Saturday, August 1, 2009

Firing up an engine - yesterday and today

People today very rarely experience the moment of luck and excitement that car drivers enjoyed during the good old days when they were able to fire up their engine. Today, you take it for granted that, after you push the starter button or turn the ignition key (if there is one), the engine immediately starts to run and idles steadily and without any help from the throttle pedal. Well, that was quite a bit different before electronics started to support the driver in starting and engine and keeping it alive.
In the past you would have gone through a multistep process even before pushing the starter button. Let's take the JWF Milano GT from 1962 as an example (earlier cars, e.g. pre war cars, are even quite a bit more complicated than this one). First you turn electricity on, then you turn the fuel pump on. As a next step you pull the choke button and only then you push the starter button. If everything is as it should be the engine will fire up and you can keep it with the help of the choke and the throttle pedal alive. Soon you push the choke button back and continue to keep the engine between 1'000 and 2'000 RPM with your throttle pedal. If there's not enough throttle the engine goes off and you start it again. Only after you have driven for some kms or have warmed up the engine for 10 minutes or so, the engine runs properly and steadily. The procedure isn't really complicated and can be mastered by anybody. Our fathers and mothers were used to this in variations.
But many of today's drivers have grown up with the electronically controlled fuel injections and ignitions, engine control units and blackboxes. As long as the stuff works properly that's all great and nice, but don't try to fix it if it doesn't. Then many mechanics remember the good old time when you could take your carburetor apart and find the reason for failure.

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