The Spun Bearing: Boutique Cars Need Engines Too

Featured Posts, Interesting | February 9th, 2012 by 2
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Some fragment of an article flashed by, probably on an iPad, that got me thinking about all of the small-scale manufacturers of automobiles and their …

Some fragment of an article flashed by, probably on an iPad, that got me thinking about all of the small-scale manufacturers of automobiles and their need for drivetrain components.

More than one genius has gone to financial ruin thinking they can build a better car than the big boys (and some have gone to jail after breaking no small number of laws in an attempt to prove themselves right). And the siren song of building a better mousetrap has been there since the beginning of automobiling.

What almost all of these small-scale schemes have required though is drivetrain components from an established manufacturer. There were many strictly engine manufacturers early on that didn’t do a lot to differentiate their wares for road, aero, or marine applications and their products found their way into any number of craft, wheeled, winged, or waterborne.

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After World War II, the manufacturers of bespoke cars had to work deals with established manufacturers or acquire their engines from scrap yards, dealer parts counters, or under the table deals with a manufacturer that no one would admit to.

The issue for an engine manufacturer is what happens to their reputation when a barnyard manufacturer’s pride and joy explodes on impact (and impact is more likely than not given no consideration to chassis dynamics). So they tend to be pretty restrictive about who they sell batches of engines to.

A further issue confronts the bespoke manufacturer now days, besides the reluctance of manufacturers to sell engines, and that’s the issue of sorting the ECU to work within a foreign body. Engine computers are no longer restricted to getting signals from mass airflow sensors or crank position sensors. They are absorbing any number of signals from stability control units, anti-lock brakes, and transmissions. The small scale manufacturer has to ensure that the engine and its computer work as designed in a chassis that wasn’t designed by the engine manufacturer.

And yet, given all of the reasons not to, drivetrians are still being sold to all sorts of small manufacturers from big name makers. In the US, Ford has been supplying engines to small manufacturers for a long time. One of the latest is a Mexican firm building a coupe called the Mastretta MXT.  It uses a turbo-charged Ford four cylinder mounted amidships.

mastretta mxt

Of course there’s the company that tried to save Saab, Spyker, that lost themselves in the process. Spyker built a set of cars with Audi (owned by VW) engines and steam punk interiors. And they solved the problem of integrating a traction control system by not including it in the car. Then there’s the German made YES roadster, again with VW based power. And mustn’t forget the Artega GT – also using VW power.

And then there’s the short handful of bespoke cars that utilize BMW engines. Top Gear tipped us to the Ascari KZ-1, sporting a BMW V8. There’s the Veritas RS3 sporting a BMW V8 (and Veritas originally was home to a couple of ex-BMW employees immediately after World War II who reused the M328 straight six in racing cars under the Veritas name).

And we can’t forget the Wiesmann cars, that utilize the newer turbo sixes from BMW. And then there’s the car that caught my eye recently, the Morgan Aero Coupe. Built in the English village of Malvern, Morgan has been around for what seems forever. They still build cars the old fashioned way, not just by hand, but with body skins stretched around wood framing sitting atop a frame. And by god – there’s a real sliding pillar front suspension on some of them to boot!

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Morgan defines eccentricity.

The Aero Coupe dispenses with some of the ancient mariner tech, utilizes aluminum chassis and body construction, and a more conventional suspension (though minus roll bars). And the icing on all of that jazz age retro looks, a BMW V8 under the bonnet.

It’s nice that the odd Uncle Henrys of the world can enjoy their BMW goodness in a style suited to their slightly stilted sensibilities.