Leaping Sideways Into the Morning

I know very little about the history of European automotive engines. Were I to spend five months finding out about the topic, this is how I would organise the information…

Image: gamma.consortium

First, I would outline the principles of petrol engine design: thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and on to cylinder count, cylinder arrangement, displacement, cam design and further on. But I can’t cover it all so I would define a period to cover, say 1955 to 1995 (which is the most interesting for me). Next I would try to select a few companies, maybe Ford, PSA, Fiat and GM’s product ranges in the years required. It’s funny but I have no interest in BMW or Mercedes engines. Am I alone on this? Someone can please tell me why a Kent and Opel’s OHCs seem more appealing. Do any BMW engines have names?

Some firms won’t have had many engines: Rover or Rolls-Royce. Some firms will have had lots of short-lived engines (Lancia? Fiat? And why them, if them?)  Put it another way, the mass-market firms provide more material, I think.

Then I’d try to create a list of stem engines in the period. These would be classed by cylinder arrangement: L4, V4, L6, V6 and then by capacities. I would want to try to produce a family tree for each firm’s engine range so you could see which lines were fruitful or over-stressed, depending.

Nineteen sixites Mercedes straight six: automobile magazine dot com why not.

What were the drivers of engine development? This is underlying story. In advance I’d say developments were in response to the needs for 1) power 2) economy 3) torque delivery. But external factors were at play such as market pressures (engine size bragging rights), mergers, politics and straight-down engineering problems and obstacles.

I don’t know this but if there is a reader passing by who has the information, the above is how I would arrange it to make it make sense for the interested layman.

Which car has had the most engines fitted? I’d look for a car with a long sales career within a large conglomerate. Maybe it was a car syndicated to a developing world manufacturer.

And, readers, is how I’d make sense of things.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “Leaping Sideways Into the Morning”

  1. Surely, at least for manufacturers who wanted to sell in the US market, emission control requirements had a major effect. I mention the US market only because as a unitedstatesian, by definition insular and ignorant of the rest of the world, I’m not particularly aware of how and when the EU’s requirements developed.

    1. Funnily, I hadn’t considered emissions standards. If I had been considering the N American market I may have done. That issue had a big effect from 1973 (?) onwards. The point you raise makes explicit a point lurking unmentioned in
      my imagined telling: how and why did the EU market neglect emissions and did they really? Either way, I don’t see it as impinging a lot on Ford, Opel, Fiat and PSA’s thinking since none of them did much exporting to the US (though BMW and Mercedes and VAG did). Good question!

  2. I don’t think i would dismiss Mercedes and BMW engines even if they never deviated from the more conventional layouts. Mercedes (and Bosch) did a pioneering job on fuel injection and small Diesels. BMW (again with Bosch) was one if not the pioneer in electronic engine management
    If i could find the time to do this sort of research, i would spend a significant amount of time researching the history of combustion chamber design, with a special emphasis on the work of Harry Weslake and Keith Duckworth, who, more or less at the same time, came to develop the modern 4 valve ‘pent-roof’ head, with downdraft intake ports and what Duckworth called “barrel motion” charge.

    1. It’s not that I dismiss BMW and Mercedes engines. Patently they must make perfectly decent mills. They don’t say much to me except BMW’s straight sixes. That said, I have no idea if that means an engine or a set of related units. Characterlessness?

  3. This got me thinking…

    Short lived-engines:

    Fiat TwinAir: 2010-17
    Goliath / Hansa 1100 flat four: 1957-61
    Lloyd / Borgward Arabella flat-four (a different engine from the above): 1959-63
    Triumph Stag V8 1970-77.
    BMW M40 in line four: 1987-93, replaced by the substantially different M43

    The last is also a one-car engine. Others are:

    Lancia Gamma flat-four: 1976-84
    Fiat 130 V6: 1969-77
    Rover P6 OHC four: 1963-77
    Rover SD1 PE146/166 six: 1977-86

    I’m sure there quite a few more out there.

    1. Taken as a whole, Jaguar’s AJ6 in-line slant six unit enjoyed a fairly respectable production run, albeit not by Jaguar standards. Break it down however and it looks even less long-lived. It was introduced in 1983, but full scale production only began in ’86 and continued until 1994. It’s replacement, the thoroughly re-engineered AJ16 was even shorter-lived, lasting a mere three years before being phased out in favour of the AJV8 unit in 1997. Furthermore, the bespoke supercharged 3.2 litre version built specifically for the Aston Martin DB7 only ran from 1994 to 1999.

      Ford’s CVH (Considerable Vibration & Harshness) engine family was also relatively short lived. First seen in the European (Erica) Escort III in 1980, it ran until 1993 – its final year being fitted solely to Morgan’s entry level 4/4 model. A heavily revised CVH-PTE with a redesigned crankcase was introduced in 1994, but was phased out later in the decade in favour of the more advanced Zetec units.

    2. Very interesting, Robertas

      A few others i can think of

      Rolls-Royce FB60: Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R 1964-1968
      Opel DT Diesel family (With an interesting ‘apfelbeck-style’ diagonal cylinder head) 1996-2004
      Opel C30SE DOHC 24 valve inline six 1989-1993 (Omega A and Senator B only)
      Volkswagen LT 2.4 inline six petrol (1983-1995), the six cylinder version of the ubiquitous 827 family
      Volkswagen W8 2001–2004 Passat W8 only (Why?, considering that the Audi V8 fits perfectly in the B5 chassis)

    3. Have I missed something … why has FIAT stopped production of the TwinAir? That’s a bit of a shocker, given all the hoohar made about it at launch (wasn’t it ‘Engine of the Year’ at some point?).

  4. A few more:

    VW ‘Wasserboxer’: 1982-92
    VW EA111 four cylinder with aluminium alloy block. 1997-05, but largely replaced by the three cylinder 1.2 by 2002.
    GM 54 degree V6: 1994-04

  5. The BMW N20 2.0t started production in 2011 and ran to 2016. It was gone sometime last year, replaced by the B48 engine, versions of which are also in the MINI. The N20 was another troublesome BMW engine with usual BMW timing chain problems and is the subject of a class-action lawsuit here in Canada. The web is full of disaster tales on this lulu. About five years in production. Here it powered all vehicles with the 28i designation, some hundreds of thousands throughout North America. This must be among the shortest production lives for a volume engine. I had a 30 page technical monograph on the N20, detailing its technical features. Can’t remember a single word on the timing chain drive, basic mechanical stuff they got wrong. Let’s hope the B48 is just a bit better.

    Regarding Richard’s request for a bible on engines, that’s a lot more than five months work, nor does the suggested organization of information hold any interest for me. Limiting it to European stuff is of no practical interest whatsoever either, unless it be on diesel engines which interest me personally not one whit. Japan Inc has come up with many decent engines, and not one that falls flat on its face after five years.

    To me, what’s interesting, and I realize may not be to many others, is how combustion chamber design influenced valve and cam layouts since 1949, why two valvers tended to swirl and four valves to barrel motion, why cooling jackets don’t need to be so deep anymore, why side-tangents like the generally useless Heron head were persisted with and so on. Also, I had been dismayed by that 300SL six’s combustion chambers shown the other day, and sure enough I found its duplicate in the 1935 Chevrolet 235 engine – the fuel injector takes the spark plugs place, so the latter is better situated in the Mercedes. Starting in the late ’40s, GM design advanced combustion chamber technology with new V8s. Ford copied the old Chev 235 six with a 215 later 223 update, including similar design for the Consul and Zephyr engines of 1950 at the very same time; Austin copied the Chev 235 (Bedford and Opel) truck engine just prewar and the basic layout of all the four cylinder and six ohv engines from Volvo to Rootes used similar architecture in the 1950s. The main ones that didn’t were the BMC Austin A and B Series engine, but the Morris C-Series did. Engine designers have access to SAE and Institute of Mechanical Engineering papers – some read them, others think they have a better idea, usually not, but there are superb exceptions. And someone needs to throw away the hoary old idea that hemispherical heads are just the ticket. Once compression ratios got to eight or more, the dome required on the piston ruined the combustion chamber shape. By 1955 the hemi was toast except as Chrysler propaganda and lovers of the XK steam engine.

    I’ve often wonderd if the piston aero engines of WWII would have been better if not for the requirement of two plugs and two magnetos. The spark plugs were never in the right place and combustion chamber design was just this side of pretty darn awful. Oh hello, Mr Merlin, pardon? No. no …. argh! Normal programmig will now continue.

    1. Bill: the more you know, the more you know you don´t know. I clearly know sod all. I outlined the place I would start and to keep it manageable decided to narrow the field to Euro engines from Ford and GM. You might want to outline a structure for how you´d organise the area you are interested in.

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