.

Jaguar E-Type

Starting off with a classic we have the Jaguar E-Type. One of the best of the best, the long V12 must be viewed through the clamshell. The craftsmanship is so rustic and so thought out. The way that it wraps all the way around and it’s sheer size makes it truly unique. There are no secrets about it, no hidden pipes or hoses, it’s all out there. As if this wasn’t already one of the most beautiful cars of all time, it has a perfect window into one of its signature features.

Aston Martin DB11

One of the few newer examples of the design is the DB11. What’s interesting about it though is that the hood wraps around the headlights. This makes it so they stay in place when you go to pop up. To be honest it looks a little funny to me since you’re left with these big holes in the hood. Regardless, the massive engine bay is still ravishing and compliments the whole car very well. Plus, all that really matters is that the fenders soar up too when you crack it open to showcasing the modern v12 (or v8).

Dodge Viper

The Viper is an iconic muscle car in its own way. It’s never even fathomed the thought of an automatic transmission and it has a knack for being extremely loud. But, the clamshell hood has also been a longstanding way of showing off its signature V10. Now don’t get me wrong, every generation of the Viper is badass but there’s something about the fifth-gen that makes the clamshell fit a little better. It could be the deeper vents that make it more aggressive, or maybe the fact that the headlights flow up with the hood. Either way, it sure does look pretty sitting in that massive engine bay begging to be fired up.

Chevrolet Corvette

Ah, the Vette, an iconic pony car with decades of history. While it isn’t necessarily known for the clamshell design, it certainly pulls it off. The 2010 Grand Sport pictured is a great example of it but the C3 and C4 generations might arguably be a little better. They show off everything giving it that Hot Wheels nostalgia that everyone loves and adores. Engine-wise, the LS is almost, if not more, iconic than the car itself and the way the hood opens allows more natural light to show it off.

Sure the clamshell blocks the engine when you’re walking around the parking lot car meet, but once your up close and personal it’s a sight to behold. It’s unique and only a few cars have them. It’s a lost art that was more common before but will hopefully make more comeback in the future. Although, it’s exclusivity does make the wearer more special so maybe it’ll be good to keep it as a rare feature.

My name is Colby Buchanan and I love all things car-related all the way from rusted 240sx's to McLaren Senna's and of course I have a soft spot for American Muscle. You can spot me in my bone stock '06 350z named MackenZ.


    1. I think it is a system to avoid having relatively hard fender tops to improve pedestrian safety. Means they have to be very precise with panel gaps and the latching mechanism so it doesn’t chip paint when closing the hood.

    1. The one-N Sonett, he’s a Swede;
      The two-N Sonnet, verse you read.
      And I will bet
      an Easter bonnet
      There ain’t no two-N, two-T Sonnett.

      Jim Williams

    2. The one-N Sonett, he’s a Swede;
      The two-N Sonnet, verse you read.
      And I will bet
      an Easter bonnet
      There ain’t no two-N, two-T Sonnett.

      Jim Williams

  1. Does it have to open from the cowl to be considered a clamshell? I had a well-worn Bugeye Sprite back in the 70s, and the whole front clip opened as one piece, but in the ‘regular’ way with the opening at the front. That said, it was easy to convert to open the other way by using the latch mechanism as a hinge. That was semi-popular because engine access was improved, but it also tended to make for a bouncy hood, as there wasn’t a latch holding it in place in that configuration, only gravity. I dunno, maybe that added to the charm.

    1. Does clam shell simply mean front hinged? I thought it meant that at least the tops of the fenders opened with the hood. So it was the top and both sides meaning it was like an upside down dish, or, you know, a clam’s shell.

  2. I am confused what a clamshell design is: simply hinges-in-the-front (that Corvette), or mimicking-the-shape-of-half-a-clam-with-portions-reaching-under-the-hinges? Both?

    1. The problem is that the term has changed meaning over the decades. It used to refer to any one-piece hood hinged at either the front or the rear (thereby opening “like a clamshell”) as opposed to the earlier style of multi-piece hood that folded upwards from the sides. I’ve also seen the term refer to cars like the ’52 Buick with hoods that fold to the side, but as a single piece, again in contrast to multi-piece hoods. In more recent usage I’ve since seen it refer to any forward-hinged hood as opposed to rearward-hinged, even though it’s not clear why forward-hinged hoods should be seen as more clamshell-like than rearward-hinged hoods.

      In modern usage I personally prefer the more restrictive definition of it as a hood that wraps downward around the front and sides to a greater extent than usual, ideally including most or all of the fenders and the front of the car as a single piece that is hinged at either the front (more common) or the rear (less common).

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