The big block, the short stroke, the charmless puffer

True, if hugely embarrassing, story: When I was in first grade, I wanted to find out a little bit about the Vietnam War, since my former-Marine father had been a participant but wasn’t exactly verbose on the topic when questioned. I went to the library, checked out a grownup book, and read a sentence about the “gas-operated M16 and its jamming problems.” I interpreted to mean that the rifle had a tiny model-aircraft-style engine in it that gave it fully-automatic firing capacity. I retained this delusion all the way to my first day as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol a few years later, at which point I was lampooned, and rightly so, for expressing it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/08/15/the-big-block-the-short-stroke-the-charmless-puffer

My favorite engines are the BMW S54 and the Honda C30A/C32B - enough torque for easy driving and all the charms of an 8k redline. But in my opinion Chevy LS > Honda F20C because torque is fun.

New car sales are off and it seems like nobody paid to write about it is echoing what I’m hearing from people who have bought numerous new cars in the past. What’s available now might make sense in China, but it is no substitute for the cars we could buy before CAFE was increased by people who have no business living in a free society. Am I going to trade in a car with a naturally aspirated engine that spins to 8,000 RPM for some compliance heat pump? Not voluntarily. There is nothing premium about a mid-sized sedan powered by a turbocharged 2.0 liter lump.

The other shoe that will drop when the anti-freedom people have control again is that all these direct-injected legislation-driven clunkers emit particulate emissions just like diesels. Will the people who made us buy this garbage be content with poisoning us, or will they use this feature of their design to bankrupt a few unfavored car manufacturers, or to decree that there will be limitations on the ways we can use the cars they herded us into?

Perhaps I’m another victim of seeing the past through rose colored lenses, but I always thought the old turbo engines from the 80s and 90s were fun. Honda always stayed naturally aspirated, but I was always remembered those other Japanese cars with turbos being plenty fun to drive and their engines delivering character. Again, it’s probably my bias towards my younger years…

I get what you’re saying Jack. Unfortunately, spec sheets have been winning out and “character” does not end up on any of them.

I don’t know about spec sheets, but thanks to good old EPA and the left coast I do know about fun. I drive a Cadillac CTS V with 556 hp and 551 ft/lbs of torque and my Z06 with 650 hp and 650 ft/lbs of torque. We can argue engines all day long, but we can’t argue the efficiencies that EPA and the left coast forced down our collective throats. I can now kill myself twice as fast as before (pun intended). Throw me in the briar patch.

The turbo ‘four’ is the only way to pass fleet emissions, it seems like. Couple it to an 8-speed transaxle that is programmed to shift at 2200 revs unless the throttle is buried and you got your desired, shareholder-pleasing CO/NOx values. Auto executives will even tell you that you (the customer) had asked for this! You have also asked for BMW to kill the RWD 1-Series, and Nissan to build the CrossCabriolet btw.
As for the engines? Small italian cars with revvy fours, or a big 50s boat with a lazy understressed V8 that would probably start after 20 years of rotting in a junkyard? Can’t we have both please? As people are different, with different needs, maybe there are different engines for different jobs. I don’t want to pull a horse trailer in a 2.0t Range Rover, similarly, putting a big V8 into a Miata makes no sense. Wait…

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setright once said that a big displacement flathead with very high compression but also with tiny valves to limit the quantity inhaled, and the thinnest of thin wall castings since the thing wouldn’t rev would be cheapest to produce, meet emission standards, and be torquey to drive

This is a most interesting discussion we should be having more frequently, I suggest a weekly or monthly column dedicated only to engine types and technology advances.

For me, give me a DOHC naturally aspirated high revving beauty any time of the day, no matter if it’s a 4-liter V8 or a 3-liter 6-pot or any i4 from 1 liter to 2 liter. I simply don’t like how a 6 or 7-liter pushrod V8 sounds, too truck-like for me. Torque is overrated, just downshift and hit that gas pedal to the ground, don’t be shy. If the vehicle is lightweight, you won’t need that much revving anyway, if a one-cylinder 200 cc motorcycle can accelerate up an overpass in fourth gear carrying all 155 pounds of yours truly, so can your 250hp sensible sedan.

Also, it shouldn’t matter if it’s turbocharged, if Formula One engines are turbocharged AND electrified and can revv up to 13,000 rpm I don’t see why car makers don’t make a 1.5 turbocharged i4 powering a light weight economy car with 180hp or so. It makes sense for me.

As for your criticism of 2-liter i4s, I believe 2 liters are a relatively high displacement for a four cylinder, that would explain why it can only revv to 6,500, excluding awesome 2-liters like the Subaru FA20 (7,400 redline on the BRZ and Toyota 86) or the mighty Honda F20. A low red line and turbocharging make it a usable daily, and remember it’s all for the fuel economy tests, when they don’t spool the turbo. In real life, they get just a little better fuel economy than a NA V8. The only improvement is because they’re a few pounds lighter but more complex. The mistake here is like you say, attempting to move a heavy family or luxury car with less than 8 cylinders is a bad idea, no matter how many turbos or automatic shifting gears you throw at it. Inline-4s are better suited to small cars, period.

Also, I see V6s having a bad rap these days, I don’t know why, because some of the best cars ever made had a V6 or VR6. Hello NSX, Alfa Busso, Golf R32, Lancia Stratos, Alpine A310, Nissan Z, Dino, ATS-V, 3000GT VR4, Nissan GT-R, Evora 400… and don’t forget the new Camaro 1LE, AMG C43 and Ford GT.

Finally I don’t think all-electric cars will take over anytime soon. If the goal is to reduce emissions, you still need hydrocarbons to generate electricity unless you plan to dot all of Europe and America with nuclear power plants. Plus, batteries are heavy, inefficient, don’t last long and when they are being made they cause way more polution than ICE cars and need exotic materials only found on certain countries like China. If the electric shift was good and inevitable, it would happen with or without a government mandate.