(Reposted now the missing-all-images problem is fixed )
Rich Baron’s post about Honda’s CVCC engines focused on that technology as framed by enthusiastic actual, real engineer and president Soichiro Honda. Another auto executive had rather a different perspective.
General Motors’ CEO and chairman Richard Gerstenberg had risen through the ranks as a financials wonk, not an engineer, but he certainly didn’t let that stop him dishing out another helping of mark-of-excellence scorn on the cob: Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine, I see no potential for it on one of our GM car engines, he said. Yep, another serving of the same old sh…stuff: haw haw haw, get a real car, haw haw haw.
Mr. Honda, who was nearing retirement, thought he’d check into Gerstenberg’s qualifications to be handing down engineering verdicts. A 1973 Chevrolet Impala was bought and flown to Japan, where Honda engineers rebuilt its 350 V8 engine as a CVCC item with new heads, intake manifold, carburetors, and so on. Then the car was flown back to the States for scrutiny at the EPA’s emissions and fuel economy test facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The testing didn’t go perfectly; the small 1-barrel carburetor for the prechambers flooded due to float and inlet valve problems (oh, the good ol’ days; remember carburetors?). Even so, the results were the spanking Gerstenberg deserved at least as richly as those pre-chambers ran; the CVCC technique proved able to meet the U.S. 1975/76 hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide standards…yes, on one of Gerstenberg’s GM car engines! Oh, and there was no power penalty, and fuel economy was the same or a shade better. Tables III and V tell more or less the whole story; get the whole 13-page report as a PDF in a new browser tab by clicking this cover pic:
How do you say “In your face!” in Japanese? Not that it really matters; pretty good odds Gerstenberg wouldn’t’ve heard either the “boo” or the “yah” in English, either.
Ford and Chrysler didn’t share GM’s smugness, at least not on this particular question; they’re both said to have signed up to licence CVCC technology from Honda. As far as I know, Chrysler never did much of anything with it. Ford faffed around a little with it; Richard A. Johnson, in his book “Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry”, quotes Soichiro Irimajiri:
“I was on an assignment to provide Ford with technical assistance about the CVCC engine. I worked side by side with their engineers, their R&D center, and then I went to […] personally observe the tests, which, incidentally, had many errors. I kept thinking what a difference there is in Ford’s management philosophy compared to Honda’s.”
To be sure, CVCC didn’t last very long in the market. It worked, but eventually couldn’t keep up with progressively tigtening emissions standards. Nevertheless, I don’t dismiss CVCC simply because the catalytic converter became the all-but-universal centre chunk of emission control systems. What Honda made a ’73 Chev 350 do without a catalyst—and, it bears repeating, without the miserable driveability; power loss, and greedier fuel consumption of Detroit’s methods—implies CVCC would have made for much cleaner exhaust, much sooner than we got it—with and/or without catalysts—on new cars through the ’70s and ’80s.
Old cars, too; think about what CVCC would’ve meant for the effective lifespan of catalytic converters on pre-1981 vehicles without feedback mixture control. As it happened, even when those cars were running properly, their exhaust was very dirty, which made the catalysts run very hot all the time, right on the ragged edge of meltdown, with scanty margin for anything to be out of adjustment. The much cleaner exhaust from a CVCC engine would’ve made life a lot less burdensome for catalytic converters.
Oh, well…I guess what was good for GM was good for the country, like it says in the Bible!
I never fail to be disturbed by the arrogance of General Motors, both historically and currently.
At several points in GM’s history, upper management declared that if a consumer wanted a cheaper car than what was on offer, that customer should just buy a used car. We’ve come back to that once again with the impending death (in the US) of the Chevrolet Spark.
Can you imagine typing the above report on a typewriter. When I went to college, type was a required course, and the typewriter was manual. Pica & elite were the only two fonts. One mistake, and start the page again. The school has a 2 year associate degree in secretarial science.
When I started my career, the company had done away with typing pools and each secretary was on her own. However, each was provided with a IBM Selectric typewriter with a correction key. But, only allowed one correction per page.
Today, Speak & Spell takes care of your typos, WordPerfect handles your format and font. E-mail and voice mail did away with many a secretarial position.
I know two people that worked for years in an administration capacity in the 1970s, typing day after day, that later developed carpal tunnel syndrome.
One of my high school history teachers said he had once had a teacher who would take a student’s paper, read it until he hit a typo, then draw a vertical line down from the typo to the end of the paper. The retyped paper was due the next day. If were going to make a typo, better to make it on the last page than the first one!
I did my share of schoolwork on a manual typewriter, and I was glad when whiteout was invented. If word processing had existed at the time, the functionality I would really have appreciated would have been footnotes.
I bought my first Honda car, a used 75 Civic coupe, on the strength of the CVCC technology. I was impressed that Honda could meet the emission regs without a catalyst. I had been riding various displacement Honda motorcycles since the late 1960’s so I was well aware that Honda knew how to build great machines.
While the CVCC modified 350 gave lower emissions, its fuel economy took a hit according to table III, at 15, 30 45 and 60 mph the stock 350 gave milage figures of 14.0, 19.2, 19.3 and 18.0.
The CVCC modified 350 at 15, 30, 45 and 60 mph gave milage figures of 13.3, 16.3, 14.7and 15.9.
The CVCC vehicle had a 3.08 rear axle ratio, the stock vehicle had a 2.73 rear axle ratio, which I would think by itself would not make that much difference in fuel economy.
Comments, anyone-or am I missing something?
I didn’t think the fuel economy from the 2 CVCC cars I had was all that great. The ’76 Civic with 2-speed Hondamatic gave us 20-22mpg, while the ’79 Accord 5-speed returned 23-24mpg. Both were California emission certified cars. I remember our friend’s small cars giving better mileage as did my ’70s Volkswagen Beetles.
Nevertheless, this was far better than the 14mpg that my ex-wife’s ’72 Vega delivered.
I may still have a little booklet from Transport Canada which listed all of the new cars available in Canada in 1978, and their fuel consumption.
A funny thing: Canada phased in SI over several years, with mile signs being replaced by kilometers in ’76, and Imperial gallons being replaced by litres in early ’79. Thus, the booklet from ’78 listed fuel consumption in kilometers/(Imperial) gallon.
The numbers all looked very optimistic – I believe the highway numbers were based on a steady 80 kph (49 mph).
For the next year, if such a booklet existed, fuel consumption would have been stated in either km/l, or the now-prevelant l/100 km.
But that’s a digression (my specialty) – the thing was that the various engine and transmission combinations were all listed.
I can’t remember the exact numbers, but do remember that the small Japanese cars all took a significant hit when equipped with an automatic transmission. The 2-speed Hondamatic was particularly thirsty – IIRC, the M4 and M5 yielded something like 60 km/Imperial gallon, but the A2 dropped that to 40.
All that to say, the Hondamatic transmission, rather than the CVCC, would have been the overwhelming factor in the Civic’s disappointing fuel consumption.
A 3.08 versus 2.73 rear axle is plenty to create a significant difference in fuel economy. Does it account for this entire difference? We’ll never know. It’s not a like-to-like comparison, which is disappointing.
Also, I’m not quite clear on whether that overly-rich 1bbl prechamber carburetor described in the report affected anything other than the particular tests it’s mentioned in context of, but if so, it surely would’ve degraded the fuel economy.
that ratio difference does make a difference. I had a 76 Chevelle with a 2bbl 305 and a 3.08 rear axle, it got about 14mpg in town, and 21 on the highway (at the 65mph limit). I have a 77 Chevelle, identically equipped save for a 2.56 axle ratio, and in town it struggles to get over 12, and on the highway (at 65mph) it is doing good to get over 17. I’m not sure how much of that is due to the 90s formulation of 87 octane gas over current non-ethanol 91 octane, but I knew that the higher geared 77 should beat the “Performance” 76 in mileage on the highway, but it doesn’t in either case.
A taller rear axle means you have to bury your foot in the carburetor to get moving every time a light turns green. That adds up to a lot of gasoline. And if the axle is enough excessively tall—I have to think 2.56 counts as such—the engine will be lugging rather than loafing on the highway.
(that said, the sample size here is too small; you know’t they say: if a straight-line fit is required, obtain only two data points!)
This reminds me of the story of W. Edwards Deming. Known as the father of statistical process controls. In short, he presented his ideas to US auto manufacturers after WWII, but they wouldn’t listen. So he presented them to the Japanese who were in the middle of their rebuilding phase, and they embraced Deming’s ideas, and well, we all saw what happened from the 60’s. So the arrogance of the US auto industry in this story is no surprise.
I wonder if the smaller auto players of the time like Hudson, Nash, Willys, Packard, Studebaker, Kaiser-Frazer had listened to Deming, they could have survived a bit longer?
Soichiro Irimajiri is hailed as a hero in the Honda classic-motorcycle world; he was deeply involved in the 1979 6-cylinder Honda CBX and the similar 4-cylinder CB750 DOHC with 900, 1000, and 1100 cc variants.
I had an ’80 Civic 1300 with CVCC engine. Blew up at ~58K miles; broke #3 connecting rod into four pieces and punched a hole through the block. The other crank bearings looked beautiful. That was the only broken connecting rod I’ve ever seen that did not have broken bolts. I had a Treasure Yard engine rebuilt and I installed it. Later, Midas refused to work on the exhaust because I wouldn’t authorize a catalyst installation. In ’80, the 1300 Civic didn’t need a catalyst and wasn’t supplied with one as original equipment, the 1500 did have a catalyst. But they both came with fuel gauges that said unleaded fuel was required. That was all Midas needed to proclaim that it had to have a catalyst installed.
Wait, hold on. Are we to understand that Midas tried to wring extra money out of you by telling fibs?!
(Midas weren’t usually quite as bad as Scaamco Transmissions, but that’s kind of like quibbling over whether German Shepherd poo or Collie poo smells worse…)
Yes, Irimajiri-san is considered one of the great motorcycle engineers of all time. And I never knew he had anything to do with CVCC.
The rumor is Chrysler’s Lean Burn System circa ’76 also had no need for a catalyst.
It is my recall that many (if not all) Chrysler vehicles sold at retail were able to delay the catalytic converter for one year behind the 1975 introduction at Ford and GM. I think the 76 models got catalysts.
Some ’75 U.S. Mopars had catalytic converters—I’m pretty sure that group included all California models and most or all high-altitude models, but I don’t know if any non-California, non-high-altitude ’75 Mopars had cats. I am also pretty sure some ’76 (non-CA, non-H.A.) U.S. Mopars came without cats. I think ’77 was the first year all U.S. Mopars came with cats. (this is for passenger cars, not including trucks and vans.)
Daniel, “scorn on the cob” is marvellous. These things do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Keep ’em coming!
»doffs cap« Uhhhhthenkya. Thenkyavurramuch. (and I’ll try!)
GM had, by the 1970s, developed a terrible case of self-regard. When Chrysler was going through its trouble in 1979-80, GM Chairman Thomas Murphy (going from memory) thundered on about how the free market system should not allow for government help to a car-maker. That sentiment was not recalled at the company 30 years later. But some of us remembered it.
Yeah, eh? Goose, meet Gander. Gander, goose. You two have a lot in common.
+1 for Soichiro sticking it to GM. Referring to smaller cars as “Toys” has been going strong well before Japanese automobiles started being sold in the US. So many people I know would never consider a smaller car. Simply because they believe only large vehicles are safe. The other is because they could never be bothered to pack and organize a smaller car. They need as much space as possible for all the crap they haul around.
“Real engineer Soichiro Honda”
Iconic master mechanic, industrialist, and entrepreneur; yes.
Engineer; no, at least not in the formal sense.
I donno; this article seems to disagree. How are we defining “formal engineer”?
Good article – thanks, Daniel!
Some years ago I had read that Mr Honda, dealing with petroleum shortages in postwar Japan, had worked out a way to produce methanol from fermented pine needles. The fuel was used in his early motorcycles.
As far as whether or not he was an engineer, the definition varies from country to country. Here in Canada, you need an engineering degree, receive an iron ring at graduation, and work typically two years before being granted P. Eng. (Professional Engineer) status.
In some other countries, the definition is much looser – during our year in New Zealand, my sons’ friends regarded me as an engineer because I could repair their bikes.
I highly recommend Nevil Shute’s delightful novel “Trustee From The Toolroom” for a very British take on what engineering is.
Mirriam-Webster says (inter alia) a person who is trained in or follows as a profession a branch of engineering. That’s pretty much the definition I was using when I wrote this piece; the particulars of Honda-san’s credentials aren’t really relevant.
But yes, it’s easy to go too far in that direction; the “engineer” mentioned at 1:12 in this video surely met exactly none of anyone’s definition of the term.
Thanks for the book recommendation; I’ll look into it!
Daniel, I like Mirriam-Webster’s definition indeed; had my employer heeded it, they’d have paid me an additional $20K/year, equivalent to what the “real” engineers were paid. (I was a lowly technologist, a 2-year sort with a diploma rather than an engineering degree. I did engineering work, but was not allowed to stamp drawings. But given that the Professional Engineers tended to do a lot of administrative and supervisory work, I preferred my job, doing mostly actual engineering work.)
Thus, if I came across as scornful of those who did technical work but were not Professional Engineers, that was not what I intended.
The video was good – I particularly liked the narrator’s references to “Haitch Oy Dee” bulbs.
Please do read the book – I think you’ll be delighted by it, as I continue to be some 40 years after first reading it. Bonus, it’s one of those rare novels where there’s no villain.
Yes, I like the narrator’s reference, too. Very apt; “oy” is the HID kit’s middle name!
I wonder if Soichiro might spin in his grave today now then Honda and GM did have some joint-venture projects in the pipe-line? https://www.motortrend.com/news/honda-general-motors-ultium-ev-affordable-deal/ And I didn’t mention how he would have reacted to the pressure of the Japanese government who wanted to see Honda merged with Nissan. I guess the deal then Honda did with GM was a way to dodge a bullet coming from Nissan. 😉
Honda continued the spanking today when they were named as having four vehicles in the top ten of Cars.com’s “Most American-Made” list of vehicles sold in the USA.
GM had zero.
1. Tesla Model Y
2. Tesla Model 3
3. Lincoln Corsair
4. Honda Passport
5. Tesla Model X
6. Tesla Model S
7. Jeep Cherokee
8. Honda Ridgeline
9. Honda Odyssey
10. Honda Pilot
To recap, that’s four Hondas, (all) four Teslas, one FoMoCo product and one Chrysler/FCA/Stellantis/WhateverItIsThisWeek product
GM did take spots 11-13 with the Corvette and the Canyon/Colorado twins. But then spots 14-16 fire back with three Acuras, i.e. Honda products. Ford Ranger, Bronco, Dodge Durango, and Ford Expedition round out the top twenty…(F150 is #21, btw)
Five parameters were studied to assign the rankings (there are obviously multiple ways to parse information, but it would seem that there needs to be a lot of US content and US hands on the product to get a high score here, but notably it seems that Mexico wasn’t counted as being “U.S.” while Canada kind of was, although both are NAFTA or whatever it is now):
– Location of final assembly
– Percentage of US and Canadian parts
– Country of origin for available engines
– Country of origin for available transmissions
– # of US manufacturing employees relative to the automaker’s footprint.
Shocked? On the contrary, I’d expect nothing less than an engineering pronouncement from a GM accountant heading the company.
A long held theory of mine is with the advent of emissions controls GM took the attitude that they didn’t want to be told how to build a car, and if they were, they’d build them, but don’t expect to like them. The very definition of arrogance.
Took some looking to find it, but there was a similar version by Mitsubishi, called Mitsubishi MCA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_MCA
Hmmm. Situated in Europe (Austria) I cannot help to notice that whatever the position was then, here Honda nowadays is a minor market player. It sells more cars than GM (which does not have any official presence in the EU anymore) but the figures are meaningless when compared with say Mazda and even Mitsubishi (!). This sad state of affairs has come about among other things because of the bad reputation of the current Honda turbocharged engines for failing head gaskets (with catastrophic results due to coolant mixing with oil) and also the previous Civic unloved Transformers styling. I wonder what Honda-san would have made of this…
In the US, Toyota is #1 in car sales, and Honda is #2 in 2021. That’s traditional cars, not pickup trucks, not light trucks, not passenger trucks, not crossovers etc. Again, here, both Mazda and Mitsubishi are only bit players. I don’t keep up on late model cars anymore, so I can’t speak to head gasket problems, but Honda has a very good reputation here for reliability.
Ironically I’ve never been a fan of Honda cars, but there’s a ton on the roads here.