Thursday, July 02, 2020

Why should Volkswagen have kept the air-cooled flat-4 engine for longer?

Premiered in the Beetle, the Volkswagen air-cooled "boxer" flat-4 engine is definitely a masterpiece of engineering, and expanded into a broad range of automobiles and light-duty commercial vehicles. However, plagued by the seemingly unjustifiable efforts needed to improve its cooling and emissions, such wonderful engine was phased out in 2006. Sure the prevalence of the transverse-engine layout in newer entry-level cars would render it more complicated to fit into a modern econobox, but it's not an excuse to have not extended the

A model which could've benefitted from a longer lifespan for the old flat-4 is the Gol, which actually had a 1.3L version of this engine at its beginning and subsequently 1.6L ones before receiving water-cooled inline-4 MD-270 and EA827 engines until its final longitudinal-engine iterations discontinued in 2013 which already had the EA-111 engine in 1.0L versions and the EA827 in 1.6L ones. Among the reasons for the air-cooled engine to have been still a better fit to the Gol are its smaller weight and shorter overhang, leading to a better weight bias and a lesser effort over the structure. On a sidenote, the lenght of the water-cooled engines required the radiator to be placed behind the left headlight in order to not increase too excessively the front overhang.
Having the engine front-mounted enhanced substantially the cooling in the Gol, which would already be a good reason for the air-cooled flat-4 to fare reasonably, even though water-cooling could be seen as an ultimate response to the increasingly tight emissions control for the Kombi which was the last of all rear-engined traditional Volkswagens having switched to water-cooling between 2006 and 2013 when a flexfuel 1.4L version of the EA-111 became the sole engine available. Even though it would be also challenging to say the least, eventually not being so exaggerated to qualify as an engineering nightmare, keeping the old boxer without significant improvements to the cooling was still evaluated by Volkswagen when Brazil switched from Euro-2 to Euro-3 on utility vehicles. Noise suppression is what actually pulled the plug on the old boxer.

As far as cooling and its side-effects on emissions go, sometimes it's quite surprising Volkswagen has seemingly not considered to apply a technical solution resembling Suzuki's SACS oil-cooling which was featured to some of its GSX motorcycles. Considering it allowed more compact engine castings as fewer cooling fins would be required, which was the main goal of Suzuki with its design aiming to sports motorcycles, even if Volkswagen would rather retain the old castings it's always worth notice a small oil cooler had always been a standard fitment to rear-engined applications of the flat-4, then it's not rocket-science to lurk about an eventual fitment of a larger one with some sort of thermostat for a more accurate control of the oil cooling which could be done either with a bypass valve (which still allows a minimum oil flow through the radiator in order to prevent it to be damaged by any vacuum formation inside its pipes) or some restrictor flaps surrounding the cooler.

The lack of further interest to improve the air-cooled flat-4 might also have something to do with the regulatory conditions in Brazil, where from the Beetle's first phaseout in '86 to a short reintroduction between '93 and '96 and from the Beetle's ultimate phaseout in Brazil to 2006 the Kombi was the only remaining vehicle featuring this engine not counting others from smaller automakers who sourced the engine from Volkswagen. Eventually the commercial failure of a water-cooled EA827 Diesel engine when fitted briefly to the Kombi was a deciding factor for Volkswagen to not apply any other water-cooled engine to this model for a while, and the stiff competition from Asian vans once the Brazilian market was reopened for imports in '90 could have led to its demise, but in '93 then-president Itamar Franco who was an enthusiast of the Beetle arranged for the 1.6L version of the boxer to be included under the same lower taxation scheme implemented for the water-cooled 1.0L engines, which was dropped as soon as the Beetle was phased out one more time in '96 when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was the president. Considering it took a while for Volkswagen to bring its own 1.0L engines to Brazil instead of sourcing them from Ford through the AutoLatina joint-venture which was also phased out in '96, it's quite surprising there was no attempt to apply for the very same benefit to be extended to other models at least as a stop-gap measure, to which eventually the Brazilian market where it's still quite common to point out an engine's displacement as a prestige feature would lead some customers to actually prefer the seemingly-outdated air-cooled boxer over its water-cooled 1.0L contenders.

The perceived resilience of the "Beetle's engine" is still highly praised by enthuiasts, and brings back memories of simpler yet effective engineering solutions pretty much forgotten on light-duty vehicles such as the gear-driven OHV valvetrain which has fewer failure-prone elements due to the absence of a timing belt or chain. In a country where the Beetle is still beloved not only by collectors who live in a big city, being also often regarded as a rural tool, this would be a good-enough argument in favor of this engine. And since water-cooled cars actually resort to anti-freezing fluid mixed with water, it's a matter of concern due to the risk of environmental damage after a cooling fluid leakage near some water course or storm sewers.

Even though most of those traditional buyers of the Gol who look at its utilitarian aspect more than for performance enhancements back in the day of longitudinally-mounted EA827 engines assimilated smoothly the transition to transverse engines started in 2008, since much of its ergonomics are often pointed out to not have departed too much from previous models it's nearly impossible to not wonder how a modern Gol would have been with an improved air-cooled boxer...

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

What would be my favorite engines to swap into a Jeep CJ-3B?

One of the American-designed vehicles I like the most, with features that contrast with most of those landyacht imagery from the full-size cars of its day, the Jeep CJ-3B has a convenient size which could still render it a good base for a daily-driver project. On the other hand, a stock 2.2L Hurricane F-head gasoline-powered engine was already quite outdated even by then when OHV designs prevailed. The first upgrade I would consider in order to make a CJ-3B a reliable and preferably more fuel-efficient all-around commuter is an engine swap, to which 5 engines could be favored by me.

1 - Perkins 404: available either in naturally-aspirated or turbocharged versions, this Diesel engine could be regarded as a natural evolution considering the usage of the Perkins 4-108 engine in some Spanish versions of the CJ-3B. All the 4-cylinder versions of the 400-series Perkins engines come in the a 2.2L displacement, just like the gasser it would be replacing, and it's also worth to notice the gear-driven OHV valvetrain and injector timing are not so failure-prone, so the maintenance would not be too significantly more complex;

2 - Yanmar 4TNV88: a comparable engine to the Perkins 404, it has been widely fitted not only to stationary/industrial applications and agricultural machinery to be also found on sailboats, to which once again the Perkins 4-108 had been widely used as auxiliary power. Available either with natural aspiration or turbocharging too, this engine has also been used for swaps into compact trucks even in the United States, even though some performance upgrades are frequently added in order to meet the requirements for these rigs which even in stock form are larger and heavier than a CJ-3B;

3 - Chevrolet 153: even though it's also an old gasser just like the Hurricane, the gear-driven OHV valvetrain is an improvement over the precarious intake-over-exhaust approach. This has actually been one of my favorite engines for a long time;

4 - Volkswagen air-cooled flat-4: even though it may seem quite weird, a "Veep" still attracts me. Even though the most usual approach for such swap was to replace the entire frame for a shortened Volkswagen one with a makeshift rear engine compartment, trying to fit the engine upfront would not be discarded immediately;

5 - Hatz 2L41C/2M41: even though a 2-cylinder Diesel engine may not seem so attractive at a first glance, its 1.8L displacement range is once again comparable to the Perkins 4-108, while the air cooling is also quite tempting. A major downside is the weight of those engines, even though the small amount of cylinders may fool someone to believe it would be a hassle-free engine swap...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Why is it not so pointless to compare the Cummins ISF2.8 engine to the Volkswagen 3.0 TDI

It's impossible to deny the Cummins ISF2.8 is quite a crude engine, as it caters mostly to commercial utility vehicles for which cost-cutting measures are given a higher priority than utmost sophistication. Due to its marketing approach more focused on the so-called "emerging" markets, being fitted to light trucks such as some versions of the Volkswagen Delivery trucks range, at a first glance it might seem quite pointless to compare it to something way more complex within a somehow closer displacement range, but once we look at a simpler engine with a different perspective it may highlight a handful of features which would otherwise remain overlooked. Even though some lower states of tune usually applied for the sake of improving reliability may render it easier to underestimate an engine like this, there are some reasons to consider the viability of some higher-output approach to render it suitable to fancier vehicles.
Considering their displacements as not too far to the point of rendering a direct comparison unfair, the Cummins ISF2.8 may look inherently disadvantaged towards Volkswagen's own 3.0L variants of the V6 TDI which is fitted to the Audi Q8 among other models. While the 4-cylinder Cummins resorts to iron block and head, a wastegated turbocharger and a chain-driven single overhead camshaft (SOHC) valvetrain, the TDI gets a pair of aluminium cylinder heads with double overhead camshafts (DOHC) accounting to a total of 4 camshafts and an electronically-controlled variable-geometry turbocharger. Besides the inherent weight penalty of an iron cylinder head, the smaller amount of camshafts already provides a decrease on inertia and internal frictions which could be already beneficial, and since both engines feature 4 valves per cylinder it would be pointless to point at the ISF2.8 as disadvantaged to what the intake and exhaust flows might concern. When it comes to bore and stroke, which are often pointed out as extremely relevant to how rev-happy an engine may become, the Cummins with 94mm bore and 100mm stroke for a 0.94:1 R/L (radius/lenght) ratio could seem not so unsuitable to operate at higher RPM bands because it's less oversquare than the TDI which 83mm bore and 91.4mm stroke lead to a 0.91:1 R/L ratio. Undersquare engines have a bore smaller than the stroke, square ones have identical bore and stroke, while an oversquare features a bigger bore, usually leading to an ascending order of how rev-happy an engine might be even though it's not unarguable.
Sure the turbocharger also plays an important role when it comes to the aptitude of an engine to reach a broader RPM band with the fixed-geometry one fitted to the ISF2.8 requiring a smaller size in order to avoid a turbo-lag even though it leads to some flow restriction at higher engine speeds. Meanwhile, the variable-geometry turbocharger fitted to the 3.0 V6 TDI has adjustable blades on the exhaust side leading to a quicker low-end response and setting peak power and torque to higher RPMs which may allow the engine to proportionately increase its performance. Even though the Cummins rated at 153 hp at 3200 RPM and 430 Nm between 1500 and 2400 RPM may not seem so attractive compared to a TDI with 228 hp at 3250 RPM and 500 Nm from 1750 to 3250 RPM, it's still worth to look at some eventual advantages from the 4-cylinder layout which could be conciliated to a different turbocharger configuration in order to remain competitive against a high-end V6 within a similar displacement class.

Monday, June 15, 2020

5 vehicles which would be tempting to swap a Toyota 1FS industrial engine into

A somewhat unrefined engine, featuring a gear-driven OHV valvetrain and with its peak power and torque RPMs being somewhat low for modern automobile standards, the 3.7L Toyota 1FS engine is more easily found on forklift trucks and other special equipments. However, many factors could turn into a reasonable motivation to fit such a crude and seemingly unsuitable engine to a modern vehicle. At least 5 examples could be highlighted as tempting to swap the 1FS into:

1 - Chevrolet Colorado (current generation, renamed S10 in selected markets): for those who aren't into Diesel engines, the 1FS doesn't seem to mismatch a more utilitarian approach. The absence of a timing chain makes it a good alternative to the Ecotec 2.5 SIDI while the port-injection is easier to implement a gaseous fuel conversion than the direct injection fitted to the Ecotec which is harder to convert to run on CNG retaining the capability to operate on regular gasoline;

2 - Chevrolet Equinox: besides the direct injection and chain-driven DOHC valvetrain, the Ecotec 1.5L and 2.0L engines fitted to the current generation of the Equinox are also turbocharged. OK, the 1FS might seem excessively large for the low specific power and torque, and its overall narrow RPM band may seem at a first glance to not be so suitable for a decent overall performance not even when it's compared to the smaller engine, and the lack of some altitude compensation provided by the turbo is going to charge its toll on some routes. However, both the lower amount of failure-prone parts and its low-revving configuration make it tempting for an engine swap in countries where a displacement increase wouldn't make it subjected to higher licensing fees;

3 - Ford Ranger (current generation): even though the Diesel engines are highlighted on most markets, the gasoline-powered 2.5L Duratec is still available in some countries and is actually the only engine officially available for the Ranger in Bolivia. Once again, the ruggedness of the 1FS and the higher peak torque from a lower RPM make it quite tempting for a work truck as a replacement to the Duratec;

4 - Toyota Land Cruiser Prado J150: considering the reputation of the Land Cruiser range among the most reliable off-roaders, the ruggedness of the 1FS could be justified while comparing it to the 2.7L 2TR-FE which is the basic engine offered in markets where gasoline-powered vehicles are still common on its class. Avoiding a timing chain and keeping a lower-revving nature enhance the dependability on harsh environments;

5 - Nissan Frontier/Navara D23: even though the turbodiesel and twin-turbo Diesel engines are the most highlighted ones, the 2.5L QR25DE has been carried over from the previous generation and remains available in some markets throughout Latin America, Africa and Middle East. Even though mismatching the engine manufacturer in a Japanese vehicle may be more usual on motorsports than in utility vehicles, it doesn't seem so outrageous.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

5 engines which could be a good upgrade to a VW Beetle

One of the most iconic cars, the Volkswagen Sedan/Käfer/Beetle/Fusca is recognised among many features for its flat-four air-cooled engine. However, it's a suitable platform for engine swaps which are likely to improve its performance, fuel-efficiency and provide auxiliary power for some comfort features with fewer stress than the old Boxer would. Among some engines which could be a good option, at least 5 can be highlighted:

1 - Renault K-Type engine: since it shares the bellhousing pattern with the old Cléon-Fonte and the "Energy" engines, and the Cléon-Fonte had some derivatives fitted to Volkswagen models in Brazil from the late-'80s to mid-'90s, a K-Type engine swap doesn't seem so much of a rocket science task;

2 - Volkswagen EA211: just like its predecessor EA111, the EA211 is a more compact alternative to the EA827 and its subsequent replacements. With the 3-cylinder 1.0L versions available either with natural aspiration and port-injection or turbocharging and direct injection, while the 4-cilinder takes the 1.2L to 1.6L range with the same availability of either natural aspiration and port-injection or turbocharging and direct injection, there are plenty of options from a more frugal to some spirited power and torque figures;

3 - GM Family 1/Family 0/Small Gasoline Engine: tracing from the use of  Chevrolet 153 engines for swaps into Volkswagens in South Africa to the present-day downsizing trend which renders some turbocharged variant of the smaller engines available on newer Chevrolet cars and crossover SUVs suitable to perform basically the same duties the old 153 would perform, it wouldn't really surprise me to see some random Chevrolet engine ranging from 1.0L to 1.8L also either naturally-aspirated or turbocharged being considered as a suitable option to swap into a Beetle;

4 - Toyota TR engines: tracing from the usage of the Y engines for repowerings into Kombis in South Africa and some Asian markets, with the TR being its replacement for some applications, it's no surprise the 2.0L 1TR-FE would be an interesting option for performance and long-term reliability while the 2.7L 2TR-FE could seem quite overkill yet tempting for a sleeper;

5 - Fiat FIRE engine: ranging from 0.8L to 1.4L and with turbocharged versions available within the largest displacement, it's also widely used with alternate fuels such as ethanol, Natural Gas and LPG. Requires an adaptor plate to be coupled to the original VW transaxle, but it's no rocket-science.

Monday, May 25, 2020

5 vehicles from the '90s which could've been well served by a Perkins 4-108 engine

Once a popular powerplant for European vehicles, also widely used for other applications such as marine and stationary/industrial, the Perkins 4-108 was a development of the 4-99 engine originally released in '58. Discontinued only in '92, it could eventually be perceived as somewhat archaic by then due to the 3-main-bearing crankshaft and overhead valve layout with a gear-driven camshaft in the block, even though it could still fare reasonably compared to modern overhead-camshaft rivals with a 5-bearing crankshaft which started to appear in the '70s. At least 5 vehicles which were highly successful in the '90s and fitted with some OHC engine for their Diesel versions would actually be not bad with the seemingly-outdated Perkins.

1 - Suzuki Vitara: even though it was launched in the late-'80s, the 1st-generation Suzuki Vitara was highly successful through its production run which spanned until '98. Diesel engines from Peugeot and Mazda were available on selected markets, including Spain where it used to be locally assembled by Santana Motor in order to circumvent import quotas on Japanese-made vehicles. Considering the Perkins 4-108 used to be also made in Spain by Motor Ibérica under license, it seems quite surprising this engine which was already well-proven didn't get a chance to have its value highlighted in what was then a modern compact SUV;

2 - Fiat Brava: one of those models which served as a billboard to highlight the transition from the indirect injection and natural aspiration on light-duty Diesel engines to the turbocharged common-rail layout which is now widespread, such situation might seem to justify views that a Perkins 4-108 would still be suitable. Since the naturally-aspirated engine with indirect injection featured on the Fiat Brava was basically a makeshift based on an older gasoline-powered engine series, unlike the newer turbocharged ones which were developed as part of a modular series providing for both gasoline and Diesel versions since day one, outsourcing from Perkins for the simpler trims wouldn't be so bad at all;

3 - early Fiat Palio: originally released in Brazil and Argentina in '96, the Palio had some Diesel and turbodiesel engine options developed in-house by Fiat. However, since its assembly in Morocco was performed by Somaca and in South Africa it was built by the local branch of Nissan under contract, it could sound as a good excuse for an engine outsourcing;

4 - Ford Escort Mk.5: considering the Brazilian versions relied on a 1.6L derivative of the Renault Cléon-Fonte engine and on the 1.8L and 2.0L variants of the Volkswagen EA827 for higher trims, it would not really surprise me if Ford approached Perkins for some improved version of the 4-108 in order to keep it up with the same emission standards its troublesome Endura-D engine had to withstand. The gear-driven camshaft and injector pump of the old Perkins were so much better to deal with than the combination of a duplex chain-driven injector pump and a belt-driven camshaft of the Endura-D;

5 - Opel Astra B: even though the Isuzu engines featured on this model were praised as bulletproof, it's undeniable the Perkins 4-108 was suitable to some rough operating conditions which would have made it feel at home on certain regional export markets supplied by the Brazilian production of the model rebadged as Chevrolet Astra.

Friday, May 15, 2020

2nd-generation Toyota Tacoma, possibly a good receiver for an engine swap

Even though the 2nd-generation Toyota Tacoma actually looks good compared to the Hilux Vigo that was released around the same time, the absence of a Diesel engine rendered its appeal quite restricted to a smaller amount of export markets. Surprisingly, it had a grey-market presence even in Paraguay where Diesel-powered truck are usually prefered, which may suggest a Diesel engine swap could be considered. While the 1KD-FTV or the 2KD-FTV fitted to the Hilux Vigo could seem to be the best for a cleaner and more factory-look install, or even the modest 5L-E still could serve for a focus on a more extreme reliability even with poorer-quality fuel, other options such as the Cummins ISF2.8 and the R2.8 may be an interesting alternative too. Larger and heavier engines such as the Cummins B4.5 could also serve, but would be likely to require upgrades to the frame.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Ford Del Rëy, the Brazilian makeshift visually inspired on the European Granada

Brazil is not for beginners, and it's been that way for a long time. Among those Brazilian somewhat hard-to-explain features, the car market with its long-time distortions which remain in effect even nowadays has led to the emergence of models such as the Ford Del Rëy, which was an attempt to take the outdated Renault R12 platform which had been license-made by Ford as the Corcel since late-60s and use it as some sort of replacement for the ill-fated Maverick. Even though it was arguable that the Maverick platform would serve better for something more upscale than the Corcel by then, Ford was having a hard time to justify its Brazilian operation and not so keen to make any risky investment, so it seemed easier to concentrate on a higher-volume platform and engine range to eventually increase the chance to such an interim model developed in an economically-challenging period to succeed. Sure the extremely restricted market in Brazil from '76 to '90 favored such a makeshift. Due to another condition unique to the Brazilian market, a 2-door version outsold the 4-door one for a large margin, so a 4-door in a pristine condition is a rare sight nowadays.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Should ABS brakes become mandatory on small-displacement motorcycles in South America?

Motorcycles are often used not only for leisure in South America as they are in North America, being also a popular workhorse and daily commuter. For such reason, small-displacement models are quite widespread, with the Honda CG 160 retaining the sales leadership in the Brazilian market with nearly 30% of the total sales volume of new motorcycles in 2019. With so many motorcycles often fulfilling the role of a small car for its owners all year-round regardless of weather and other conditions which may increase the risk of an accident, it's surprising to figure out ABS brakes which are mandated for all the new cars sold in Brazil since 2014 are neglected on motorcycles with a displacement below 300cc for which the so-called "CBS" (combined brake system) applying both brakes simultaneously even if the rider selects either the front brake lever or the rear brake pedal is allowed instead. It might be a matter of concern that so many customers still opt for simpler versions such as the Honda CG 160 Start which has front and rear mechanically-actuated drum brakes, effectively impossible to fit ABS while a single-channel system can be applied on hydraulic brakes such as the front single disc used in the CG 160 Fan for example.
Besides the usages for light cargo and personal transportation, in some cities there is also a moto-taxi service which highlights the overall utility of the motorcycle in a context of urban mobility that might not be neglected. The increased demand for small-displacement motorcycles not only for private uses due to their lower price and running cost compared to a car, either a jalopy or something newer, it's a matter of concern that safety is not being taken so seriously under the false premise of economy while accidents take a toll of deaths and injuries at a higher cost compared to what an eventual mandate of ABS brakes at least on the front wheel of motorcycles below 300cc instead of the mostly uneffective CBS could represent. Considering a similar measure already implemented in Thailand and Indonesia for 125cc motorcyles, where a front disc with ABS became the standard for the small-displacement motorcycles even though the rod-actuated rear drum brake remains due to budget reasons, a similar approach wouldn't make the price of new motorcycles skyrocket in Brazil and other regional markets as it could sound at a first glance, not only due to the simpler hardware compared to the fitment of discs all-around with dual-channel ABS but also due to the economics of scale on models already available with either front drum or front disc according to the trim.

It's worth to notice the Brazilian Honda Biz 125 which is mechanically-related to the overseas Super Cub C125, but despite the more modern appearance it lacks the much-desirable front ABS brake that could be especially beneficial for its public that often includes unexperienced novice riders who look at a small motorcycle mostly due to the urban mobility aspect which is somewhat deficitary in thrird-world countries. Even though the economics of scale could dictate switching from the current 220mm front brake disc similar in size to its foreign counterpart, eventually changing to the 240mm disc with ABS now fitted to the front wheel of the Honda XRE 190 which on a sidenote is fitted with a 220mm disc rear brake without ABS, there is not so much of a valid excuse to neglect the need for increased safety on small-displacement motorcycles throughout South America, and even a single-channel ABS would greatly improve this aspect considering the highest load while braking is usually applied to the front brake. Trying to retain a "premium" aura surrounding the ABS brakes restricting it to something that could be seen as more aspirational for the average small-displacement motorcycle buyer in South America is pointless when there is technical and financial viability to increase its availability.

It's also worth to take a look at how electronic fuel injection went mainstream in Brazil, to the point that even the most stripped-down Brazilian Honda which is the Pop 110i features it despite keeping the kick-starter and resorting to a low-fuel warning light as a replacement for the 3-stage fuel tap of its carburettor-fed predecessor instead of switching to a more accurate fuel level indicator. EFI used to be seen as rocket-science, and in some parts of Argentina even nowadays it's not unusual to replace it with a carburettor in case of failure, but it has surpassed initial concerns regarding the maintenance cost and reliability through the time and doesn't require an excessive detuning to an engine which has an inherently low output in order to keep the compliance to the stricter emission standards enforced. Even though an introduction of ABS brakes to entry-level motorcycles could be seen as frightening due to the greater complexity and initial costs, it's impossible to neglect the example of how EFI has once proven its suitability to replace a simpler and cheaper carburettor to the point of not displacing other low-budget approaches such as the kick-start and low-fuel warning light while other resources could seem to be an obvious addition.