These Charts Show How Much Better Engines Are Today

We all know that engines have been steadily improving for years. I mean, they better, right? What with all the researchers poking at them in their development cages and whatnot. But it's easy to forget just how much better they are until you see them in context with their ancestors. Which is exactly what we're trying to do with these infographics.

The goal of this chart was to select four common, widely sold engines from seven decades — the 1950s through today — with one engine from each of the following sizes: under one liter, between one and two liters, two to four liters, and four liters and up. Here's all the engines used in the chart:


The HP and displacement numbers I got from a number of online sources. The MPG numbers are as close to real-world averages for the types of cars these engines usually ended up in. Also, older MPG measuring standards were wildly optimistic, at least in the US, so as much as possible, I tried to ignore, say, the claims that a '73 Ford LTD could get 22 MPG in the city, and pegged it at a much more in line with reality at 12 MPG or so. I grew up with a '73 Country Squire. The only time that thing even approached 20 MPG was on the back of a tow truck.

There's two versions of the chart here as well: the first one just uses the approximate timeline for the X axis, and doesn't have as much overlap, and roughly goes from 1950 to to day from left to right:

This second one puts MPG on the X axis and HP on the Y, so you can see how things group. This means lots of overlaps, of course, so be aware. The eras for each engine are color-coded and referenced in those circles at top:


One thing to note especially is how crappy things were in the 70s, as everyone was struggling with new emission requirements and not really understanding yet how to make a powerful, clean engine. That's how we ended up with Chevy V8s of 5L making 140 HP, derivatives of which now make 580 HP.

So, as you go into the weekend, take a moment to consider how incredible that oily mass of bolts is under your hood, transforming dead, often amoral dinosaurs into pure, unmitigated joy.


Or at least getting your ass home from work.

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