16 January 2007
Thirty-six valves, no waiting
Back around 1980, faced with the possibility that V8 engines would be legislated out of existence, General Motors' Oldsmobile division started playing around with a three-liter V6 and the possibilities thereof. One idea considered was slicing it lengthwise to produce an inline-3, which wasn't exactly unprecedented: the Pontiac Tempest's four-banger in the 1960s was half of the fabled 389 V8. A V4 was also suggested. But the wackiest idea of all was the one that actually came closest to realization: a V5, one cylinder lopped off the end, displacing 2.5 liters.
Olds never built the V5, although inline fives did eventually find their way into the General's arsenal, and various Europeans have had straight fives for some time now. This left the title of most crazed engine configuration to Volkswagen, which took its narrow-angle V6, cut the center cylinders out of it, and bolted another one right behind it. Behold: the W8. VW also makes a W12 and, for use in the Bugatti Veyron, a frightful W16.
Then again, this little jewel has yet to go into production: a three-liter W9, basically a V6 with a center row of cylinders, a Swedish engineering student's master's thesis. It's designed to run on E85 or straight ethanol at a compression ratio of 12.7:1, with which it produces 526 hp at a scary 10700 rpm.
I don't know about you, but I'd love to see Nissan take a crack at one of these; after all, they already make the world's greatest V6.