SBT Car News

Car History: The Evolution of Car Engines


The evolution of engine is the biggest milestone in the modern world of technology. The transportation would not be easy, if the advancements of engine have not occurred time to time. Today, we have luxurious cars, planes, buses and so many transporting vehicles, but all these vehicles would remain in our abstract ideas, if the pioneers of engine had not contributed their part in making of power transmission setup. The technology what we witness today, powering our modern vehicles, is the result of untiring efforts of different people which started about thousands of years ago.

In 1206, Al-Jazari, a mechanical engineer and scholar, invented a crankshaft which he integrated with crank-connecting rod in twin-cylinder pump. The mechanism of Jazari’s crankshaft described the mechanism of converting rotary motion into reciprocating motion, which is still being used in modern crankshafts. More than four hundred years later, a Dutch physicist Christian Huygens attempted the first ever experiment on internal combustion in 1680. Though, experiment didn’t result positively in making of effective engine, but it became the founding block to develop a prototype engine.

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An Era of Transformation

After Huygens’s unsuccessful experiment, in 1794 Thomas Mead and Robert Street patented a gas engine and internal combustion engine respectively. In 1807, French engineers Niepce and Nicephone operated a prototype internal combustion engine that powered a boat on Saone River by using Pyrelophore. In the same year, a Swiss engineer also built an internal combustion engine driven by a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, which was ignited by an electric spark. Till 1859, there was no successful and continuous operating engine, when a French engineer Lenoir developed a spark-ignition engine that could be operated constantly. An American engineer George Brayton also developed a two-stroke kerosene engine. It was too large and slow that didn’t become much successful commercially.

A few years later in 1876, Nikolaus Otto patented an engine that worked on four-cycle. He built a successful four-stroke engine, which became famous as ‘Otto cycle’. Karl Benz, known as the founding father of the automobile industry also patented a two-stroke gas engine in 1879. By the end of the 19th century, the engine had no longer remained an abstract idea, as in 1885 Gottlieb Daimler constructed a prototype engine that used gasoline injected via a carburetor.


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In the year 1892, a German scientist, Rudolf Diesel invented the first-ever compressed charged and compression ignition engine. With this invention, the diesel engine was started being used in various transporting mediums, and it is still considered as one of the best contributions in the evolution of the engine.


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Making of First Automobile Engine

The first-ever gasoline engine was built by Karl Benz, which ran for the time on the eve of New Year in 1879. He later built a four-stroke engine in 1885, which he used in his automobile. He received a patent for this engine in 1886, which officially gave birth to the automobile industry. This invention earned lots of appreciation and was commercial as this engine was capable to power the lightweight car with gasoline. In this introductory vehicle, the chassis and engine formed a single unit. It was a two seater-car, which was fitted with a four-stroke engine at the rear. The engine produced maximum output power of 0.75 horsepower. However, in 1896, Karl Benz received a patent for his design of an engine, consisting of horizontally opposed pistons. This engine is referred to as a flat engine for being lower and sharper. It added a greater contribution to building up automotive industries as it became commercially successful. This engine design was also utilized in many cars of Volkswagen, Porsche, Citroën, Porsche, Subaru, Honda, and BMW. Hence, these contributions from him added great value in automobile series production.


Photo Courtesy: Diamler


The persistent usage of an internal combustion engine for a used car has become increasingly popular, which surprisingly has also led to the advancements of the engine. The changes have been applied to the power machines categorically which can even able to propel the largest ships. Recently, most of the used cars of reliable brands like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai are equipped with turbocharged diesel engine, which provides an increased output power and high efficiency by the mechanism of air induction through turbo-charging and super-charging. V6 engine was also incorporated in automobiles in order to improve fuel efficiency.


Photo Courtesy: CheatSheet

Moreover, the automotive industry shines with the introduction of hybrid technology which is provided with engines to deliver high fuel efficiency, great performance, and a generous amount of output power. Hence, the evolution of engines has resulted in a domino effect in all types of transportation. Due to continuous efforts and improvement in engines, Wartsila-Sulzer built the largest ever internal combustion engine, which is being used for marine propulsion in the largest container ship of the world “Emma Maersk.”


Photo Courtesy: IndustryTap

So the engine that is used in cars for off-road and on-road purposes has a sibling that is heavier in power than the engines collected in an auto-trading yard.