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The Myth of Horsepower per Liter
by: Chris V.

I am constantly surprised how many people manage to make the basic Rice-boy blunder of thinking that hp/liter actually makes a difference in total performance. It doesn't. Hp per lb does.

HP/Liter is important in two main areas: First, in taxation and displacement regulations around the world (such as Japan and Italy) where the costs attached to higher displacement cars can be exorbitant. In that case, making more hp per liter gives the customer more bang, while remaining in a lower tax bracket.

Secondly, it's important in many road racing classes around the world, where classes are broken down into displacement categories. Super touring is usually restricted to 2 liters. IMSA GTU was under 2.5 liters. The Trans Am series was limited to 5 liters in the upper class, and 2.5 liters in the lower division (where the BRE 510s battled against Alfa GTVs and BMW 2002s). F1 is limited currently to 3.5 liters n/a (it has bee 1.5 liter turbocharged, and 1.5 liter n/a before, among others). Obviously, getting more hp for every cc of displacement is at a premium in those situations.

But, given unlimited restrictions on displacement, then hp/liter is merely an interesting engineering exercise, but a self limiting one. Greater displacement can mean less stress on components, and of course, more total power output at a lower cost. Why is spending money an admirable goal? Shouldn't being able to go fast cheaply be an excellent goal? Yes, Honda has done an amazing thing with VTEC. It shows that above all, Honda is an engine company. But, just because they have an interesting technical achievement, that doesn't mean that that's the only, or even best, solution to the desire for more hp.

And, you'll note that every time a Honda racer wants to go fast, there are 2 things they do: make the car lighter (thereby increasing the hp per lb ration) or install a bigger engine (displacement increases are still the cheapest and best way to get more power. And in the world of internal combustion, always will be. Sure, Mazda had good results with it's 12A rotary engine. But which one had more power? The bigger 13B).

-Chris V.



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