If you’ve ever read more than .06 of my writings, you’ll know that I’m something of a purist. I like old, simple things like carburetors and manual transmissions. Often this makes no sense whatsoever, as fuel injection is much more precise and reliable, and a good DCT can shift much faster than I could, despite my mutant superpowers.
So though I’ll always prefer to work on simple machines, I’m often equally astounded by new technology, especially if it will someday be cheap enough for schlebs like me to own. Most new tech, after all, starts at the top, in the supercars and spaceships. Swedish supercar builder Koenigsegg has joined that club.
Christian von Koenigsegg founded the company in 1994. When you founded a supercar company, you rushed it, threw in an SBC, and called it a day. You got no investors. But it was 8 years before Christian’s first production car, the CC8S, was ever delivered, because he took so much time developing it.
Since then, Koenigsegg has only built around 100 cars, but each of them is extremely well engineered. They build their own engines, their own ECUs and their own suspension systems, which they call Triplex.
But Triplex, along with their dihedral actuated doors, while impressive, aren’t earth-shattering. They’re not going to revolutionize the driving world. That stuff is generally left up to giants like Ford and Volkswagen. A tiny supercar company in a Swedish former air force base couldn’t do that, right?
Christian, like some kind of bald, Scandinavian Rudy Ruettiger, has ignored the 300 lb lineman and is working hard to develop an engine without camshafts.
As I do not hold a PhD in pneumatics, I don’t have a fully rounded idea of how these engines will work, but here’s how I understand it: A camshaft, as you may know, is a spinning engine element that opens a valve in a cylinder head. This valve either lets in fuel vapor, or lets out exhaust. And if you want more performance, one mod you can make is to your cam. A cam that’s shaped differently can allow in more fuel.
The problem, however, is that it must do so all the time. That’s why many tuned muscle cars get about 8 mpg. But what if you could move each valve independently, per the need of the moment? That’s what Koenigsegg, with the help of a company called Cargine Engineering, is trying to accomplish. In the simplest terms, a compressor, powered by the engine, will open the valves via air pressure, and close them, if not by spring, in the same way, improving power by an estimated 30%.
Christian wants to be the first one to employ this tech, and predicts that within 10 years, every car manufacturer will be using it, for the environmental factor alone. And while Koenigsegg is generally environmentally conscious, even tuning their newest cars for E85, they’re mostly interested in the performance factor. A pneumatic system requires less friction and allows a quicker response. It could also make the car lighter and lower as a whole. There are no more timing belts for you to break and spend a weekend replacing. And the valve, for the most part, is either open or closed, as opposed to traditional, cam-actuated valves, which open or close to certain degrees. Pneumatic systems are also extremely tunable, as they can work with each valve separately.
So all that stuff is great if you deal in milliseconds and microns, but what about those of us who for some reason can’t afford a Koenigsegg? What about all that “revolution” yarn I was spinning up top?
Koenigsegg hacked the valve train off the top of a Saab 9-5’s engine and replaced it with a system like this. So far they’ve seen a 20% increase in fuel efficiency. And they weren’t even shooting for that. They expect with more tuning to see another 10%, plus a 50% decrease in emissions. I’d very much like to see this take the place of the current emissions bottlenecks that are already on cars, but those will probably remain, and beggars can’t be choosers.
Now here’s where it gets very cool for amateur tuners. The engine itself, since it’s hooked up to all this pneumatistuff, can actually be used to pack a tank full of compressed air during braking periods. This, then, could theoretically become a simpler form of a supercharger, forcing the compressed air back into the engine. It could also spool up a turbo, or fire directly into a pneumatic motor at the wheels.
As with electric recovery systems, there would still be energy lost with braking. But we engine brake our performance cars anyway. And unlike electric systems, a compressed air system doesn’t use heavy batteries or motors.
Much of this is still in the dreaming phase, but it is honestly the most promising solution for efficient performance that I’ve seen yet. And it’s coming from a tiny cottage manufacturer in the Swedish woods. Forward, Mr. Koenigsegg. We’re ready to embrace the future.
You can check out more details in the video below, part of the Drive Network’s excellent series on the inner workings of the ghostly Koenigsegg.