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Engine Horsepower Throughout History

Car engines have come a long way in the over one hundred years since the invention of the automobile. Actually in the early years electric cars were actually more common than internal gasoline combustion engines. The 1902 Woods Phaeton was a common electric car. Quiet and clean, the electric could actually go 18 miles at speeds up to 14MPH. At the time oil was just being refined into fuel and was abundant. The internal combustion engine proved to be more powerful, and electric re-charging wasn’t easy to do, since electricity itself was in its early stages. Bigger gasoline engines back in the day did mean more power. In the 1930’s Cadillac manufactured the V16 engine.  The engine had 16 cylinders and was 452 cubic inches, over 7 liters. A 2010 Fortwo Smart car is only three cylinders, and one liter of displacement.  It produced 185 horsepower, a common term used for stating how powerful an engine is. A smart car has about 71HP, 185HP, however, was unheard of in 1930. A 1930 Ford Model A three cylinder engine only produced 24HP.  This is equivalent to an average car of today making 150HP, and a Corvette making over 1,000HP.

As gasoline stayed abundant, manufacturers made engines more and more powerful, and didn’t care about fuel economy. The 1957 Chevy is considered one of the first true muscle cars. With a V8, and 162HP, it was a fast car for the 50’s, without having twice as many cylinders. Although the cylinder numbers stayed the same, the displacement of the engines got bigger and bigger, and horsepower rose dramatically. The 1960’s started the true muscle car craze, and bigger was better when it came to engines.

A 1962 Corvette V8 produced 360HP, twice the power at half the size of a Cadillac 16 only 30 years earlier. As the 60’s progressed and there was no conflict in the Middle East, or strict pollution regulations, big powerful engines became more and more common and affordable. Affordable sports cars were a fraction of the price of a Corvette but some more powerful. A 1970 Dodge Charger could be equipped with a V8 that produced 425HP. Fuel economy suffered, with a combined 12 miles per gallon, but, people weren’t worried, since gas was only 35 cents! With strife in the Middle East, and the EPA, powerful was going to go away for a while, it would take technology and engineering to bring back the muscle car.

To reduce pollution and gain greater fuel economy, the 1978 Charger was reduced to a pitiful four-cylinder engine with only 77HP. The once mighty Corvette of 1978 only produced 220HP, still powerful for 1978 standards, but a far cry from its once mighty 450HP of the 1960’s.

With technology, ingenuity and innovation, engines are more powerful than ever, while achieving respectable fuel economy, at least compared to the big block engines of the 60’s and early 70’s. A 2012 Camaro can be equipped with a 306HP engine and average 28MPG, and it’s only a six cylinder. You can also buy up to a supercharged V8 Camaro with a whopping 580HP, and a somewhat respectable 19 miles per gallon; you don’t need a giant 16-cylinder engine to attain four times as much power.

The sky is the limit with horsepower. Manufacturers are hitting the 1,000HP mark in cars that can be driven to church. The Shelby 1,000 Mustang does just that, 1,000HP, in a supercharged eight-cylinder engine. Bugatti also tops the 1,000HP mark with the Veyron, but they did use 16 cylinders back in the day. As technology and innovation continue to advance horsepower is sure to continue to climb, with no limit.         

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