WHEN I wandered into Ed Guido’s office a couple of months back he must have been mulling over the theme for his editorial page. The big fella has form during mullingover moments for behaving a bit like Sunhill coppers in The Bill. You run the risk that ‘anything you do say will be taken down and may be used in evidence’.

We talked about the disappointingly utilitarian looks of the mighty 423kW blown-V8 powering the otherwise-amazing F-Type Jaguar in the issue’s ‘Toy Box’ feature. Guido reckoned the alloy casting topping the engine could well have been part of an industrial refrigerator, while I observed that the plastic covers hiding so many recent motors look about as inspiring as a picnic table, offering nothing visual to get your enthusiast heart a pumpin’.

Later in the day as I proofread Guido’s editorial page, I wasn’t much surprised to find he had shared our conversation with readers. It’s all grist for the Guido mill… Judging by the way readers also put their two-bob’s worth in on the subject it turned out to be an interesting enough topic. Among them ‘Aussie S’, bless him, reckoned the classic charms of a flathead Ford V8 under the bonnet are hard to beat. ‘Glenn B’ and ‘Mark W’ justifiably praised the gorgeousness of Jaguar XK sixes, Porsche boxers and Alfa Romeo V6s.

Not so long ago arriving at a car event, or sometimes at a servo, in a tasty looking car, or one with a wicked-sounding idle, would attract a curious enthusiast or two. Invariably someone would ask: “Could you pop the bonnet to give us a look at the engine?” Not surprising because surely a ‘motor car’ is first and foremost about its ‘motor’. With the bonnet raised your new best mate(s) would be giving feedback and asking questions: “Is that a Dave Bennett head?” “A Scintilla – seen one for years.” “Saw one of these fitted with a Paxton blower. A neat job too.” “I’ll bet the Webers drove you mad before you finally sorted them.”

These days with a late model performance car, if someone did ask, you’d be saying apologetically: “Mate, it goes alright but there’s no fruit to look at. Nothing much to see at all.”

The various nondescript covers on most modern engines do more than hide any interesting hardware.

A sombre grey plastic lid is a poor substitute for the shiny splendour of classic performance engines sporting alloy heads, blocks wearing bright high-temp paint, or lines of chromed dome nuts securing crackle-black cam covers. And what’s not to love about the blue/purple heatstaining on chromed headers, testament to an engine that has seen action? Even polished copper and brass components add to the visual richness of the ‘revealed’ engine.

My own recent experience shows how far we (or I at least) have moved on from the simple pleasure of having a good look at what’s under the bonnet. I bought a nice privately-advertised Corolla for my partner the other week.

It was immaculate inside and out. The detailed service records were very reassuring (even to their usual bloke giving it a full service only days earlier). The test drive showed was A1, so we did a deal there and then. It was only after I collected it a few days later and drove it home that I realised I hadn’t lifted the bonnet. I was vaguely curious, technically, about its variable valve-timing set-up. But not expecting to be able to see anything I didn’t bother looking, not even for the usual checks for oil and coolant contamination or head-gasket weeps.

And now as I sit at the keyboard, with at least 300km on the Corolla in our hands, the bonnet remains shut…