The Wind in Her Hair

(updated 06 December, 2000)

So there you are, tooling down the freeway in the evening, top down, wind in your hair, your "significant other" in the passenger's seat. Suddenly, your sweetie turns to you and says "Honey, its getting a little chilly." So you slyly say, "Why don't you roll up your window, dear?"

She does and she's happy. Meantime, you're quietly snickering to yourself because you just pulled the wool over her eyes. After all, every Miata driver knows that raising the passenger's window reduces wind buffeting on the driver's side! Heh, heh.

OK, so maybe you're not quite that evil. So what do you do? You can consider a windblocker.

What's a windblocker?

A windblocker is a device that erects a "wall" behind the occupants of the car which bears the brunt of the considerable wind that enters a moving Miata from behind. Windblockers are designed in many different designs, shapes and materials. Some work better than others. Some look better than others. Some are more convenient than others.

How does it work?

When driving with the top down, the forward motion of the car creates a low pressure area in the passenger's compartment. (Remember Bernoulli from physics?) What happens when you have a low pressure area? Air flows from the higher pressure to the lower pressure which results in air flowing from behind the occupant's toward the windshield. (Ever notice how your hair blows forward - not back?) The object of an effective windblocker is to change the characteristics of the turbulence. The low pressure area moves from behind the windshield all the way back behind the windblocker.

Are they really effective?

Some are very effective. Others are useless. To be completely effective, the windblocker must redirect the turbulence. If there is a space between the rear shelf and the windblocker, the air will flow underneath the windblocker, thus redirecting it into the passenger compartment from between the seats. If the windblocker isn't quite wide enough, the air will rush around the sides of it, between the seat and the door. The result is that, although there may be a bit less air blasting your hair forward, there is quite a bit hitting you right in the kidneys. On a chilly day, this can get very uncomfortable and you may actually be better off without one at all.

OK, so cut to the chase. Which are good? Which aren't?

There are two categories of windblockers - hard and soft. The hard windblockers tend to be far more effective at deflecting the wind. The downside is that they're far less convenient to store when not being used. Conversely, the soft windblocks are much less effective, but they're easy to fold up and store behind the seat or in the trunk.

Soft windblockers are made by several companies. The "Windjammer", from Mighty Products (we're not sure if this is still available), the "Wind Defender" from MM Marketing, and the "Horst Windblock" sold by Crazy Red Italian fall into the soft category. All three of these attach to the seats in one form or another. As a result, it is difficult if not impossible to move the seats into different positions. I.e., if the passenger wants to recline the seat while the driver sits upright, these windblockers must all be removed. All of the soft windblockers are also marginally effective since they all allow air to enter from underneath and around the sides. The "Windjammer" is like a sock - it slips over the top of the two seats. It is made of clear plastic - presumable to help rear visibility. Its the least attractive of all windblockers. The "Wind Defender" is a mesh screen which fastens to the seatbacks using Velcro. While it is far more attractive than the other soft windblockers, it does require that you install Velcro to your seatbacks using adhesive - something not everyone will want to do. Again, it is only marginally effective. The windblocker from Crazy Red fastens using elastic straps which slip over the headrests. It is made in soft black or tan vinyl with a clear plastic "window" in the center. Its stiff perimeter frame makes it better looking and slightly more effective than the other soft windblockers, however it had a tendency to deform under the stress of wind and allowed a significant amount of air under the bottom and around the sides.

There are several hard windblockers available for the Miata as well. As a class, the hard windblockers are far more effective for their intended task than the soft variety. The downside of hard windblockers is that they're a bit unwieldy when you're not using them. Storage can be difficult if not impossible.Keith Tanner Windblocker The Keith Tanner "Windblocker" is crafted from Plexiglas and fastens to the two seats using non-stretch web straps. It also snaps to the fasteners on the rear deck providing a good seal against air rushing underneath. The mounting method makes it impossible to have the two front seats in very different positions from each other. However when it isn't being used, it can be stored on the rear parcel shelf. A major bonus to the Keith Tanner design is that you can build it yourself from instructions on the net! For the less ambitious, they are available ready-made. Similar in design is the Backwindshield. This is a large Plexiglas panel that slips behind the seat against the rear wall. It works similar to the Keith Tanner design, however storage is impossible. Once its in place, you're committed to using it until you return home. There's just no way to lower it and store it in the trunk.

Note: The Keith Tanner windblocker is no longer being produced, but you can build one yourself using the excellent on-line instructions.

Oris/ASC Windstop  The Oris is a cloth mesh, enclosed in a lightweight metal frame. At the bottom of the frame is a soft cloth piece which snaps to the fasteners on the rear shelf providing protection against air rushing underneath. The main unit mounts to existing hardware and does not interfere with the boot or the factory top. The Oris is, without a doubt, the best looking of all the windblockers made. Its also the most expensive. By a longshot! Its as effective as the other hard style windblocks and since it mounts to the car, seat travel is not impeded. This is the only model which allows the seats to be in different positions. Storage is a bit difficult. With the top down, you can simply fold it down to get the full blast of wind. With a factory top, you can leave it in place with the top raised. It interferes with the Robbins glass window, so if you've added that accessory, you'll have to remove the Windstop to raise the soft top. Another major problem is that the screen mesh is black which results in poor visibility to the rear. Contrast is reduced dramatically. The  Plexiglas models give full visibility to the rear since they're clear, although sometimes glare can be a minor problem. The Oris/ASC Windstop is made by Oris of Germany and was previously distributed by American Sunroof Company in the United States and is now available from several of the vendors in the Miata Marketplace.

tc.jpg (13587 bytes)A recent entry in the windblocker market is the TC Windblocker , a plexiglass design with all of the advantages of the Keith Tanner Windblocker, less disadvantages, though at a higher cost. The TC windblocker borrowed the best  ideas from several other designs. A pair of brackets are installed using existing holes (no drilling required), a 10mm socket and a screwdriver. Total installation time: about 5 minutes. The plexiglass, cut with a curved top to follow the lines of the car, simply slips into the bracket when you want to use the windblocker. Since it uses brackets instead of straps, the seats can be individually adjusted. In addition, the bottom of the windblocker sits on the rear deck so you don't get any of the "backwash" from underneath as some of the less effective designs exhibit. And since the plexiglass is clear, rear visibility is not compromised at all. Finally, if you decide not to use it, you can put it on the rear deck with the top up, or slip it in the trunk or behind one of the seats. You can even raise the top with the TC Windblocker in place. Overall, we would have to rate the TC Windblocker as the best value if you're going to purchase a windblocker. It's extremely effective, looks good, and is reasonably priced.

Beginning with the '99 Miata, a Mazda factory windblocker is available with some packages. This windblocker is factory and looks it. It's a hard style windblocker, the top half of which folds down. The bottom half carries a mesh pocket which is great for maps, papers, or other small items. In the up position, the windblocker is somewhat effective. It helps reduce the turbulence around the lower part of the cockpit, though because of it's low height, it doesn't do much to keep the wind off your neck. But it looks pretty good and doesn't interfere with anything. Although its possible to retrofit the M1 Miata with the M2 windblocker, doing so would require removal of the bracing as well as some drilling and creative installation.

A recent entry to the windblocker market is the TopDown. ( www.topdown.net )  This particular windblocker comes with a great protective bag to keep the windblocker safe in the trunk when not in use. The instructions are straightforward and extremely easy to follow. In all, the installation took 5 minutes with no drilling. Once installed the mounting brackets are fairly inconspicuous and the windblocker just slides right in. We tried a few different configurations with this windblocker. Our M2 has the OEM windblocker that is adequate but can still be a bit blustery on the colder days. Unfortunately this windblocker is no better or worse than the factory one. We took 3 drives. The first drive was with just the OEM windblocker to get a feel for how cold and windy it was (32F). On the second drive we had both installed. (We were able to install the TopDown  windblocker with the factory one in place) There was no  noticable  change except for the rattle of the TopDown  against the OEM windblocker. The third drive was with just the TopDown   windblocker. There was no rattle but still the same amount of wind in the cockpit. All in all it’s a good product and would be good for someone without any windblocker but it’s not quite an upgrade from OEM. (TopDown review by Kevin Rem)

Recommendations

If wind is a major problem for you, maybe you should stop and think about why you bought a roadster in the first place. After all, the wind in the hair and the bugs in the teeth are part of the roadster "experience." Since none of the windblockers are without drawbacks, getting accustomed to the wind might be the best course of action.

But if you still feel you'd like to reduce the fatigue of wind buffetting on the highway or to reduce the chill in the winter, a good windblocker will help. The effectiveness of the soft windblockers is marginal at best. We'd stay away from those unless your concerned with storage. Of the hard windblockers we've looked at, the TC Windblocker is the best for the money, thought the price has increased since we did our review. While it isn't quite as attractive as the Oris, its the least expensive of the hard windblockers, is no less effective than the others. Besides, with a plexiglass windblocker, you'll have a great spot to put your Miata.net sticker!

  Effectiveness Limits Seat Travel Ease of use / storage Looks Price 1
TC Windblocker 5 Minimally 3 4 $125
Mazda factory windblocker
'99 & later
3 No 5 5 N/A
Keith Tanner Windblocker2 5 Yes 2 3 N/A
Oris/ASC Windstop 5 No 2 5 $225
Backwindshield3 5 No 1 3 $97
"Wind Defender"
from MM Marketing
1 Yes 4 3 $40
Crazy Red Windblocker3 2 Yes 3 3 $60
Windjammer3 1 Yes 4 1 $70
TopDown 3 No 4 4 $1644

Windblockers Compared
(Ratings: 5 is best, 1 is worst)

  1. Approximate price excluding shipping.
  2. No longer produced. Can be built using instructions on web site.
  3. No longer produced.
  4. Includes free satchel

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