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Friday
Jul112014

Did Porsche Learn From Ford and Lotus?

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Autocar is reporting that Porsche is readying a flat eight-powered two-seat sports car to compete with Ferrari’s 458 Italia and its successors. Beyond all of the technology expected in the Porsche 988, it is the high degree of modularity that draws the most interest. The 988 will be the first in a long line of new Porsche sports cars that will draw from the same well of components, many of which will be shared to varying degrees with Lamborghini, Bugatti and Audi. Interestingly, many of the new ideas put forward by this car — while new to Porsche — have been seen before.

The modular eight-cylinder engine reportedly displaces 4.0 liters, which means each cylinder has a 500 cc displacement. Many engine designers see this as the ideal displacement for overall efficiency. Emissions, fuel economy, horsepower and torque are more easily balanced and optimized with this volume. I first ran across this idea when I was introduced to John Brune and Greg Coleman at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Brune had come to Ford from Toyota, and was the Supervisor, Specialty Engine & Components, Advanced Engine Department when I met him. Together he and Coleman, under the protection of their boss, Jim Clark, decided to see just what they could do with Ford Modular V8 architecture. The result was shown to the public under the hood the 427 The 427 V10 drew all of the attention, but the 351 was the real star.Concept, a 427 in3 V10 that was nearly the same length as Ford’s 5.4-liter V8, 70 lb lighter, and capable of producing 590 hp @ 6,500 rpm, and 509 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. Both Brune and Coleman wanted to slot a V10 into an updated Ford GT to be called the Ford GT Mk. II. And while it was interesting to hear about the 351 version with its 7,000 rpm redline and its 390 in3 brother, and to drive the Mustang into which they dropped one of these potent V10s in order to promote this engine with the Mustang team, it was Brune’s description of his early time at Ford that was the most compelling.

Lured to Ford from Toyota, Brune was happy to be working with his favorite car company, and delighted when Ford sought to learn all it could about Toyota’s engine development efforts from him. However, it soon became apparent that Brune was little more than the new toy and, once his brain was picked, he could be ignored. This infuriated the man, especially as he had completed an audit of Ford’s then-current and intended engine offerings, and outlined a plan that could save Ford time, money and effort while creating world class powertrains.

2003 427 Concept was an answer to Chrysler's 300C, and a preview of the styling for the front-drive 2005 Fusion.Brune’s idea was to build everything around a 500 cc cylinder volume. It was, he claimed, the most efficient layout in terms of volumetric efficiency, valve size, emissions performance, etc., and also would work well with turbocharging. However, its most important trick was that standardizing around this single-cylinder size dramatically reduced the number of different parts and components in use, and made every Ford engine assembly facility capable of producing any engine in the company’s lineup with the proper flexible tooling. Plus, after the initial development work was complete, each new engine would take less time to design, develop and put into production. The potential financial savings were enormous over the life of the program, even if the initial costs were higher.

However, the pre-Alan Mulally Ford Motor Company was a hotbed of political intrigue and backstabbing, and Brune’s ideas for a family of 1.5-liter triples, 2.0-liter inline fours, 3.0-liter V6s, 4.0-liter V8s and 5.0-liter V10s fell on deaf ears. Ford management had learned that Toyota’s engine development wasn’t so different and advanced that Ford had to change its ways, and it didn’t. Also, if the 500 cc idea was so good, why hadn’t Toyota adopted it? If they did, Ford would follow, but it would never lead. It wasn’t long after the 427 project that his sidekick, Greg Coleman, told me Brune had left Ford. Like my father, who stayed at Ford for more than 30 years, he had realized that, as my dad used to say, “We don’t make cars, we make careers.” (Jaguar, now no longer part of Ford, did listen. It's new Ingenium engines are built around 500 cc cylinders. The company calims this allows standardization, encourages new architectures like triples and inline sixes, and is the most efficient volumetric cylinder layout.)

Porsche’s new modular family of engines, however, will launch with a 4.0-liter turbocharged flat eight, and expand to include a 2.0-liter flat four and 3.0-liter flat six, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged. Like Brune’s concept, each is built around a cylinder volume of 500 ccs, and is capable of using the same rotating parts in a number of layouts. The internals of the new Porsche motors also will be used inside the company’s new V4, V6 and V8 engines. These will power the next generation Macan, Cayenne and Panamera. As the initial engineering work is completed and production volumes increase, the cost of adding a new engine to the lineup will drop exponentially, especially if other companies in the VW Group join in. I fully expect Lamborghini’s future V10s (5.0 liters) and V12s (6.0 liters) to use these puzzle pieces, as well as future Bugatti automobiles and SUVs and Audi’s R8 successor. Brune would be proud.

The other modular story is the 988’s chassis architecture. It reportedly will be capable of supporting both mid- and rear-engined designs, and will use substantially similar passenger compartments, front suspensions and front crash structures. The use of two different powertrain positions, however, means the rear suspensions and crash structures will be unique to those layouts.

APX was based on Versatile Vehicle Architecture, but never saw production.I ran across a similar idea upon my first visit to Lotus in 1991. While wandering around the “cube farm” in the main office, I stumbled across a model of a proposed modular structure. It had long L-shaped side rails on each side of the passenger compartment, each with a channel into which the floor structure would be positioned. (Apparently, the interior could be built up separately atop this piece, and then bonded into place.) A drawing on a wall nearby modified this idea by making these sills triangular to lower the step-in height, while retaining the floorpan channel idea. The width and length of the passenger compartment could be varied by moving the sills closer together or farther apart, and by lengthening or shortening them. Front and rear bulkheads in three sizes (small , medium and large) could be slotted into place, and a common composite front crash structure used. The rear bulkhead design was determined by  whether the car used a transverse or longitudinal powertrain. Many of the suspension and steering components would carry, over and multiple body styles would be supported.

I don’t know what happened to the project, but I suspect the use of so many common pieces meant some cars were heavier than necessary. Using parts designed for higher output vehicles added weight lower output cars didn’t need. However, some of this could be eliminated by shaving weight out of pieces during post-process machining. Unfortunately, this would take almost as much time and effort as designing unique pieces. On the plus side, this idea would have given Lotus the ability to expand its vehicle lineup at a fraction of the cost of creating distinct vehicles. However, it potentially would have increased weight to the point that, in order to produce an Esprit-like supercar, you would have to sacrifice a lightweight like the Elise.

Lotus went on to create the Versatile Vehicle Architecture. Created by Richard Rackham, the man who created the Elise’s extruded aluminum chassis, the VVA was commissioned by a large automaker to support an SUV, a mid-size sport sedan and a mid-engined supercar. (To this day I don’t know which automaker commissioned this design, but I suspect Proton, which owned Lotus outright, could be the one.) The key, as Rackham discovered, was to concentrate on making common the high-pressure die-cast corner nodes that support the wheels, suspension, steering, etc. Unfortunately, the automaker canceled the program before it could reach production, and with it the 30,000-50,000 vehicles this process could produce. Rackham downsized the idea, creating a low-volume VVA architecture that could support low-volume cars like the Lotus Evora, and variants for major automakers, including electric vehicles. However, the Dany Bahar-induced chaos that  overtook Lotus in recent years put an end to these outside programs. Porsche, undoubtedly, will be more successful with its modular designs.

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