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The straight-4 or inline-4 engine (often abbreviated I4 or L4) is a four cylinder internal combustion engine with all four cylinders mounted in a straight line along the crankcase. The single bank of cylinders may be oriented in either a vertical or an inclined plane with all the pistons driving a common crankshaft. Where it is inclined, it is sometimes called a slant-4. The straight-4 layout confers a degree of mechanical simplicity which makes it popular for economy cars. This straight engine configuration is the most common in cars with a displacement up to 2.4 litres. The usual "practical" limit to the displacement of straight-4 engines in a car is around 2.7 litres. However, Porsche used a 3.0 L four in its 944 S2 and 968 sports cars; and larger four-cylinder engines used in industrial applications, such as in small trucks and tractors, are often found with displacements up to about 4.6 L.
Balance and smoothness
The straight-4 engine is much smoother than one, two, and three cylinder engines, and this has resulted in it becoming the engine of choice for most economy cars, although it can be found in some sports cars as well. However, the straight-4 is not a fully balanced configuration. While it is in primary balance because one pair of pistons is always moving up at the same time as the other pair is moving down, piston speed - as with all internal combustion engines - is higher through the top 180 degrees of the crankshaft rotation than the bottom 180 degrees. Since two pistons are always moving faster in one direction while two others are moving more slowly in the other, this leads to a secondary dynamic imbalance - an up-and-down vibration at twice crankshaft speed. This imbalance is tolerable in a small, low-displacement, low-power configuration, but the vibrations get worse with increasing size and power.
Most straight-4 engines below 2.0 L in displacement rely on the damping effect of their engine mounts to reduce the vibrations to acceptable levels. Above 2.0 L, most modern straight-4 engines now use balance shafts to eliminate the second-order harmonic vibrations. In a system invented by Dr. Frederick W. Lanchester in 1911 and popularized by Mitsubishi Motors in the 1970s, a straight-4 engine uses two balance shafts, rotating in opposite directions at twice crankshaft speed, to offset the differences in piston speed. However, in the past there were numerous examples of larger straight-4s without balance shafts, such as the Citroën DS 23 2347 cc engine that was a derivative of the Traction Avant engine, the 1948 Austin 2660 cc engine used in the Austin-Healey 100 and Austin Atlantic, the 3.3 L flathead engine used in the Ford Model A (1927), and the 2.5 L GM Iron Duke engine used in a number of American cars and trucks. Soviet/Russian GAZ Volga cars used aluminium big-bore straight-4 (2.5 L) with no balance shafts in 1950s-1990s. These engines were generally the result of a long incremental evolution process and their power was kept relatively low compared to their capacity. However, the forces increase with the square of the engine speed – that is, doubling the speed makes the vibration four times worse - so modern high-speed straight-4s have more need to use balance shafts to offset the vibrations.
Four cylinder engines have another problem in that the power strokes of the pistons do not overlap. With four cylinders and four cycles to complete, each piston must complete its power stroke and come to a complete stop before the next piston can start a new power stroke, resulting in a pause between each power stroke and a pulsating delivery of power. In engines with more cylinders, the power strokes overlap, which gives them a smoother delivery of power and less vibration than a four can achieve. As a result, six and eight cylinder engines are generally used in more luxurious and expensive cars. There are four cylinder engines which are "odd fired", meaning no two pistons are ever at the top of their stroke at any one time.
Notable straight-4 engines
The smallest automobile production straight-4 engine powered the 1961 Mazda P360 Carol keicar. Displacing just 358 cc, the Mazda OHV was a conventional but tiny pushrod engine. Straight-4 motorcycle engines are built down to 250 cc, e.g. in the Honda CBR 250. Most straight-4 engines, however, have been over 0.7 L in displacement. A practical upper limit could be placed in the 2.5 L range for production cars. Larger engines (up to 4.5 L) have been seen in racing and light truck use, especially using diesel fuel (an example is the Mercedes-Benz MBE 904). The use of balance shafts allowed Porsche to use a 3.0 L (2990 cc) straight-4 engine on road cars first in the 944 S2 (1989-1991), but the largest modern non-diesel was the plain 3.2 L (3188 cc) 195 in the 1961 Pontiac Tempest.
In the early 20th century, bigger engines existed, both in road cars and sports cars. Due to the absence of displacement limit regulations, manufacturers took increasing liberties with engine size. In order to achieve power over 100 horsepower (75 kW), most engine builders simply increased displacement, which could sometimes achieve over 10.0 L. One of the biggest straight-4s of its time was De Dietrich 17,000 cc motor. Its cubic capacity is over twice the size of the Cadillac's 500 in³ 8.2 L V8, which was considered the largest engine of its type in the 1970s. These engines ran at very low rpm, often less than 1,500 rpm maximum, and had a specific output of about 10 hp/L. The US tractor industry both farm & industrial relied on large 4 cylinder power units until the early 1960s when 6 cylinder designs came into favor. International Harvester built a large 5.7L (350 c.i.) 4 cylinder for their WD-9 series tractors.
Other notable engines using this configuration include:
- 3S-GTE - Toyotas turbocharged 2 litre I4 generating a 255 hp (127.5 hp/l).
- Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine - Introduced in 1954, modern engine for the time.
- Austin A-Series engine - This engine powered many of the compact vehicles of the 1950s
- Fiat Twin Cam engine - One of the first mass produced twincam engines, produced from 1959.
- Ford Model T engine - One of the most-widely produced engines in the world
- Ford Model A engine - The follow-up design to the Model T that launched Ford forward from the Model T
- GM Quad-4 engine - The first postwar multivalve American engine
- Honda ED engine - First use of Honda's CVCC technology
- Honda B engine - The B16A is the first mass produced engine to reach 100 horsepower (75 kW) per liter
- Honda F20C engine - Its 240 horsepower (180 kW) from 2.0 L was the highest specific output of its time
- Hyundai Alpha engine - The first automobile engine designed in Korea
- Mitsubishi Sirius engine - Includes the 4G63, which has the highest specific output of a production engine in the world with the Lancer Evolution FQ-400 available in the United Kingdom (202.9 hp per liter)
- Nissan SR engine - Though its Nissan SR20DET is considered to be a popular tuning engine.
- Toyota A engine - One of the most popular engine series, with the 4A-GE and its variants being the most popular.
- Toyota R engine - Considered to be one of the most reliable engine series ever manufactured.
- Triumph Slant-4 engine - The first mass-produced multivalve engine for Triumph and an early turbo engine for Saab
1913 saw a Peugeot driven by Jules Goux winning the Indianapolis 500. This car was powered by a straight-4 engine designed by Ernest Henry. This design was very influential for racing engines as it featured for the first time dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) and 4 valves per cylinder, a layout that would become the standard until today for racing straight-4 engines.
This Peugeot was sold to the American driver "Wild Bob" Burman who broke the engine in 1915. As Peugeot couldn't deliver a new engine during World War I, Burman asked Harry Arminius Miller to build a new engine. With John Edward and Fred Offenhauser, Miller created a Peugeot-inspired straight-4 engine. This was the first version of the engine that would dominate the Indianapolis 500 until 1976 under the brand Miller and later Offenhauser. The Offenhausers won five straight victories at Indianapolis from 1971 to 1976, and it was not until 1981 that they were eliminated as competitors by engines such as the Cosworth V8.
Many cars produced for the pre-WWII voiturette Grand Prix motor racing category used straight-4 engine designs. 1.5L supercharged motors found their way into cars such as the Maserati 4CL and various ERA models. These were resurrected after the war and formed the foundation of what was later to become Formula One.
Another engine that played an important role in Racing history is the Straight-4 Ferrari engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi. This engine was originally designed as a 2 litre Formula 2 engine for the Ferrari 500 but evolved to 2.5 L to compete in Formula 1 in the Ferrari 625. For sports car racing capacity was increased up to 3.4 L for the Ferrari 860 Monza.
Yet another very successful engine was the Coventry Climax straight-4 originally designed by Walter Hassan as a 1.5 L Formula 2 engine. Enlarged to 2.0 L for Formula 1 in 1958, it evolved into the large 2495 cc FPF that won the Formula One championship in Cooper's chassis in 1959 and 1960.
The smallest production motorcycle straight-4 engine was the 4-stroke engine powered the 250 cc Benelli/Moto Guzzi 254. For racing, Honda built straight-4 engines as small as a 125 cc for the Honda 125/4. This engine was replaced by a 125 cc straight-5 engine. Perhaps the largest straight-4 in a commercially-produced Honda motorcycle is the 1298 cc engine first developed for the Honda X-4 and later also used in the Honda CB1300.
Modern straight-4 motorcycle engines first gained their popularity with Honda's SOHC CB750 in the '70s. Since then, the straight-4 has become one of the most common engine configurations in street bikes. Outside of the cruiser category, the straight-4 is simply the most common configuration, because of its relatively high performance-to-cost ratio. All of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers offer motorcycles with straight-4 engines, as does BMW, though BMW mounts the engine longitudinally, as opposed to the more common transverse-mounting. Even the modern Triumph company has offered a straight-4-powered motorcycle, though it was discontinued in favor of a triple.
- ^ Nunney, M J (2006). Light and Heavy Vehicle Technology, Fourth Edition. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp. p. 12. ISBN 0750680377.
- ^ Nunney, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
- ^ Nunney, op cit, pp. 42-44
- ^ Nunney, op. cit., pp. 40-44.
- ^ Ludvigsen, Karl (2001). Classic Racing Engines. Haynes Publishing. pp. pp. 14-17. ISBN 1859606490.
- ^ Ludvigsen, op. cit., pp. 182-185.
- ^ Ludvigsen, op. cit., pp. 78-81 ,86-89.
- ^ Ludvigsen, op. cit., pp. 130-133.