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How An Attempt To Save Fuel Led To The Worst Engine Ever

As the car industry slowly moves towards another phase of cars which either use very little fuel or none at all, many manufacturers are looking back to ensure they avoid the mistakes of the past.

One of the most innovative mistakes in this regard was an engine fitted with specially designed and electronically assisted pressure relief valves to help save fuel when the car was travelling at low speeds but in practice worked so poorly that it seriously damaged the company that made it.

In 1981, in the wake of two major oil crises that suddenly increased the price of fuel and forced many drivers to switch to smaller cars or other forms of transport, Cadillac wanted to create a car that saved fuel at cruising speeds but could also go quickly when the driver wanted.

The result was a surprisingly innovative and forward-thinking V8-6-4 engine concept in 1981, which was a forerunner to more complex engine management systems. General Motors were exceptionally proud of the system, but it came at a cost.

Unlike previous cylinder displacement systems, which relied on the driver shutting off parts of the engine manually, Cadillac’s system, designed by electronics firm the Eaton Corporation, would use an electronic system to observe the throttle and shut off cylinders when the driver was running at cruising speed.

It seemed simple on paper, but on circuit boards, the system was very complex for the time, and the computer system was very slow to react to changes in acceleration, leading to power lag similar to turbochargers of the time.

It also did not seem to work properly with the fuel injection system, leading to poor performance and reliability issues for an engine that had traditionally been seen as well-made.

It lasted just a year before being discontinued, but the concept is almost universally used in a lot of modern cars and engines, albeit with much more powerful computers.