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Hagerty Employee

Could 1980s technology keep internal-combustion engines on the road?

Read enough automotive-related articles on the internet and you will be convinced the internal-combustion engine is being hunted with a fervor typically reserved for villains in Liam Neeson movies. Okay, that conclusion may be extreme-but it holds some truth. Regulations regarding emissions and engine efficiency grow stricter with each passing year and manufacturers are faced [...]

Automakers have spent Billions in ways to make ICE live on but sadly none of this is going to do it.


The best shot was Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition. This was cleaner and 15% more efficient but even with the billions GM and Mazda spent it just was not enough. High compression will be much cleaner and adds power but just not enough to keep meeting the new regulations. 

If this deal here would work it would be already in production. 



Pit Crew

New Driver

free valve sounds very promising. it opens up so many possibilities like cylinder deactivation, different cycles like Atkinson, variable valve timing/lift/compression with zero additional hardware and just software. you can virtually optimize efficiency, emissions, reliability, and/or performance, in a completely dynamic way. I know there are reasons why it has been in the pipe for years and hardly making its way to production in 300 cars years after being revealed to the public. I guess cost, mass production and reliability are the main concerns, but I hope we'll see it trickle down to mass production before EV put the nail in the coffin of ICE development. the ECU tuning
and super/turbocharging potential would be crazy as shown by the gemera's out of this world 300hp/l and 38bar beep, while keeping the fuel economy and drivability of a economy/comfort oriented engine
Pit Crew

Poppet value engines have been obsolete for over two decades now, Freevalve won't be of any use.
New Driver

You know that Honda had a system, the CVCC. Not a civic, but Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion. It used a 3 barrel carburetor. The 2 barrel section fed a super lean mixture to the cylinders. The 3rd tiny barrel fed a richer mixture to the spark plug chambers that lived lived above the main combustion chambers in a thimble sized, perforated stainless steel cup  that was fed a rich enough mixture to ignite with spark, sending flame into the lean, larger, main combustion chamber for ignition. If you put a Webber or aftermarket carb on it, the staged, original design defeated, you had an overly rich, gas guzzling, cylinders washed down, oil contaminated with excess fuel, bad running, short lived POS engine. It was a design that was misunderstood by many. It came to mind after reading the aim of plasma ignition for a super lean mixture...  I wonder about it firing accurately and separately at 100 cycles per second.  7,000 rpm.

Pit Crew

When the CEO declares "zero emissions" as the future of the company, no change in ignition systems is going to be adopted and certainly no funding will be directed towards research. Stubborn attitudes are the real issue and the real reason why the system is not already in production.
Advanced Driver

Exactly JeffK.No matter what is developed if it isnt electricity it is not going to be allowed.

This seems to have a better chance in the aftermarket. I don't think any OEM is going to do it as many are seemingly shutting down any further ICE development. The aftermarket modders looking for power though would likely be the best candidates for this.

I was thinking this myself.
The article doesn't say anything about use in existing/non-modded cars.
Does anyone know about this?
New Driver

I did read another article on TPS that their system retrofitted into existing cars vehicles without need for engine redesign. Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part, but the article read "Such systems can be installed in existing engines with a little modification. For example, the system developed by TPS consists of an electronics module that is powered directly from the vehicle's main battery."
Hopefully, it is not just another glorified Pulse Spark plug.
New Driver

Creating a super hot spark system while leaning out the mix would increase the operating temp. greatly,no? We worked with Yamaha snowmobile engines,very hot spark and lean mixture would melt pistons even spark plugs.

Pit Crew

Only in poorly designed engines where post mix combustion is occurring on the exhaust stroke. When the mixture is leaned out to 22:1 the engine begins to run cooler.

Here is the deal. Just look at the numbers we have and the numbers that need to be met. 

Then look at all the stuff they are doing today to get better mpg. Cutting cylinders, smaller engines, smaller cars, more expensive fuel systems, more expensive turbo systems. More expensive materials. 

They have gone as far as cutting down the size of bolts on the Cadillacs to reduce weight. Any extra thread is engineered out. They have gone from looking for a mpg per gallon to looking for a 16th of a gallon 

We have a number of Rube Goldberg items now competing for goverment credits just to meet emissions numbers now. 

All this has drive development cost to where it is never ending while prices in EV parts are getting cheaper like the motors and batteries. 

We all need to understand there is no special surprise development around the corner to save ICE. 

Then there has always been the snake oil like Fish Carbs and Spitfire plugs. No the oil industry never bought up these 100 mile carbs. 

Pit Crew

Smokey Yunick developed his 50+ MPG engine back in the 1980's and the automakers showed zero interest in licensing that engine, they would rather wait for the patents to expire.
New Driver

Mazda has finally put their long-awaited "SPCCI", Spark Controlled Compression Ignition, into production in the 2.0L Skyactive X engine. It's only been out about a year, and only in Europe.

Compression ratio is over 16:1, running a very lean mixture. Hwy mpg is reportedly improved by 20% - 30%, which is a big jump. It's relatively simple/cheap, but can't compete with hybrids for City mpg. There is talk of introducing it here in the 2.5L. Mazda needs to up their game in the U.S.; good cars but a new RAV4 Hybrid is rated 40/38 City/Hwy, and that's a 3700 lb vehicle.
New Driver

That plasma sounds good. My Dad, who was electrician in the mines, told me in 1966 that "they could put a capacitor in a spark plug and it would burn the gas better and be more power, but they'll never do it". He was right until 1989 when it got started. I bought a set of Pulstar plugs in 2009 and got 4.7 more mpg. But the granddaddy was Ray Covey who vaporized ALL the gas with exhaust heat and got 79.9 MPG out of a 400(6.5 L) Chrysler motor. No plasma needed, just good ol exhaust on that!!!!


Capacitive ignition systems were used in the 60s and 70s and kits were even available from Radio Shack. They provided a hot spark that was good at igniting very rich fuel mixtures, but spark duration was extremely short and not well suited to igniting the leaner mixtures required for more stringent emission controlled engines. If Pulstar plugs really gave 4.7 more miles per gallon every car in the world would come with them from the factory. Smokey Yunick touted a hot-vapor adiabatic engine that got amazing fuel economy, but the reality was that it couldn't meet emission standards or the durability requirements for production use. There are lost of magic bullet solutions out there that contain grains of truth, but there is no free lunch to be had under the hood of an ICE vehicle.

Thank you Kyle and Hagerty for a wonderful article. I'm sure many thinking owners with barouches using traditional spark plugs would welcome a set. But so would those of us with late '30s, '40s Buicks, Cadillacs, LaSalles, Chevrolets and Packards which all use 10mm plugs. Lot of us out here with cars using all size plugs, so an opportunity for any manufacturer paying attention.

Thanks again!

New Driver

With all thats being challenged about the ICE engine in our cars and trucks I want to point out my pet peeve... aviation. Example: a 747 burns 1 gallon of kerosene per second while in flight, and averages using 3600 gallons per flight. It would take me 10 yrs to come close to burning up that much fuel in my cleaner burning ICE car! Now trying to consider all the fuel used and burned by aviation in just a single day with all that dirty exhaust going directly high in the atmosphere and you will begin to see my peeve. I celebrate every time I here the words "flights cancelled"!

Right you are. It comes down to lobbying power. A single flight from SFO to O'Hare negates an entire year living in tiny energy efficient home and driving a Prius. And av gas is still heavily leaded; all those private and light aircraft showering brain damage, dementia, senility on children and the rest of us.

Unfortunately, most car buffs are too us/them, insular, disenfranchised to organize, address the big picture, the overarching threat to our ICE cars. According to a 2013 poll of 2,000 UN scientists, and a 11/5/19 poll of 11,000 scientists reported in Bloomberg News, overpopulation is by far the world's biggest problem, their words: "bigger than climate."

Norway has banned all i.c. automobiles including collector cars in three (3) years, 2025, the rest of Scandinavia 2030, the European Union 2035, France and England, for now,  2040, 2050. Here in the States, bank on ever increasing, punishing, restrictive fees and surcharges.

But UN and other vetted studies show that animals raised for meat and dairy produce more greenhouse gas than all the world's cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, ships combined. Part of saving our i.c. cars might be as simple as adopting instead of having more kids, and being vegan hasn't slowed down 77-year-old rodder rocker Jeff Beck nor the world's leading Grand Prix driver, Lewis Hamilton.

Meanwhile, many of us with all manner of collector, vintage, and regular ICE cars would like to have a set of the above "plasma plugs" in 5/8", 13/16", 7/8", 14mm, 18mm, 10mm.
Any well-connected can-doers listening?

New Driver

I remember in the early 80's Hillman and moody in Charlotte NC built a Ford that got 75 plus mpg and later read that the EPA has stated it didn't pass emissions. Seriously? Something that lean, I truly believe fuel companies paid them off and tore up those plans.. what about this new deal?
New Driver

Hollman.. smart phone changed it to Hillman
Advanced Driver

Didn't learn anything from watching the video. I would assume that Hagerty would be on this. No one else is.
New Driver

With the more aggressive ignition (no other modifications mentioned) achieving a more complete and faster cylinder pressure rise I would expect full throttle detonation to destroy the engine immediately so what's missing from this story ?
Intermediate Driver

Can't help but wonder why Formula 1 isn't using plasma ignition already, considering the high RPMs and correspondingly fast ignition those engines require. Must be a fly in that ointment somewhere.
Pit Crew

One thing bothers me about EV vehicles. They may be emission free, but what about the production of the fuel they need? That electricity has to come from somewhere - e.g. Coal fired generation plants (yuck), NG fired generation plants (somewhat better), Solar power (not reliable in northern Canada), hydro electric (not environmentally friendly, especially from deforestation, and biologic diversity), or wind power (not economical due to maintenance costs). Also solar, wind, and hydro have emission issues with their construction.
Same with cars, both EV and ICE cars have a carbon foot print from their build process and supply chain costs. So which is really the most eco-friendly, lowest emission vehicle. A horse drawn vehicle - NOT. Even that has a high emission of methane - the most damaging of the green house gases.
But enough said, lets all go EV, and watch the power grid collapse.

Intermediate Driver

Very interesting article. Reminded me of the Chrysler "Lean Burn" engines of the late '70's, early '80's. Hopefully with today's technology, we can make this work. Long live ICE!!

Sorry to pile on Kyle but the only thing I can contribute is to clarify that an engine (a reciprocating engine anyway) also needs compression.

Chrysler had a system in the 70s, Lean Burn. Burn is right, exhaust valves and pistons, not to mention higher operating temperatures and yes, detonation which does cause NOX. This Plasma thing will do the same kind of damage.
Pit Crew

Welcome to circa 2005, when Robert Krupa designed his FireStorm spark plug that generated a Plasma spark and demonstrated that he could increase fuel economy by 40% in all spark engines with little modification.

News to me, and perhaps to many others.   Per my query above, any chance of such plugs produced today in sizes 5/8", 13/16", 7/8", 14mm, 18mm, 10mm?    The latter size for those of us with late '30s, '40s  Buicks, Cadillacs, LaSalles, Chevrolets, Packards.


 Not that the AC M8s we get at  NAPA  aren't swell plugs and somehow the right heat range for us all,  but plasma plugs,  oo la la!

New Driver

Amazing the utter garbage that passes as journalism these days. There are a lot of reasons this is just crap, chief among them is nobody wants to change their spark plugs, valves, and pistons every 3000 miles like oil because they have a hole melted in the middle by a massively overkill plasma discharge. There are also a number of other reasons that running an engine lean will never result in the same power as a proper mixture. Next time try a bit of common sense and maybe pull your head out before publishing this kind of pipe dream garbage.
New Driver

TPS already stands for throttle position sensor. Now we have TPS ignition? Pick a different name!
Advanced Driver

My first thought on this, is that the carbon dioxide emissions are what is killing internal combustion engines. With plasma ignition, the CO2 emissions of the engine would only be reduced by whatever percentage the fuel efficiency is increased, 20% per the article. A worthy improvement but not enough to change the world wide push for carbon free transportation. My second thought is, with all the engineering effort and dollars that have been put into improving the fuel efficiency of ICE powered vehicles, why is plasma ignition not being used by all (any?) of the vehicle manufacturers?
Intermediate Driver

What you are describing sounds a lot like the output of a buzz coil in a Model T and many other veterans.
Pit Crew

It seems obvious to me that the end game will be massive price hikes in electricity. Nobody seems to be talking hydrogen, how come?

Because so far, despite being the most abundant element in the universe, separating hydrogen consumes more energy than it produces. Until we focus on what a 2013 poll of 2,000 UN scientists, and a 11/5/19 poll reported in Bloomberg News of 11,000 scientists agree is the world's biggest problem, their words, "bigger than climate,"

o v e r p o p u l a t i o n,

i.c. cars are doomed, and EVs a Band Aid on a patient hemorrhaging in the ER; future wars over not just oil and diminishing fresh water, but copper and lithium.

I.C. automobiles are a convenient whipping boy.


UN and other studies show animals raised for meat and dairy produce more greenhouse gas than all the world's cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, ships combined.

So, the answers to saving our cars are simple, but will not be easy to instill:

Have "one or none," or adopt, and be vegan, which has not slowed 77-year-old rodder rocker Jeff Beck nor the world's leading Grand Prix driver, Lewis Hamilton.

Adding to the win-win-win, only when people control what they consume will health insurance, public or private, be affordable.

Though not a medical insurance company, perhaps Hagerty will buck the consumer-driven media's blackout on overpopulation, unless they want to compete with State Farm, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, Geico, Esurance, USAA insuring EVs while  pandering to stalwarts via their "Drivers Club" print and online magazine with thrice told tales of  Camaros,  Ford GT40s, muscle cars.

Every nation with declining birthrate has a higher GNP per capita.

Perhaps some enjoy grinding the life from their special cars on the halting lock step of concrete conveyor belt, or have a nearby bucolic back road, so all's right in  their world.


  Or, we can dismiss the above as "politics,"  go back to yeah buts, buck passing, us/thems,  have only ourselves to blame when our i.c. rides, collector cars included, are banned, as they will be in three years in Norway (2025), 2030 the rest of Scandinavia, 2035 in the European Union, 2040 and 2050,  for now, in France and England,  bank on ever increasing surcharges and punitive fees here in the US.


  Americans, spoiled by living on a huge continent still viewed as inexhaustible cornucopia -- which it never was --  want to "have it all,"  hence the oxymoron of "sport utility vehicle,"  four-door pick ups,  even Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Maserati willing to slap their badges on "crossovers"   looking  like wheeled hamsters in heat.


I could very well be mistaken, but I think I read about that tech when it came out. If I remember correctly, the major problem was the plasma was VERY hot, and literally burned holes in pistons. Remember, the piston is at or near TDC when the ignition fires, and plasma is extremely hot. Maybe ceramic coated piston tops? I think that was the issue back then.
New Driver

Might be time to sell my carburetor that uses water. Hope not too late