Engines are an ancient invention. Records of engines of one type or another date back to antiquity. Engines freed much of mankind from manual labor beginning in the Industrial Revolution, and thus put an end to slavery in much of the world. Engines meant that people spent less time doing manual labor and more time thinking, learning and improving. Engines meant humans had the leisure time to work out microprocessors, film and other achievements that would otherwise have been set aside by the need to grow food to survive.
Engines are used in nearly every industry. There are engines that are integral to transportation and shipping. There are engines that mean chain saw artists can sculpt tree stumps, that rock climbers can reach the feet of the mountains they climb, that farmers don't need days to get from their homesteads to town in order to vote. Engines tied the world together. Because of engines, people can travel from Los Angeles to Berlin in hours, not months. Fuel and goods can be shipped around the world more cheaply than ever. Often, due to engines, transportation moves faster and becomes cheaper.
But engines aren't all the same. Different technologies emerged over the centuries, each with its own strengths. It is said that locomotives, especially the old, coal-fired ones, have moods. Do you know enough to test those moods? How much do you know about car engines? Take this quiz to find out.
Swedish automaker Volvo's head said in 2017 that the internal combustion engine was dead and Volvo would begin to phase it out of its fleet starting in 2019.
There are many configurations of engine cylinders, but the number of cylinders is always an important part of the name. The 6 does indeed stand for 6 cylinders, just as an 8 would stand for 8 cylinders, 12 would for 12, and so on.
A V configuration is where the cylinders, arranged vertically, meet at their bottoms in a V shape, a design that means space savings. By saving space, V6s can be crammed into smaller engine bays, often leaving room for other additions to the engine, like forced induction systems.
Diesel engines, short for "Diesel-Electric Engines" use a diesel motor to generate electricity which in turn runs an electric motor. As a result, diesel engines get all their torque at 1 rpm, giving them tremendous acceleration off the line.
Boxer engines are a term often synonymous with the class of engine boxers belong to: flat engines. Boxer engines are called this because, due to the vibrations induced by the engine as it churns away, it jiggles around in the engine bay like a boxer hopping on their toes, spoiling for a fight.
Horsepower is a measurement of foot pounds of force over time. An easy rule of thumb for remembering what horsepower is, is that horsepower is what lets a car remain in a state where it increases speed, but it doesn't determine the speed of acceleration.
A Wankel engine is a type of rotary engine that makes use of an object of constant width as a part of the design. In short, a rotary engine has one moving part: the rotor, a almost triangular object inside of a rounded combustion chamber containing, effectively, three combustion chambers, as each side of the rotor acts like a mini-cylinder.
A turbocharger is a fan that rams fresh air into the engine, increasing power and, if the engine is tuned for it, fuel efficiency. This type of function is referred to as "forced induction". Turbochargers are powered by the vehicle's exhaust, which means that wasted energy is converted into power.
Gas engines' advantage over diesel is that while they don't typically have the same torque figures (all other things being equal) and they don't have the instant torque available to diesel engines, they do have more horsepower, something best appreciated on the highway, but not on the highway on ramp.
The truth is that, with today's engines, a little diesel in the tank won't kill a gas engine. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the complicated software and computer management of engines that keeps them from running too hot, etc.
Gas works by exploding inside the gasoline engine. This is literally how gas engines work: They are cages for contained explosions that move mechanical parts that propel the car forward. Diesel doesn't explode, but it does burn. The difference between diesel and gas engines is that one explodes its fuel and the other just burns it.
An engine's displacement is an interesting stat, referring to the total volume in the engine for air and fuel. Generally, a larger displacement will produce more power, all other things being equal. It used to go that in order to have a more powerful engine, you needed a larger displacement, as with the Dodge Viper, but today, all sorts of clever technologies have, ironically, displaced displacement as the key to power.
Superchargers are the forebears of turbochargers, the former being in use long before the turbo appeared on the scene. While supercharger and turbochargers accomplish much the same task, superchargers are run off the engine, usually by a belt.
Torque is the force of rotation, often measured in foot pounds. Mechanical torque (there are other kinds) is the torque referred to with cars, and unlike some other kinds of torque, it is only produced in peak levels within a narrow band of RPMs in a gas engine, which is why knowing how to drive a manual is considered such an art.
Rear-wheel drive cars' drive trains sap some power. That's right: your RWD BMW M3 loses about 20% of its power to the drive train, which is about par for the course. Like electrical voltage drop, it takes energy to push energy through a conduit, the drive train in this case. This is one reason why some car makers like to put the engine closer to the wheels that provide power, either in a front-wheel drive car, or a rear-wheel drive car.
A hot V is a configuration of a V engine (usually a V8) and turbocharger or turbochargers wherein the turbos sit in the middle of the cylinders, wedged in the middle of the V. This configuration not only saves room, allowing other mechanical components to be arranged with greater freedom, but it also ensures that the turbo operates with greater force.
A spark plug is the component that conducts a tiny spark of electricity into the combustion chamber inside an internal combustion engine. It consists of an electrode attached to a resistor, so that pulses of electricity can be conducted through in a burst, resulting in a spark, and not constant current.
Straight-6 engines have been around a very long time, having been a favored engine by such famous car makers as Jaguar for decades. In addition to ease of maintenance, the straight-6 design is also very smooth, and a satisfying engine from the driver's point of view.
A W16 engine is an engine with 16 cylinders, arranged in a W shape, similar but not the same as two V8 engines sat side by side. W16 engines tend to have huge displacement, and produce an insane amount of power without the traditional encumbrances of turbochargers, superchargers, or other forms of engine-tuning witchcraft.
Premium fuel is higher octane gasoline. The octane level of gasoline is the amount of octane molecules in it. Jet fuel for example, has such a high octane level, most cars couldn't handle it. The octane molecules are the explosive element in gasoline, and a high octane fuel means that the gasoline's ability to explode is more even and predictable.
The differences are marketing, and the specifics of the additives each brand puts in their gas (something done between the oil pipeline and the gas station's pump), most of which don't so much, or anything. In short, all gas stations sell the same product, even if the companies claim otherwise.
Pagani makes dramatic, high performance supercars that represent much of what Italian car makers do with the best of what Germany can do with engines. AMG is the performance brand of Mercedes-Benz, and have been making crazy versions of standard MB engines for about 40 years.
The 1986 AMG Hammer was a humble E-class sedan when the then-independent tuning house AMG got their hands on it. They used their dark powers to turn the rather unassuming executive sedan into a demonic monster by swapping the car's engine for MB's 5.6-liter V8, and tuning the engine.
Just as Mercedes-Benz made AMG an official part of the company and turned it into a brand, BMW did this with what is now called BMW's Motorsport division. Alpina is an independent tuning company that does much the same work as the Ms, but their approach produces very different cars, which tend to favor torque over horsepower.
The engine in the Lincoln Town Car is found in other cars, where it can be tuned to produce a lot of horsepower. What the engineers at Ford realized was that if it was tuned for less power, then there would be less of a strain on its parts, and it would last longer with less maintenance.
That's right: Ford made the engine used in the initial entries in the CC series of Koenigsegg supercars. Koenigsegg did monkey with the design and make it the impressive machine it was, but to build it, they turned to the Ford modular platform, an engine format used by many manufacturers to make "their own" engines using a Ford V8 as a starting point.
When Maarten de Bruijn and Victor Muller founded Spyker Cars in 1999, they needed a source for their engines. Most of their company's resources were dedicated to the design and engineering of the rest of these incredible cars, so like Koenigsegg and Pagani, they turned to a larger manufacturer to make engines for them.
There aren't many cars with Wankel engines out there, and for good reason. The Audi A1 E-Tron concept used a Wankel engine as part of a hybrid system, but then someone realized how silly it was to use an engine that thirsts for fuel like a vampire thirsts for blood as a part of a system intended to save fuel, and it was scrapped.
"Kompressor" was a word you probably spotted on a few Mercedes-Benz cars in the early 2000s, when the brand would festoon the letters in Kompressor down the side of every car with the feature. The term does go back to at least the 1986 AMG Hammer, but most of the time it gets a letter of Mercedes-Benz alphabet soup instead of the whole word.
Starting with certain 2019 models, Mazda is introducing a very strange new engine as part of its SkyactivX system. This technology uses compression-ignition as part of the way the gasoline engine works. This type of technology actually comes from diesel engines, and many car makers have experimented with it over the years, but only Mazda cracked it.
The Lanchester Biturbo is a fiction, as cool as that would be. Lanchester did produce an engine called the Twin-Crank Twin, using two cranks instead of the usual one on a 4 liter flat twin (2 cylinder) engine, which was capable of about 10 horsepower, which was a lot back when it was built in the early 1900s.
The Hemi was rated at 425 horsepower, while the 440 Six Pack could crank out a pretty respectable 360 horsepower. The problem was that while the 440 Six Pack option was only a bit expensive, the Hemi option was more than a grand. In the early 1970s, you could buy a couple used cars for that.
The Hemis of yore were called that because their combustion chambers were hemispherical in shape, part of an overall design that made them powerful, even legendary among muscle car enthusiasts. More recent "Hemis" may come from Chrysler, but they don't have the real heritage of the older ones.
When Carroll Shelby built his legendary AC Cobra race car, he started with a time-honored recipe of a lightweight car made lighter, and then decided to be very American about the underpowered English sports car he was using, by adding a gigantic Ford V8.
The LS3 will be remembered as one of the last great internal combustion engines. It powered the Holden Commodore VF from 2015 to 2017. GM, which owns Holden, decided to have a run of these rear-wheel drive, Corvette-powered cars made with Chevy badges for the American market.