Progress and Power

here is a lot to be said about evolving technology. If you are into Chrysler-style engineering, the company did not miss a beat when they announced the new R6 engine package for NASCAR earlier this year. In the age of faltering showroom sales and economic gloom, we can be glad that Dodge was smart enough to recognize its pool of racing talent (Penske and Petty/Evernham) and begin work on a fresh engine for the Nextel/Sprint Cup Series; the result was two spots in the top 12 heading into the Chase.

The engine is the second race-only NASCAR mill designed from the bottom up. HOT ROD magazine did a great job breaking out what could be told about the technology at this time (understandably, a lot of the finished effort is proprietary, so raw castings illustrated part of the November 2009 story). Utilizing the same open-deck technology that had characterized the earlier edition, the head width was greatly narrowed to facilitate changes in the intake and exhaust runners (which are allowed more adjustment leeway than the head ports themselves). Weight was reduced by doing a lot of little things throughout the block; a significant 20 pounds ended up on the floor. Huge channeled passages surround the valves springs with oil, while coolant is pumped through the top of the head to a special plate that recirculates it right back to the radiator; the coolant is hottest when it hits the exhaust region and it leaves the engine immediately afterward. HOT ROD writer Jeff Huneycutt wondered out loud what will happen once an NHRA Comp team gets ahold of the technology....

Meanwhile, with the Fiat alliance in full swing, Chrysler’s street engine line-up will end up looking a lot different in the next few years. Like most Mopar guys, I’m a firm believer in the 1960s dyno rooms at Highland Park, but the reality of the modern world may actually give Chrysler a technological leg up as the deal moves forward; the Germans left little in the conduit in terms of technology.

Fiat has several possible powerplants that could end up in the marquee’s vehicles, and I will preface this by stating that the reality of the Obama-orchestrated bankruptcy seems to have been to deliberately pull Chrysler off performance as we know it. The eco-minded Euro-weenies in the mainstream automotive press were besides themselves with glee that they might get to drive Alfa-Romeos and Fiat’s little 500 and Abarth – the latter are mini hot-rods for guys who never grew chest hair, but I digress.

According to a story in Bloomberg in late June, the heart of Fiat’s jump will be the $100 million MultiAir engine, a ten-year project which removes the normal valvetrain and uses a computer-controlled hydraulic-lift valve to gauge the air/fuel flow directly into the combustion chamber. It is considered ‘breakthrough technology’ and other engineers in the OEM fields that have experimented with similar designs declined to comment on the record when the design was described to them. Horsepower is increased and emissions are reduced by the process, which eliminates the inefficiencies found in mechanical valvetrain designs. 

The downside – we may have solid horsepower but the technology is presently slated for four-cylinder and V6 applications only. The article stated engineer Rinaldo Rinolfi doesn’t expect Fiat technology will be applied to Chrysler’s biggest engines, including 6-liter ones (late-model Hemi), which he said are destined to disappear “the way the dinosaurs did.” The story went on to relay how Europeans have needed to advance small-engine technology not based on the pseudo-green science driving USA efforts, but the high cost of fuel itself. With few European nations approaching the size of many Midwestern states, it is quite a challenge to tell people to ride around these micro-machines.

To Mr. Rinolfi and the rest, I’ll just say… we’re still Americans. My advice – take that MultiAir technology and throw it onto a 6.1 and see what sort of efficiency you can come up with. This will be despite Dear Leader Obama and his cohorts having raised standards for new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. (by 2016, passenger vehicles must have a combined fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per gallon, a 40 percent improvement over current standards). You want customers? We’re here waiting....