An obituary for the internal combustion engine

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Why did the four-stroke engine win the first evolutionary race? Compared to compression ignition (diesel) and two-stroke, which were invented around the same time, the four-stroke was quieter, more reliable and relatively efficient. The patronage of a certain Henry Ford has surely also helped. He used it for his first cars and for the Model T.

It is estimated that when the Model T entered production in 1908, there were only around 200,000 cars in the world. When the last copy rolled off the line in 1927, Ford had built 15 million T models. It helped power and mobilize America, changing the lives, prospects and ambitions of millions of middle-income people. .

Ford was a philanthropist and was uncomfortable with the profits generated by ever increasing sales, doubling the wages of its workers as the price of the Model T gradually fell from $ 850 to $ 260 thanks to economies of scale and to the refinement of production. The car was here to stay.

The high energy density of liquid fuels that made the internal combustion engine possible also held back early development. Initially any volatile petroleum derivative was used – early T models could be specified to run on hemp oil – and until the early 1920s octane ratings were low, limiting horsepower.

The outbreak of World War I placed the combustion process under further scrutiny, and after much experimentation, an American chemist, Thomas Midgley Jr., discovered a gasoline additive called tetraethyl lead (TEL) that allowed for higher rates. compression and therefore much higher power. At the time, health concerns were raised – workers at the TEL factory fell ill and died, and Midgley himself fell ill – but it was not until the mid-1970s that the ban has started. Midgley later invented freon, the refrigerant.

Other countries eager to mobilize their populations have created their own affordable cars. In France, Citroën began development of the 2CV in the 1930s with farmers in mind, hence the simple hammock seats, minimal features but a long-legged suspension that allowed it to carry a basket of eggs through a freshly plowed field without breakage. The outbreak of World War II delayed production until 1948. In Germany, Volkswagen (literally “people’s car”) was developing the Beetle, its own production car.

While others perfected the scale, it was the artistic, expressive and passionate Italians who shaped the first supercar. Enzo Ferrari created V12-powered beauties from the start. But its upstart rival Lamborghini made the first true supercar when it turned its own V12 90 degrees and installed it behind the seats in the mid-engined Miura.

However, no country was more attached to the car than America. Its population grew with the car, which has become an integral part of daily life, favoring suburban life and travel, out-of-town shopping malls, fast food chains, drive-ins, road trips.

American cars have evolved to adapt to their surroundings, being large, comfortable, effortless, and uninterested in cornering. They too were thirsty, but gasoline was cheap; the United States was the largest oil producer in the world, although by the end of the 1960s demand exceeded its production and they began to import from the Arab states.


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