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Absolutely, variable timing of some sort would be am absolute must. And as I mentioned earlier, direct injection. I don’t think you can get around doing that on a modern engine at all.
Youre absolutely right about modern engines, and its really a shame. So much if it comes down to the materials used, and the way that engines are being conceptualized in development. It seems like a target economy is chosen, then a power figure, and they work to make that engine hit as close to those requirements as possible, and build the engine to the pricepoint and reliability that matches the duty cycle, and nothing more. It is also uncommon that you see any manufacturers using bespoke versions of a particular engine range for a specific model anymore. Or using the base block, and swapping out internals and heads to meet the duty requirements. They usually just make and engine, then drop it into everything, and just use some ECU tuning to optimize the engine from say midsize car duty, to light car duty.
Where as previously, there would be multiple different heads, multiple internal configurations, all of which would be used in Turbo and non-turbo applications, all based off of the same basic block design. Notable mentions being the Toyota A series, and S series engines. Mitsubishi 4G series engines, of which some were even converted to Diesel. And the Nissan SR series engines. All of them were WAY overbuilt. And because they didn’t rely on diamond like coatings on bare aluminum to cut down on materials cost, and had honest to goodness steel sleeves in them, they had the ability to be sleaved down for smaller displacements, and equally bored out for displacement improvements. I think it is probably also worth mentioning that each of the above mentioned engines was also heavily relied on for motorsport usage in the mid-90’s, and as a result may have been overbuilt purely for homologation purposes. Something which current racing regulations pay little attention to, in the strict sense of when the Group-A and Group-N days were prevalent. That lack of racing performance requirements, and a complete drop off of the “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” marketing ideal, which has shifted to spec regulations that remove as much unique manufacturer engineering from the equation as possible to make the racing “equal”, kills the need for development beyond a conveyance appliance.
Sadly, I think the days of true tuner friendly engines (in the most literal sense) is well over, and long gone. No major manufacturers make overbuilt engines anymore. Evey thing is built down with cheap materials, like plastic intake manifolds, and brackets, and cheap stamped metal valve covers, and other cheaply made ugly bits to keep it cheap, because all of it will be hidden under a gawdy plastic engine toupee anyway. And with OBD-II, and all of the engine management on there, almost any bolt on power adder will be negated by the ECU pulling power to keep it in the operational range.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for advanced ECU tuning techniques, and marvel at the way an engine can completely change its power output profile by simply altering its ECU mappings. But I miss the days of actually BUILDING an engine to make it something spectacular, and push well beyond its original limits.
I think this is the very reason why series like World Time Attack, are all full of cars with 3S-GTEs, 4G63s, and SR-20DETs in them. Modern engines just don’t make sense from a tuning standpoint. Sadly, all of those engines are starting to become more scarce, as more of them needlessly go boom. It will be a sad day when all “tuning” is done by way of manufacturer add-ons, and racing is only performed with bespoke one off engines. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are that far away from that being a reality.