Revisiting The History of Car Engines

Almost all latest cars are now equipped with an internal combustion engine – to be more specific, the reciprocating piston engine is the most common. Such engines are usually named after their size, indicating the number of cylinders within them and their interior volume. Cylinders in an engine can be positioned in a number of ways:

  1. The straight row, called as a straight or inline engine,
  2. Directly opposite each other, called as a flat engine,
  3. Or adjacent to one another, called the popular V configuration.

Thus, a 3.8L V6 engine defines that it has a total displacement of 3.8 liters and 6 cylinders positioned in two rows of three cylinders. The volume of an engine is also at times noted in cubic inches or cubic centimeters.

Internal combustion engine

Brief History

The internal combustion engine was first conceived in 1673 when Dutch-born Christian Huygens’ experimented with engines using gunpowder as fuel. However, it wasn’t until 1859 when Etienne Lenoir invented the first gasoline internal combustion engine, which resembled a steam beam engine. It looked like a horizontal steam engine with pistons, cylinders, fly wheel and connecting-rods, and was the first internal combustion engine to have been made in numbers. Two years later, German Nikolaus Otto designed the well-known four-cycle, or four-stroke engine (compression, intake, exhaust, ignition), which instantly achieved success with its enhanced efficiency.

Buick two-cylinder engineDuryea and Haynes were next who began the production of gas-fed carriages in America in 1893. Gradually Henry Ford, Charles B. King, Ransom E. Olds and Alexander Winton joined the line by creating their first vehicle with a single-cylinder engine in 1896. Buick debuted his own vehicle shortly thereafter in 1904, which instead of a single-cylinder engine sported a two-cylinder engine. During the same time, Locomobile and Packard introduced their first four-cylinder engine, with the six-cylinder engine arriving soon thereafter in 1912. In 1914, Cadillac introduced another engine design with two banks of four bores each, set at a 90 degree angle. This became the first V-8 engine. In line with this progress, Packard introduced a better engine design in 1915 that became the first V-12 engine. The ultimate breakthrough came in with the introduction of V-16 by Cadillac in the year 1930.

Engines continued to improve gradually and by 1960, there emerged two different schools of thought, where one preferred budget-friendly and compact cars while the other school wanted heavy duty and high performance cars. Around the same time, Chevrolet designed a 425-horsepower 409-ci VS and ten years later, in 1970, Chevy’s major big-block VS, a 454-cube, was introduced producing a horsepower of 450 in LS6 trim. A year later, Ford’s Pinto was out with its 75-horse and 98-ci four-cylinder engine. Gradually, high performance engines started to fade away after gasoline prices shot up drastically in the 1970s. However, engineers made a way out and were able to bring muscle cars back on scene in the 1980s.

latest V-6 engineToday, all vehicle engines are electronically injected, and many have overhead cams and aluminum construction. Several latest V-6 engines are far superior to V-8s; however, the latter ones too have gained a good reputation in the recent times. Chevrolet’s new-for-2006 LS7 small block too will now offer a horsepower of 505!

Fresh, new and exciting engines can be found all around today and continued experiments in this regard do not bring a halt to this on-going process. However, some carryovers are still there. Chrysler recently restored its Hemi V-8, and Cadillac revealed a new version of the V-16 concept – both engines, without a doubt, assert that old is indeed gold! This not just gave people a glimpse of the history but allowed Cadillac to come up with a more po`werfully designed engine.

Tips for Engine Protection

  • Keep a regular track of your engine oil and replace it before expiry.
  • Today’s cars are more complex and digitalized so instead of working your own hands down the engine, get your car tested from an experienced mechanic/technician.
  • Regularly inspect the air filters in your engine because it is common for them to get dirty and clogged.
  • If you are used to driving on dirty roads, clean your engine more regularly.
  • Timing belt is a very important element of your engine which may break down. Get it checked regularly to find any wear and tear and avoid breaking down of your car in the middle of the road.

Image Credits:, wikimedia

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