Turbocharging – it killed the big, bad, rumbling engine

The Ford Raptor, Beast of Turin and my love-hate-green-mean relationship with turbocharging.

My mum thinks the Ford Raptor is preposterous. Which must mean it is the most wonderful thing indeed. It is as American as hamburgers and credit card debt. Everything about it – its massive body, massive engine, massive tyres, massive power – is all larger-than-life. At its longest, it is more than 230-inches long, and the whole thing is powered by a 6.2-litre engine. It is so man (pardon the sexism) that only Wolverine, Rambo and Tim Allen should be allowed to drive it.

And then, they put an EcoBoost engine in it.

The Raptor now comes with a 3.5-litre turbocharged V6. It might produce more power, but it is also so small – the automotive equivalent of clown shoes. And it’s not just Ford. Carmakers the world over are adopting turbochargers faster than Brangelina adopted children.

Today, the only naturally aspirated engine from BMW’s catalogue is the two-cylinder range-extending motor in the i3. Audi and Mercedes are following lead, eschewing natural aspiration as if it were cursed with black magic. The next-generation of high-performance F models from Lexus will be powered by turbocharged engines only, and so will Volvos and Toyotas in the near future. In fact, companies like Jaguar and Suzuki already have families of turbo-engines (Ingenium and Boosterjet respectively) waiting to be deployed.

There was a time when turbocharging was exquisite technology, popular only on the midnight streets of Tokyo. Suddenly, it is as ubiquitous as central locking. Or doors. In many ways, this is a good thing – our planet is not getting any greener, our oil sources any more abundant; our thirst for power, on the other hand, is only getting larger.

But in some ways, I do lament the loss of the big, bad, rumbling engine. The environmentalist in me would cringe every time a Dodge Charger or Pontiac GTO roared to life; the petrolhead, though, would burst with glee.

Any nostalgia about big engines, however, is incomplete without reference to one particular Fiat.

Yes, Fiat.

Back in 1911, Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of Fiat, was irked by the idea that the Blitzen Benz, a German-built race car, held the world land speed record. He ordered his engineers to come up with something to beat that. The result was the S76, endowed with the rather cute nickname, ‘The Beast of Turin’. This one-off race car was powered by, and you need to brace yourself for this, a 28.5-litre engine. That is more than three times the capacity of the Bugatti Chiron, nineteen times the capacity of a Honda City and more than thirty-five times the capacity of a Maruti Alto 800!

It was fired up, after a century of slumber, in November, 2014, and that video is a must watch for anyone who has ever driven a car and thought, "Hey, that was fun!" Every single exhaust stroke of the engine involved flames being spit out of the exhaust outlets. It was like watching the Kraken rise, or Smaug escape the Lonely Mountain and start destroying Lake-town (that’s LOTR talk, by the way).

Those days, however, are long gone. Yes, the Beast of Turin might ply a few more racetracks before it breathes its last, as all things must, but never again will something as grandiose be created to rival or relive it. And I suppose not everyone would be happy with one, if it were ever built, either. I know for a fact the polar bears wouldn’t.

About the author...

Recent blog entries by Siddhant:
We bring you drives of the Maruti Ignis, the Skoda Kodiaq, the new 5-series and take you on a trip from India to Paris in a Renault Kwid. All that and lots more inside!
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Autocar Magazine

Issue: 209 | Autocar India: January 2017

We bring you drives of the Maruti Ignis, the Skoda Kodiaq, the new 5-series and take you on a trip from India to Paris in a Renault Kwid. All that and lots more inside!
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