Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Friday, June 12, 2015

Engines

I was a teenager when the golden age of American muscle cars was in full swing. Ford, Chevy and Dodge all had giant cast iron V8 engines that managed to propel their two ton cars to a hundred miles an hour in the quarter mile. The tractors we had on the farm had cast iron engines. Trucks had cast iron engines. All land and water vehicles used cast iron engines.
    The only machines that didn't use cast iron engines were airplanes and race cars, and those were way out of my league. Then Buick came out with a 3.5 liter aluminum V8 and Chevrolet came out with a 7 liter aluminum V8. But these were exotic and hardly anybody used them. The Buick was too small to matter and the Chevy was too expensive.
    Before the advent of gasoline engines, back when steam engines were all the rage, cast iron was the builders material of choice. I had built up this history in my mind that all common automobile engines had always been cast iron.

1915 Cadillac V8 eninge with aluminum crankcase
    Yesterday I was looking over some information on Cadillacs, pursuant to my post on the Allante, when I come across a mention of Cadillac's first V8 engine, built in 1915. Imagine my surprise when I discover that it had an aluminum crankcase! They used aluminum for the same reason we use it now: to save weight. Turns out the Wright brothers also used aluminum for the crankcase for the engine for their first airplane. That was a surprise as well, mostly because I had never read anything about that engine, other than it had four cylinders.

Replica of the engine Charlie Taylor built for the Wright brothers
    Aluminum was only discovered relatively recently, and only became commercially viable in the late 19th century. Somewhere along the way someone discovered that adding a little copper to your aluminum would produce a stronger alloy, an alloy that would gradually grow stronger over a period of several days. Weird. Both Cadillac and the Wright brothers used this alloy in their engines.
    Casting engine blocks in one piece was a bit of a trick. Well, if you didn't care how much it weighed it wasn't, but if you wanted an engine that didn't outweigh the rest of the car, well, that took some fiddling. General Motors learned how to do it first. Ford had a difficult time at the beginning. Seems that 80% of their castings were no good.
    It's still a bit of a trick. A friend of mine bought a new Mercedes, I think it was, a few years ago, and shortly thereafter it developed an oil leak. Inspection revealed that there was a weak spot in the engine block and oil was seeping right through the casting. I suppose this kind of thing is inevitable when you are trying to cast complex shapes, and engine blocks are right up there in complexity.

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