Published on July 1st, 2020 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
A Greater Appreciation for Modern Vehicles
I have recognized an important concept in my life. If I study the past I will appreciate more the things I take for granted. The automobile is a perfect example.
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, it was the first automobile the general public could afford. Most cars before it were difficult to use, would break down often, and were unaffordable. The Model T was the catalyst to the success of Henry’s Model A and later his early model V8’s.
Vehicles became affordable and symbolized the success of the industrial revolution. They not only enabled transportation for the general public, but they also opened up new industries. Trucking, transportation, supply chains, entertainment, they were all impacted by the development of the automobile.
Internal Combustion Has Not Changed
As much as the automobile has impacted lives of the past and even today, the basic technology in the engine is still the same. It’s a major testament to the technology in the internal combustion engine developed in the 1800’s.
Yes, we have improvements in power production, fuel economy, and efficiencies, but the mechanics of combustion in an engine are still the same. Most engines in production vehicles today still maintain the four stroke cycle: intake, compression, power and exhaust.
This has not changed.
Today’s engines still need fuel. Fuel is delivered in the form of a fine mist to the combustion chamber. But instead of carburetors we now use fuel injectors. The function is still the same but the delivery mechanism has changed.
Intake and exhaust valves still open and close in a specific order. This allows for the fuel and exhaust to enter and exit at the right times. This basic functionality has not changed significantly either. Auto makers today modify the timing of the valve opening and closings to gain additional performance or efficiencies.
But again, the basic functionality is still the same.
Combustion still requires spark to ignite the explosion. This has not changed either. Ford’s Model A used a type of distributor that used rotating points to send the spark at the right time. Later vehicles used a distributor based system that would turn with the camshaft.
Many engines today have abandoned the distributor and use a computer controlled ignition system. The computer signals a coil to provide spark at the right time. Spark is no longer controlled mechanically but by computers now.
Computers are Changing Automobiles
Most functionality of cars in the past was controlled mechanically. Everything was driven by the turning of the motor. The pistons move up and down because of the combustion process. The ignition system relied on the turning of the crankshaft. Even windshield wipers relied on vacuum pressure from the engine.
But now things have changed.
Miniaturization of computers and processors is now driving the advancement of automobile technology. The engine control unit (ECU) is now responsible for much of the automation in a vehicle.
Computers now control when spark is delivered. They deliver spark at just the right moment.
The ECU can also change the air to fuel ratio to make the engine run more rich or lean depending on the needs.
Sensors also play an important role in providing information to the computer. They can electronically measure engine knock, RPM’s, air/fuel ratio, temperature, oxygen, speed, transmission, and many more points.
Some car makers even have a network in the vehicle called CAN Bus. This allows components to send and receive data to each other without the need of a central host or switch to pass the data.
The ECU will then adjust other vehicle systems based on the information it receives from the sensors. It’s quite a complex system far above the complexity of the old mechanical systems of the Model A.
What’s the Future of The Internal Combustion Engine?
I see automakers moving towards electric in the future. However, electric vehicles are not new. Some electric automobiles even pre-date internal combustion engines. Why haven’t they been more successful before now?
I have my opinion but that’s a story for a different time.
I believe the internal combustion engine will always have a place in the modern world. Yes, computers are advancing and becoming better, but humans program computers. Humans alway make errors. Computers can fail. Computers don’t work without electricity. I can start my Flathead V8 even if I don’t have electricity for the starter.
There’s something to be said about the classic automobiles that still work after all these years. They keep working even without computers. Yes, they don’t make as much horsepower and they use more fuel, but they sure are fun to drive.
I just wish my early Ford V8 had air conditioning. I guess I can’t have everything!
About The Author
Jason grew up helping his Dad work on and restore Classic Ford vehicles. He has always loved pushing the limits of vehicles and seeing how much performance he can get out of his purchase. Jason loves technology to enhance his driving experience but still appreciates the foundation of classic and antique automobiles.
Jason is the Founder and Chief Editor of TorqueBoss.com