Hooniverse Asks: What weird engine type do you wish wound up in a production car?

I’m fascinated by radial engines. They dance in a way that’s familiar but the moves are just a little different. Radial engines put their hips into it. And they’ve never found favor in the automotive space, outside of one-off race cars or insane project builds. Some have tried shoving them into motorcycles, but the main application of a radial engine is in the nose of an airplane. Occasionally, they’d be used to power a tank as well.

I’d love to see more examples of a radial engine in a car. Conversely, is there a production vehicle that could’ve used one?

What other unique or strange engine configurations are out there? And which would you like to have seen go into a production vehicle? Maybe someone was working on an offset V3? Did we have early options for compressed air besides boiling water into steam?

Sound off below and let us all learn about some great oddball engines.

51 Comments

    1. That’s a lot of energy transitions (fuel -> heat -> mechanical -> electrical -> mechanical), which means a lot of loss in between. Interesting, but not efficient.

      I remember my dad ranting about the conspiracy that ended some guy’s brilliant engineering of a steam-powered Corvette. He swore it had huge potential, but that “Big Oil” bought him out and buried the idea. I have no clue whether there was any truth to it.

      1. Yeah, but you could rate it on miles per cord of wood. Because I want a wood fired boiler for the ultimate off the grid post apocalypse car.

      2. Anytime someone starts talking about “Big Oil”, just smile, nod and slowly back away. That person is not mentally balanced.

    2. I’ve heard that steam piston engines are more efficient than turbines unless they’re over 500 hp. Steam piston engines are a bit like electric motors in that they produce massive torque at zero rpm, so you don’t need a transmission or clutch.

      There was a prototype steam turbine powered bus:
      https://www.sfmta.com/blog/munis-steam-powered-bus

    1. The original rotary engine.

      These things were common Aero engines in WWI

      Also used in motorcycles:

      1. As most famously used in the Sopwith Camel. There is nothing like an engine that throws the aircraft into a spin as a design feature.

        1. Hey! All of these fly-by-wire fighter jets are designed to be unstable.

          It was just ahead of its time.

          1. Unstable, not quite.

            Gyroscopic precession of the rather heavy engine (heavy, compared the wooden scaffolding that passed for a plane those days) meant that the planes were actually quite reluctant to turn in certain directions.Its the same effect that stops a bike from falling to the side as long as its wheels are turning.

            They loved going in other directions though.
            Good pilots could use that to their advantage, bad ones wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

          2. Unstable, not quite.

            Gyroscopic precession of the rather heavy engine (heavy, compared the wooden scaffolding that passed for a plane those days) meant that the planes were actually quite reluctant to turn in certain directions.Its the same effect that stops a bike from falling to the side as long as its wheels are turning.

            They loved going in other directions though.
            Good pilots could use that to their advantage, bad ones wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

        2. Not just the Camel, the Oberursel Rotaries that powered a lot of the early WWI planes (mostly Fokkers) were either licensed or based on the same Clerget/Gnome/Rhones that were used in Camels and Nieuports.

          Rotarys are incredibly elegant and horribly clunky machines at the same time.

      1. PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) were actually doing serious research into compressed air hybrids but stopped as it was uneconomic. The EU would only grant subsidies on electric hybrids so those cars would be at an automatic disadvantage in the showroom, which is one of many reasons subsidies on EVs annoy me. It can hinder the development of alternative branches of technology. Emerging ICE tech has arguably advanced more in the last 10 years than battery tech (HCCI, Freevalve and ironically, electrification of many of its mechanical components), but the people who write “technology” blogs and relate to EVs because they’re like their iPhones and don’t seem to have nasty oily bits outweigh any sensible discussion of mechanical engineering.

      1. Interesting designs, but more suited to big trucks and military vehicles than cars. I can’t imagine getting one of those to rev!

      2. The Neander twin conrod geared twin crank engine found on their motorcycles as a diesel might be good in a car.

    1. I would contend that the H16 made decent power, just not enough to offset the extra weight. And that’s before you get into the atrocious reliability!

      80-100 hp more than the championship winning Brabham Repco V8, even 10% or so more than the Ferrari V12.

    2. Impressive.

      I will confess to having a hard time imagining such a thing, that is a Flagship Subaru.

    1. A guy in the UK put one in a vintage-styled car on a Leyland chassis. Can’t find an image now, but it looked the part.

    2. They were even reliable.. well by the standards of 1950s British vehicles at least.

  1. I din’t know if this rates as a ‘wierd’ engine, but one that has rarely been seen in cars. As a VFR800 rider, there is not much that can match the sound and power delivery of a flat-crank 90deg V4 engine.

    We need a hot hatch with a 90deg V4.

      1. That is very very much my definition of hot, I mean, look at those wheels.

        I’ll be in my bunk. *gnnnhhfff*

        1. I’ve driven one of those, they are very light on their feet. I have a Gamma Coupe which drives in a very similar, size shrinking, manner.

          1. I think a small Italian coupe like this would be my ideal weekend car.

      2. The Ford Capri almost qualified, unfortunately the V4 engines were only used in the MK I and the hatchback showed up in the MK II.

    1. If you can live with a *slightly* narrower v-angle,
      Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato would qualify.

  2. Admittedly, not that weird, and more of an overall package than just the engine (then again, a cool engine is pointless in the wrong car, there’s no point putting some crazy diesel in featherlight sports car, or a zingy but torque lite screamer in a truck), but I really wish Suzuki had followed through on it’s Cappuccino replacement concept, the C2. While breaking out of kei rules, it would have made up for that by still being compact, but with a 1600cc V8. Seriously, that’s my dream car right there, forget your supercars, I can’t think of anything more brilliant than a tiny light car, that’s still got decent weather protection, can be driven every day, powered by something that reminds me of a Moto Guzzi V8 but with Japanese reliability. It’s not clear if a real engine was made for the concept, but I have no doubt Suzuki could have made it if they wanted.

    https://www.supercars.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/1998_Suzuki_C21.jpg

    Ah well, I’ll console myself with 3 pot turbo warble in the meantime (as soon as I fix this damn steeering column..)

  3. GM had a prototype 2.5 liter V5 diesel (with the injection pump mounted where the missing cylinder of a V6 was), IIRC intended for smaller platforms like the X-bodies and the compact pickups.

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