Phil's Podium Of The Automotive Pure: Ten Trick Technologies That Changed the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Scene - Part Three

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis
phil s podium of the automotive pure ten trick technologies that changed the

This is the final part of this series of articles, the ground rules and definitions of which you can find in the introductory comments from Parts One and Two. Without detour, TO THE PODIUM for the final time!

Electronic Fuel Injection:

My attitude toward this technology went from “why bother”, in its infant days, to “why use anything else”, when it hit its stride near the end of the ‘80’s.

It all sure looked complicated when I was first getting acquainted with the Bosch systems on the VW Fast and Squareback models from the early ‘70’s. If I only knew it would get SO complicated that comprehensive on-board diagnostic systems would be required in order to properly diagnose and repair them… and I wouldn’t mind, because these systems work so well, it’s actually WORTH the extra complexity! As it has turned out, my choice of careers has proven in many ways to be an interesting road to self-discovery, but that, as I say, will be revealed in many other stories.

Not to put too fine a point on it, EFI has enabled auto manufacturers to achieve high-performance, increased fuel economy, reduced engine maintenance, seamless driveability in virtually ALL driving conditions, low exhaust and evaporative emissions, and excellent reliability (you can put those in any order you like) with the modern internal-combustion engine. It has also enabled them to solve some age-old problems associated with Diesel powerplants, as well.

It could be argued that manufacturers may be going beyond this technology’s depth in order to progressively expand and improve on the parameters listed, but there’s no arguing with what has been accomplished up to the end of the last millennium, at any rate.

The Reverse-Flow Cooling System:

Like a musical style I’d never heard before, I remember seeing this idea on Blue Propeller offerings in the very early ‘80’s, and wondering if it was really necessary, even though it didn’t seem to add to the complexity of the systems extant at the time.

Of course, after researching the whole thing, I had to conclude that a “better mousetrap” HAD really been invented!

This turned out to be especially true for engines with aluminum cylinder heads and cast iron blocks, where the combination of typical operating temperatures along with these metal’s different reaction to heating and cooling led to problems in the head gasket area.

Reversing the coolant flow routs the cooled coolant from the radiator outlet to the typically hotter-running head first, with that transferred heat now warming up the typically cooler-running block, thereby more closely matching the operating temperatures of the two!

The results are increased engine durability (regardless of the metals used in its construction), better warm-up driveability, AND lower exhaust emissions, to boot.

Everyone wins here!

All-Aluminum Engine Construction:

While cylinder heads made of aluminum have been commonplace on most vehicles for years, all-aluminum engines were only found on higher-end European offerings until more recently.

Unquestionably, all-aluminum engine construction greatly reduces the engine’s weight, as well as increasing durability — with cylinder head and block sharing the same thermal expansion/contraction characteristics

Arguments against aluminum engine blocks centered mainly around costs involved in what was considered necessary iron “sleeving” of the cylinder bores, as well as durability concerns with blocks cast in aluminum itself. The infamous Bowtie Vega engine fiasco — which involved a U.S. “first attempt” at producing a non-sleeved aluminum block for mass-consumption in the mid-‘70’s — was used as an excuse for avoiding the all-aluminum engine. This whining strategy was also used to a similarly pathetic effect after the even more notorious GM passenger car Diesel engine debacle of the early ‘80’s.

Eventually, U.S. manufacturers had to suck it up and produce decent all-aluminum engines without cylinder liners — which they did by the beginning of the ‘90’s. For the most part, it really didn’t hurt at all, and they haven’t had to look back, since.

The Serpentine Belt:

This was one technology I understood IMMEDIATELY! Although I did consider existing V-Belt technology to be an element of “job security”,

it sure came with a price of its own.

I really haven’t missed fiddling with all of the bracketry-hassle, and miscellaneous hardware and alignment issues that accompanied the old-school accessory drive method.

Sure, there is that mechanical redundancy security blanket missing from the serpentine-style system — if the belt fails, all accessory function fails along with it. This can be solved easily by keeping a spare belt on hand. But how can you argue with what is generally — with some less-than-noteworthy exceptions — the ease of replacement and reliability of an automatic tensioner?

I sure can’t.

Phil Coconis is the owner of a West Coast independent auto repair shop.

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3 of 28 comments
  • Bill mcgee Bill mcgee on Jul 16, 2012

    I bought a 1970 Squareback in 1974 . The car had a number of mechanical problems but nothing ever went wrong with the fuel injection though occasionally as I recall the little screws on the injectors would loosen and become soaked with gasoline but as I recall I would just tighten the screws and that was all it needed . Back in the day however mechanics were prone to blame any and everything on the injectors . Considering its pioneering nature of this technology it worked well and delivered better mileage than the Bug / Karmann Ghia .

  • Garak Garak on Jul 16, 2012

    I've owned two cars with reverse flow cooling, and both suffered from overheating problems, unlike any of my other cars. I'm not completely convinced about the supposed benefits.

  • Tim Healey Lol it's simply that VWVortex is fertile ground for interesting used cars!
  • Jalop1991 I say, install gun racks.Let the games begin!
  • EBFlex For those keeping track, Ford is up to 24 recalls this year and is still leading the industry. But hey, they just build some Super Dutys that are error free. Ford even sent out a self congratulatory press release saying they built Super Duty’s with zero defects. What an accomplishment!
  • Norman Stansfield This is what you get when you run races to keep the cars bunched together for more excitement. F1 doesn't seem to have this problem after the first few laps.
  • SCE to AUX Too many cars = more wrecks. With today's speeds on essentially the same old track, starting with half the cars could reduce the congestion at the end. Or maybe it would increase the problem because the herd wouldn't thin early on.I say no overtime - finish at 500 miles and no more.