It's all fine and good that Ford was able to get its 1.0-liter EcoBoost through airport security, but what if, instead of cast iron, its block were stamped out of thin steel and weighed less than 15 pounds?
If that were the case, it wouldn't be Ford's new I-3, but a World War II-era quick and nasty called the CoBra. Back when the U.S. military was buying scores of stamped sheetmetal automatic .45-caliber "grease guns" for the military, a guy named Lloyd M. Taylor had the same idea for an internal combustion engine.
Thus was born CoBra — AKA the Mighty Tin, which was not to be confused in anyway with the much more muscular Cobra's of the 1960s. It was a stamped steel engine with copper brazed joints and an aluminum crankcase. The 721 cc engine cranked out 35 hp, weighed only 133 pounds fully assembled (compared to the 1.0-liter EcoBoost's 213 pounds), and produced 35 mpg, which was super efficient for the time.
When Powel Crosley, Jr. — the guy who built bug-eyed little cars that made Volkswagen Beetles look mainstream — discovered Taylor's CoBra in 1943, he talked the military into buying a lot of them as generators and refrigeration compressors to help support the war effort. Some ended up in PT boats and others in B-17s; regardless of application, they were regarded as capable little engines.
It wasn't until after the war that anyone had the bright idea to put the Mighty Tin into a passenger car. Unfortunately, they didn't last long as the beating heart of a car; with a three-year run from 1946 to 1949. Because guess what happens if you accidentally run a stamped sheetmetal engine out of water? Yep, it gets hot really fast and normally thick, cast pieces that hold things like piston bores and exhaust ports warp and crack. Corrosion in the cooling system was also a problem because unlike CoBra's generator siblings, the car version wasn't running constantly.
Think about it. How many cars that require attention and regular maintenance really last all that long in America? If you search your soul and dig deep, you know the answer to that question: not many. In general, we're busy people and don't have time for fussing around with car engines.
At any rate, the CoBra's short lifespan may have been fine for wartime generators, but Crosley's automotive customers expected more than 60,000 miles out of an engine. By the close of the decade, the company's engineers decided to use a more durable — and slightly heavier — cast iron block.
Nowadays, we have tiny engines that boast quadruple the horsepower numbers of Taylor's little mill. Looking at it from a numbers perspective, Ford's three-banger EcoBoost is many times more than that better than the Mighty Tin. But if the Mayans were off by a few days and the world enters a period of apocalyptic darkness I'll want a handful of idiotically simple CoBras to keep my bunker powered up post apocalypse. No computers, no problem. Bring on the Red hordes. (Hat tip to Sir Ramblin Rover, of the Warwickshire Rovers!)