Milestones in Speed - Power

Don Sherman Matthew Phenix David Yochum
Ian Dawson Getty Images IMS Photo
David Johnson

After Karl Benz got the movement going with his single-piston motorcar in 1886, other inventors chipped in more cylinders. Gottlieb Daimler doubled the count in 1889, followed by Maudslay Motors' three-cylinder cars in 1902. Napier pioneered the four-cylinder engine in 1900 and also the first six in 1904. While both Adams in England and Antoinette in France toyed with V-8s as early as 1906, French maker De Dion-Bouton deserves credit for initiating V-8 production in 1910. Although Sunbeam began racing V-12-powered cars in 1913, Packard beat them to a dozen-cylinder production car in 1915. Cadillac's gift to speed was its 1930 V-16. Later gap-fillers included Mercedes-Benz with a five-cylinder diesel in 1975, followed by Dodge's mighty V-10 for the 1992 Viper.

Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi suggested using exhaust energy to drive a supercharger in 1906. Frenchman Auguste Rateau thought that a turbo-supercharger, or turbocharger, would be ideal for maintaining an aircraft engine's power at altitude, and General Electric's Sanford Moss proved him right with tests conducted on a Liberty V-12 atop Pikes Peak in 1918. More than 300,000 GE turbos were manufactured during World War II for use on bombers and fighters. The Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder and the Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire, both launched in 1962, were the first turbocharged production cars.

Four valves per cylinder operated by double overhead camshafts are now respected as the most efficient path to piston-engine power, but they were radical concepts when designer Ernest Henry proposed them in 1912. After Peugeot racers proved that Henry's invention was valid with several grand prix and Indy 500 wins, the French firm Ballot et Cie hired him to design engines for racing and road use. The world's first production car powered by a DOHC four-valve engine was the 1921 Ballot 2LS (2.0 liter Sport, above), which provided 72 hp and cost a dear $8750. About 100 of the cars were built, one of which finished third in a 1921 French grand prix race.

During World War II, the German Luftwaffe injected nitrous oxide into its aircraft engines to boost power. The primary benefit comes from the fact that N2O contains 36 percent oxygen by weight versus air's 21 percent. Also, the cooling effect associated with N2O's liquid-to-gas change in state increases the incoming charge's density. Racers began legal and illegal use of nitrous some thirty years ago to gain up to 100 hp. At the 1976 Daytona 500, the qualifying times posted by both A. J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip were thrown out after officials discovered their hidden nitrous systems.

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