Slowdown can be a time for reflection. As the Japanese economy cooled by the 90’s and recession took grip, industry and populace were left to wonder, what happened? Where did it go wrong? And how did it go right in the first place?
In the early 2000s, after years of economic stagnation, NHK TV Japan started a documentary series looking back on the country’s economic rise after WWII. The show, Project X: Challengers, placed special emphasis on the innovative spirit that propelled postwar Japanese prosperity. The series has Japanese broadcast quality, with report-like interviews interspersed with period footage and less than convincing recreations; and a female voice seductively whispering in Japanese-accented-English the show’s title randomly: “Project X.”
The show made it to Latin America with special attention paid to El Salvador, as Japan’s ambassador went on air in local TV to introduce episode 1. There’s actually a longstanding friendship between the two nations, dating back to the tumultuous 1930s. El Salvador’s military dictatorship was one of 3 nations that recognized the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in mainland China (A reference to this appears on Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor). It’s also rumored that Japanese subs docked in Salvadorian waters during those eventful years; impossible to prove, but fascinating nonetheless.
Honda’s CVCC tech is part of Project X’s season 1 (the Spanish broadcast is online, in glorious low-res VHS quality). The show brought forth Honda engineers experiences on the CVCC’s development, adding some human interest to what’s been shared previously on those events. Not surprisingly, corporate speak places a bit more emphasis on Soichiro Honda’s inspirational role as company president, while engineers emphasized their own actions. Regardless, even without Mr. Honda’s direct engineering involvement, CVCC tech wouldn’t have existed without the culture of innovation he imbedded in his working force.
But first off, what’s CVCC?
It stands for Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion engine (If the initialism is a bit obscure, that’s by design. Stay tuned). At launch, it was an industry game changer, both in technical terms and as a marketing triumph. With CVCC, Honda became the first carmaker to comply with provisions stated in the US Clean Air Act of 1970, even fulfilling the 1975 threshold where all passenger cars were to reduce emissions 90% versus 1970 levels. Honda’s feat established the carmaker as a force to reckon with, and left Detroit’s big 3 looking like spoiled bickering kids.
So, how does CVCC work?
While most automakers were aiming to meet regulation goals with not-quite-well-developed injection systems and catalytic converters, Honda went for a different approach by leaning out the intake mixture. Easier said than done, as too lean a mix would eventually not allow combustion to occur, and that’s where CVCC came in. Honda developed a miniature extra combustion chamber in the engine’s head, and by feeding a rich fuel-air mixture into this tiny pre-combustion chamber, the leaner mix in the primary chamber could be ignited.
The lean mixture in the cylinder head allowed the CVCC engine to run smoothly, while reducing CO and hydrocarbon emissions, even lowering fuel consumption some. Also, Honda’s engine could run on leaded fuel, while competing makers would leave customers scrambling for the appropriate fuel pump.
And how was CVCC developed?
I’ll divert here a bit. During John Coltrane’s heyday in the 60’s, envious fellow musicians asked Coltrane’s sessions ensemble: “How do you play like that?” Coltrane’s rhythms seemed out of this world, and the techniques required were just beyond most players grasp. The ensemble’s reply to the question? A very serious: “Well… you’ve to be willing to die with the motherf…..r!”
In similar manner, to work with Soichiro Honda was to be “… willing to die with the man!” (I just can’t refer to Mr. Honda with an expletive).
Honda’s origin was rather different than that of established players like Nissan or Mitsubishi, both created by Japan’s wealthy elites. Instead, humble Honda started first as a bike shop, then as piston ring provider for Toyota. By the late 50’s, the company was riding a wave of success with their motorcycle line. Soichiro Honda, the mercurial and impetuous company founder, had driven the company’s rise on reliability, speed, and outside the box thinking.
Soichiro Honda’s life had started as a humble son of a bike repair shop owner. Fascinated by the automobile since an early age, Honda left home at 16 to pursue a mechanic apprenticeship and, with endless inexhaustible drive, finessed his engineering sense (lacking formal training, at times it was more instinct than engineering). Mr. Honda was a force of nature, with all photos showing a determined individual ready to take over the world. Timidity was something that didn’t run in his blood, with boundless enthusiasm and optimism being key to his legendary driven character.
In 1937, Honda’s ascendance started by becoming a Toyota supplier, and carefully surrounding himself with key managers. These individuals adhered to Soichiro’s interest in developing innovative technology with products that stood out. To play outside boundaries was a company philosophy from its inception.
As the company grew, Soichiro remained a mechanic in spirit, preferring to spend his daytime hours in the workshops and assembly lines rather than meeting rooms. A quality he retained until old age. Spending much time side by side, company employees referred affectionately to Mr. Honda as papa, probably in the full spirit of the times; a figure that inspired both admiration and fear.
Soichiro’s fervor didn’t come with downsides though, for he reacted quite passionately against those who didn’t share his vision or enthusiasm. Punches and heated arguments were notorious traits of his, as more than one employee observed. Must have been soft punches, for everyone resumed work immediately (and let’s not judge Mr. Honda by current sensibilities, please). On the plus side, Soichiro wasn’t known for holding a grudge; those who were in the receiving end of his punches and anger, were amiably saluted the day after as if nothing had ever happened.
Papa had pushed the company hard since day one, and by the early ’60s it was bearing fruit. In 1961 alone, at the Isle of Man TT, Honda’s bike racing team arrived in the first five positions of both, 175cc and 250cc categories. Feat accomplished, the company took sights onto the 500cc category, accumulating more victories. Biking world taken over, Soichiro was now onto his next quest, car making and F-1 racing.
By the early ’60s, Japan’s individual prosperity had risen and car ownership was becoming the norm, with the 1000cc category being where market action laid. Work on Honda’s N360 started, with the goal to bring some unseen performance to the segment. By then, the company had a workforce of 400 young engineers who had nothing but admiration for the company’s products and its founder. In company speak, their engineers “Loved work more than a good meal.” Which was quite something to say, as Japanese food is quite good.
Coinciding with Japan’s and Honda’s rising fortunes, environmental concerns were becoming a worldwide issue. Low slung smog had become a norm in metropolitan areas around the world, and in the US, congress took action with the 1963 Clean Air Act. Shizuo Yagi, head of Honda’s Engine Performance Research Block, read in international press of the passing of the Clean Air Act and how emissions controls were to become a factor in coming years.
Yagi developed an interest in the news, as it could be a groundbreaking area for the company. He knew that Mr. Honda “…enjoyed arriving first than anyone else to everything.” The engineer was also anticipating Japan’s raising concerns, which was facing its own issues with pollution and industrial accidents since the ’50s (The nation would institute its own pollution controls starting in 1966).
Yagi had already endured more than one heated argument with Mr. Honda as employee. A memorable one, missing out on his honeymoon while benchtesting and failing an engine test. As a piston piece flew off barely missing his forehead: “…papa started to punch away…I just let him rage away, if I tried to duck him, he would have gotten angrier.” (This time I’ll give some reason to Soichiro, exploding pistons are not good for business).
Still, Yagi felt confident enough to take the matter to Soichiro and asked for “…a chance to research emissions.” Mr. Honda shrugged shoulders, answering with a non-enthusiastic “Sure, er…go ahead.” Regardless of Honda’s dim response, in 1965, Mr. Yagi was allocated a team of 10 engineers to peruse the matter. It became known as the AP (Air Pollution) Study.
As the N360 was launched and became a sales success, Yagi’s team was left to their own, looked upon with some scorn by company employees. Honda had become a cool company, and speed was its defining quality; taking samples from tailpipes wasn’t exactly winning any hearts for Yagi’s AP Study.
Still, in 1966 Yagi and team visited US emission research labs thanks to efforts arranged by Japan’s Auto Manufacturers Asociation. On return, the team was expanded to 28 members, with some key players joining. Even at this early stage, the AP Study team settled on developing a clean engine as the project’s goal.
By 1968 the company was growing rapidly, putting most resources towards development of the Life and the 1300 vehicles. The new vehicles still focused on speed and unorthodox engineering, Soichiro’s specialty. Meanwhile, work progressed slowly at the AP Study, as emissions research was lightyears away from the members’ former training. Early challenges; how to measure emissions? And how to understand those measurements?
From early on, Yagi was convinced that to lessen pollution fuel intake had to be reduced. On this the team bucked an industry trend, since most manufacturers preferred post-combustion processing devices such as catalytic converters (a technology the team distrusted for still being too crude). Thus, in perfect Honda fashion, the AP Study tackled the matter in a roundabout way.
Soichiro didn’t shun the teams efforts completely, for he was a devoted father, even if his kids appeared to had gone astray. He popped in and out, bringing in suggestions AP Study members often found to be “…pie in the sky.” Still, his presence brought necessary momentum when the team came to a standstill, with his frequent remmark: “You can’t learn until you try.”
That said, the AP Study was quickly reaching nowhere, with endless failures in testing. So, while the company had entertained the idea, with a pressing need for resources towards new models and in-development water cooled engines, AP Study salaries were slashed and members reallocated elsewhere.
1970 was a definitive year. AP Study member Isao Fuji got a cue on their ‘how to reduce fuel’ quandary in a Russian engineering textbook (If anyone knew of fuel shortages, it would be those Russians under the Communist boot). The textbook told of early research done in gasoline engines adapting diesel combustion prechambers. With that in mind, an early test was conducted on a N600 engine, and emissions were greatly reduced. It ran incredibly poor though; much would have to be done to get it ready for mass production.
Rather than wait for the team to sort out a proper gasoline engine for testing, Soichiro brought his impatient self in action, suggesting to use Honda’s available diesels. The team complied. “Just when we were about to give our plan its finishing touches,” engineer Otami recalls, “Mr. Honda would give us new instructions. It always meant we’d have to redo it all from scratch.”
Two main events were to set the CVCC’s project fate. In July 18, 1970, 43 students passed out during gym class in a Tokyo high school. The culprit? Photochemical reactions produced by vehicle emissions from a jammed highway. The event placed the increasing concerns of rising pollution in the public’s eye.
Weeks later, Soichiro Honda was accused of negligent homicide; a young man had died at the wheel of a N360, with the grieving family blaming the motorcycle manufacturer directly. Consumer groups joined in, placing in their crossfire those pesky ‘kei’ car makers that built ‘defective vehicles.’ The cue rang true to a public already weary of industrial mishaps (mercury river poisoning, along a few others industrial disasters, were very recent in the collective mind).
In the US, the updated 1970 Clean Air Act became law, requiring emissions to be reduced progressively and drastically, with the biggest hurdle being a 90% reduction by 1975.
With N360’s sales slowing down and the recently launched 1350 not meeting sales expectations, Honda found itself suddenly ailing, even considering dropping their passenger vehicle line altogether. With the AP Study lying around their labs, management took a sudden shine to it as a possible lifeline.
In February 1971, Soichiro announced that Honda was developing a new low emissions engine, and that it would comply with the US Clean Air Act of 1970. It was a shocking claim by the rookie carmaker, as Detroit’s PR was spewing how the task was insurmountable for any carmaker, bemoaning the fact in Congress hearings. Meanwhile the EPA took Honda’s word, offering to test the engine whenever they felt ready to do so.
(At announcement, Honda referred to the new tech as Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion, CVCC. The term was intentionally vague, as it was still in development and patents were not secured. Honda’s PR found a nice sounding hi-tech term that kept competition out of the loop of the system’s inner workings).
Before the February pronouncement, Mr. Honda had called head engineer Yagi to forewarn him: “The company’s future rests on that engine’s success.” Pressure, anyone? A coyly smiling Yagi reminisced: “As always, Mr. Honda would tell us to climb to the roof…and then pull the ladder from beneath you…that’s just the way he was.”
The AP Study now being a company priority, resources were largely reallocated. Tadashi Kume, one of Soichiro’s favorite engineers (on lieu of speaking his mind and butting heads constantly) was placed in charge. Kume assigned only young engineers to the AP Study, keeping Soichiro out of the loop; probably sensing the engine’s work required a new approach, and that Soichiro’s looming shadow tended to inhibit impressionable team members.
AP Study heads started to convene at a downtown hotel –intentionally away from headquarters- to set the project’s goals and methods. Itemizing the issues to solve, the plan was peppered with military terms. Baptized as Landing in Iojima, the team’s structure was as thus: Mr. Kume was general commander, Mr. Yagi, air support (in charge of patents), and Engineer Akira, landing commander (engine development and subsequent US approval).
Back at headquarters, Kume announced to company employees that within a 9-month deadline, Honda was to be the first carmaker that would comply with the US 1970 Clean Air Act. Engineer Minoru Atsumi recalled: “(At the announcement) panic ensued on the team. But up until then, we had had so many absurd demands, that one more… If it were a game of golf, it would be like scoring a hole over undulating terrain.” As engine tester, Atsumi was to spend many nights away from home.
CVCC development was in full countdown by March 1972, with 400 engineers assigned. On the to-do-list, over 1000 engineering items to solve. More than 100 engine prototypes were built. When prototypes failed, “no engineer was allowed to go home until the problem was solved.” Bunker beds were placed around the company grounds. This being Japan, a corny (us, cynical westerners) motivating motto was chosen: “Save the blue sky.”
Sometime during that year, a rift ensued between Soichiro Honda and his faithful employees. At motivational company meetings, Soichiro’s language had changed, constantly referring to the project as “Honda’s opportunity.” Yagi and engineer Toshimasa Shishido reflected negatively on this “… in the past, papa would tell us we were working for ourselves, for society…” An angry Shishido took this complain to management “You can’t let papa say those kinds of things!”
The comment was brought forth to papa by corporate heads, and between his advancing age, and the CVCC work going ahead without his direct input, a number of thoughts must have been spinning around his restless head.
By October 1972, the AP Study-CVCC engine was ready and testing in track, with pollution astoundingly reduced. Notice how we’re talking about the CVCC engine being tested, as the Civic itself was still on the drawing board (or clay sculpting). In need to expedite CVCC technology, and with no car at Honda large enough to take in the new water cooled engine, Nissan Sunnys were fitted for testing. (Here Project X shows a Civic heroically in track testing, which is the magic of television).
General Commander Kume proceeded with Landing in Iojima, and along key players of the AP Study, arrived to Ann Arbor, USA, in December 5, 1972. On the 7th, the engine was at the EPA testing labs, only to fail miserably. A loud gurgling noise appeared as soon as the car started, running roughly, and with emissions shot to the upper registers. EPA’s Eric Stork, with perfect American empathy, tried to soothe the wounded pride of the Asian newcomers “better luck next time.” Commander Kume didn’t give up though, asking if they could check their wounded-in-combat ailing engine. On quick inspection, the team assessed that damage to the carburetor had occurred in shipping. Would it be possible to fix the engine and test again the next day? Having no line of manufacturers in wait, EPA’s Stork complied amiably.
Too psyched from the test’s failure, Commander Kume spent the evening hours consuming heavy liqueurs in hopes to find some sleep (can you blame him?). No rest came to him however, only drunken stupor. No comments on how he found his way back to the EPA the next morning, but that day the CVCC engine finally passed EPA testing with flying colors. Upstart Honda had leapfrogged a good number of established makes to the finish line, and the news helped cement the company’s ascendancy as an innovative force in the industry. Honda was now a purveyor of technology, with Chrysler and Ford interested, and Toyota becoming a CVCC client.
(Kume’s recollection seems to differ by one day from what’s posted at Honda’s web regarding approval date).
Regulations tend to drive the ire of not only carmakers, but a segment of the car loving public as well. “Would have…” “Could have…” counterfactual scenarios are impossible to assess, and can go on endlessly if the mind wonders. Corny Japanese motivational mottos aside, nowadays the morning Salvadorian sky is blue in ways it wasn’t back in the 80’s. And that, with a car population much expanded since then. For this I’m greatly grateful.
No local regulations are to thank for my blue skies, though. Instead, it’s thanks to modern low-emission vehicles that make up most local traffic. CVCC tech has been much surpased since its launch, but the fruit of such efforts are an indelible legacy.
Whatever thoughts the CVCC development had on papa, we’ll never quite know. But two months before the Civic’s CVCC launch, Soichiro quit the company’s presidency, while expressing: “…the pupil has grown up. In this case, it’s ok to leave the company in their hands.”
With Soichiro Honda falling in the company’s background, engineer Minoru Atsumi reminisced on those days: “The CVCC project must have been a bitter pill for Mr. Honda. The company’s employees loved him…he worked really hard, and always checked on us. In some ways, he was actually more like a father to me than my own had been…”
All this said with a timid smile. The kind of smile that comes from hardship; mixing a bit of nostalgia, the joy of challenges overcomed, and nervousness at the pain endured.
(Note: Attributed quotes are, in general, rough translations from Spanish and Google Translator).
More on the CVCC:
Automotive History: Soichiro Honda Spanks GM CEO
More on the Civic:
Vintage Review 1975 Honda Civic CVCC
CC 1973-79 Honda The Second Little Revolutionary
One point I would add to this marvelous account is that CVCC was not solely concerned with U.S. emissions rules. Japan passed its own Air Pollution Control Law in 1970, which led to the establishment by mid-1971 (a year after the Muskie Act) of a Automobile Pollution Control Division of the new Japan Environmental Agency. MITI had already begun a phase-out of leaded gasoline, and there were plans to establish automotive emissions limits modeled on those of the U.S. Clean Air Act.
There was a lot of political struggle over exactly how the limits would be set and the timetable for implementing them, but it was clear they were going to happen, although the timetable wasn’t set until October 1972.
As a result, starting in 1975, Japanese cars were subject to the CO and HC limits originally stipulated in the Muskie Act, with a higher interim NOx limit; the Clean Air Act NOx limit was mandated for 1978. Because the U.S. phase-in was delayed, from 1975 until the mid-eighties, Japan’s emissions standards were tougher than those of the U.S., and in fact tougher than California.
So, developing workable emissions-controlled engines was an important step to putting Honda on the map in the U.S., but it was also a matter of domestic survival.
I’ve said this before, but I think this is an underappreciated factor in the success of Japanese automakers in the U.S. After 1974, emissions controls weren’t just a local eccentricity they had to accommodate for export; they had to make those controls work for domestic buyers, and for engines well under 2 liters.
Thanks for pointing that out. Quite the contrast with the Europeans, who dragged their feet on emission controls for quite a long time. And it showed in emission control systems for the US that were often kludged.
What’s remarkable is that they did that with carburetors for so long, and quite successfully.
Tangentially, I think Honda’s success with CVCC technology created some unrealistic expectations for later engineering development. There was a bias toward developing things in-house, with the rationale that the cost would be offset by not having to pay royalties and the opportunity to license technology outside. In some cases, this meant they sank a lot of resources into dead ends (like their weird two-channel ABS, which we were spared). Toyota benefited in the same period from a willingness to license existing technology (like Bosch L-Jetronic injection) and then focus on tailoring it to their needs rather than having to reinvent the wheel.
The Hondamatic is another prime example of that.
The successor to Honda’s CVCC was PGM-CARB, used from roughly the mid 80’s to mid 90’s (yes, mid 90’s, only in Europe, South America and Japan by that point, it was used in the US/Canada on the mid 80’s to late 80’s Accord DX/LX and Prelude S. 83-87 Civic/CRX/Civic Wagovan might? have still used CVCC, at least until 85-86)
Should also mention the rest of Asia by the mid 90’s, not just Japan, duh. You could honest to God get a 92-95 Civic with a PGM-CARB feedback carb setup.
This was true for the Integra up thru ‘95 as well, with dual carbs.
At the time I was too young to really appreciate what a game changer the CVCC system was. This was a great explanation and a great story of how it came about.
In terms of the events being one day off, Japan lies on the other side of the International Date Line from the US so the discrepancy is likely between dates recorded by the EPA at their testing lab and what day it was at Honda HQ in Tokyo when they got the news (likely by what would then have been a very expensive international phone call, either collect from the EPA lab itself where Kume was no doubt nursing his hangover and pacing the reception area like a new dad outside the delivery room in the era that was just ending, or from his hotel immediately after getting the news).
Good point about the IDL.
Thanks for this excellent post. I’d forgotten a few things, and never realized that the starting point was a diesel precombustion chamber, which of course makes gobs of sense. Few things are totally new; in this case it was a very creative adaptation.
Soichiro Honda reminds me in some ways of Elon Musk, promising things that did not yet exist, or work, leaving his workers “in the attic with the stairs pulled away”. But Honda was also a genuine automotive engineer, and didn’t let his ego get totally blown out of proportions.
My dad bought a brand new cvcc in 1975. As a car crazy 9 year old it was fascinating. Sideways engine, electric cooling fan, 5 speed transmission. Bright orange. I did miss the Porsche 365c that preceded it though. I grew up with that tin can and ended up driving it in high school sometimes. It did well for a number of years but even though dad kept it washed and waxed it cancered out from the inside. It lived in southern CA it’s whole life and never saw snow. Back seat was a penalty box, spent far too many unpleasant miles back there with a younger brother. It certainly was a game changer.
Back in the day, I was working at a GM dealership that also had Honda. I recall just how badly the 80’s, 90’s and even early 2000’s Honda would rust out at the thought of snow and salt on the roads. One day I traded a Civic like this one (CVCC) with only 38,000 miles on the odometer. She traded on a newer used Buick because she said she wanted more room and comfort (understandable). But what we found when the tech put the car up on the hoist to start the used car inspection was frightening. He put it up, walked under the car with his flashlight and jumped back out from under the car. He called the service manager over and he put the car down and parked it out back for wholesale. The entire sub-frame was rusted through and the engine was basically being held in by the drive shaft and a few wires. He said it was amazing that she was able to even drive that car into the lot. The funny thing was that the body of the car looked great. Found out that someone had fixed the many rust holes and repainted the car.
This is fantastic!
One question—did you mean to say “unleaded fuel” in the beginning part? I thought the thing about cvcc that was a selling point was that it could run on regular or unleaded?
That was a typo; it’s fixed now. Thanks.
It does raise an interesting point about the differences between the U.S. and Japan on the issue of lead in gasoline. Japan phased out leaded gasoline much sooner than the U.S. did. It was gone from regular-grade gas by 1975 and premium I think by 1980; Japan’s complete leaded gas phaseout, in 1986, was a full decade ahead of the U.S.
See Sayuri Umeda’s “The History of the Elimination of Leaded Gasoline” on the In Custodia Legis blog.
This does raise an interesting point about the differences between America and Japan: Japan was actually much quicker than the U.S. to eliminate leaded fuel. It was gone from regular-grade fuel by 1975 and completely eliminated for on-road vehicles in 1986, a full decade before the U.S. phaseout. So, that CVCC feature was more important for export than at home.
(Akismet keeps eating my comments, so hopefully this doesn’t end up duplicated.)
My favorite story related to the development and implementation of CVCC technology is one about GM’s reaction to it. As noted above, Ford and Chrysler licensed CVCC, but GM turned it down, saying that it might work for small motorcycle engines, but was not suitable for GM’s passenger car power plants; by implication, big American V-8s.
In response, Sochiro Honda ordered the purchase of a 1973 Cherolet Impala with a 5.7 liter V-8 and had it shipped to Japan. Honda engineers then designed and installed a CVCC system using new cylinder heads and other components. The resulting engine met emissions standards without a catalytic converter, with no loss in horsepower and slightly better fuel efficiency. It’s a great example of “show, don’t tell.”
I originally learned about this story here:
I remember these cars fondly .
More from how much fun they were to drive but if you lived in any large city in the 60’s & 70’s you’ll remember the incredibly bad smog .
I forgot to add that these used a 3 bbl carb. Primary and secondary for the main intake and the third fed the cvcc chamber. Ours also had a manual choke.
I spent my early driving years in the family’s 77 Accord so I’m familiar with the CVCC which in the lower geared first generation Accord was eager and tractable and the only car I’ve drive with a manual choke. Our 84 had an automatic choke and everything I’ve owned had fuel injection. I drove an original Civic with a Hondamatic once, and the Accord was som much better. It’s also worth noting that VW passed US emissions in the 70s with Bosch CIS fuel injection and no catalytic converter until 1980. While fuel injection was more expensive than a carb, it was still simpler to engineer than the CVCC cylinder head.
I just re-read this excellent post, and it stirred other memories. I got earlier exposure to these cars than most though my mother getting these early Civics as dealer loaners when her 74 Luxury LeMans was in for service in the 1974-76 time frame. Our salesman was a really nice older guy who lived near our house and would drop his bright yellow Civic demonstrator in our driveway and drive the LeMans in to work, then bring it home again after. That was unusually great service even then. I didn’t have my license at the time so never got to drive one of these, but I got front passenger exposure several times. My mother was really impressed with these little Hondas, as was I.
Heard what became CVCC was originally a 1953 patent by Harry Weslake that expired in 1970, roughly a few months prior to Honda’s introduction of the CVCC.
Few things are truly completely new. Did Weslake actually make this patent functional?
Lots of ideas are patented; much fewer are ever developed to be useful. That’s what Honda did, and it took a lot of work to do so.
Having said that, I’m in no position to know just precisely how similar Weslake’s head and system was to the Honda’s CVCC.
CVCC sounds like a good idea to me. Perhaps modern automakers can take a re-look at this technology and put it to use today?
It was at the time; it’s quite irrelevant now. That’s why Honda dropped it, right?
Direct injection has a way of creating rich and lean areas in the cylinder. Thanks to electronics, it is much more flexible than CVCC. It can also do homogenous air fuel mixtures. The air fuel mixtures, injection timings and modes can be varied very quickly. The pocket in the top of the piston is a place where the initial combustion begins. CVCC was a one trick pony, but unlike the CIS electronic fuel injection of the VW, it was more dependable. I did have to have my 1979 CVCC Accord carburetor rebuilt, and it was expensive, but my aunts 1976 Rabbit was much less dependable.
While I have enjoyed Honda cars and motorcycles, the company, perhaps driven by Mr. Honda, has pursued some very strident engineering dictums, principally, no two strokes. Remember the NR500, oval piston V4 500cc Grand Prix race motorcycle? 32 valves, 8 connecting rods, 4 cams? Simply absurd. It never was successful, not winning a Grand Prix in three seasons, and it was replaced with a two stroke that did. Before that the air-cooled sports sedan, the 1300? Only Citroen would introduce a non third world mass market air cooled new engine after that. Then there is the 1.5liter V12, the RA270-272 Formula 1 car, almost Ferrari esque in it’s love of little cylinders if Honda weren’t doing the same thing in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Two cylinder 50cc, 5 cylinder 125cc, 6 cylinder 250cc, this is a fixation on a motor of many, many, many little things flying around to bludgeon the opposition.
In retrospect, Honda was a lot more interesting then than now.