Getting under the hood - The history of fuel injection
These days, almost all cars come equipped with some form of electronic fuel injection. It would practically be impossible to meet modern emissions standards and maintain acceptable vehicle performance without it.
But how did the invention of fuel injection come about? The answer to this question begins in England more than a century ago.
The Late 1800s: Experimental phase
Frederick William Lanchester is believed to be the first to experiment with fuel injection in the late 1800s. Along with this and many other important contributions to automotive engineering and aerodynamics, he is credited with building the first British automobile in 1896. Lanchester is considered part of the "big three" English car engineers along with Harry Ricardo and Henry Royce.
The Early 1900s: Diesels and aircraft
In the 1920s, commercial diesel engines used a form of high-pressure mechanical fuel injection that allowed for a lower overall fuel-to-air ratio and resulted in lower pollutant emissions. This was decades before numerous studies on the causes of air pollution would be carried out in the United States, Europe and Japan. The indirect fuel injection concept was adapted for use in petrol-powered aircraft during World War II.
The Early 1950s: Performance benefits recognized
One of the first commercial gasoline injection systems was a mechanical system developed by the Robert Bosch Company in Germany. It was introduced in 1955 on the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
An early electronic fuel injection system (EFI) was developed by the Bendix Corporation. Although quite dissimilar to today's systems, the patents were subsequently sold to Bosch. Prior to the introduction of electronic fuel injection, it was extremely rare for a gasoline engine to be equipped with a fuel injection system.
The earliest fuel injection systems were generally reserved for use on exotic performance vehicles and racing. If a fuel injection system was present in a vehicle, it was most likely a low-pressure mechanical system lacking any advanced technology.
The Late 1950s: The V-8 changes everything
In 1957, Chevrolet introduced a mechanical fuel injection option for its 283 V-8 engine, made by General Motors' Rochester division. This system used a single central plunger to feed fuel to all eight cylinders in contrast to the Mercedes' individual plunger for each of the six cylinders. The 283 V-8 with mechanical fuel injection produced one horsepower per cubic inch, an impressive feat at the time.
The 1960s: Turbocharged engines begin
The 1960s brought about other mechanical injection systems such as the Hilborn fuel injector. Although these racing-derived systems were not suitable for everyday street use, they were used on modified American V-8 engines in various racing applications such as drag racing, oval racing and road racing.
In a very short time, every racing car would be 'turbocharged' with fuel injection technology. First used on the Volkswagen 411 in 1967, Bosch delivered an electronic fuel injection system called D-Jetronic.
The D-Jetronic system used all analog, discrete electronics and an electro-mechanical pressure sensor. The system was adopted by VW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Saab, Volvo and Jaguar.
Bosch replaced the D-Jetronic system with the L-Jetronic system. It was widely adopted on European cars of that period, as well as a few Japanese models a short time later. The L-Jetronic system first appeared on the 1974 Porsche 914.
The 1970s: Emissions and regulations
Studies of air pollution by various branches of United States federal, state and local governments ultimately attributed a significant portion of existing air pollution to the automobile. The limited local pollution regulations were gradually superseded with more comprehensive, more effective state and federal regulations.
In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and began to create and enforce emission regulations. Auto manufacturers were motivated by these regulations to address the emission issue, and the modern EFI system evolved to achieve deliberate control of the small fraction of unburned fuel.
The 1980s to today: Computers take control
Fuel injection systems became widespread with the introduction of electronically controlled fuel injection systems in the 1980s and the gradual tightening of automobile emissions controls and fuel economy laws.
The development of microprocessor technology made it possible to control the amount of fuel injected precisely. The introduction of digital microprocessor controls facilitated the integration of both the fuel control and the ignition control, with combined systems first appearing in 1982.
Driven predominantly by a need for cleaner emissions, car manufacturers were forced to give up the less-expensive carburetor for the more sophisticated, computer-controlled electronic fuel injection.
Better performance and improved fuel economy were added bonuses as electronic fuel injection provided a far more precise air and fuel mixture. Today, computers play a major role in just about every aspect of human existence. Yesterday's fuel injection components have little in common with their early beginnings.
Performance, Precision and Power
Through the use of sensors, injectors and computer control, today's modern electronic fuel injection system determines exactly how much fuel is necessary and adjusts for a wide range of operating conditions ranging from idling to rapidly accelerating.
Whether it's a leisurely drive or a high-stakes race, an automobile's engine is in a constant state of change. In addition to accelerating and braking, variations in ascending or descending the roadway are always present.
Electronic fuel injection can effectively keep up with and respond to the many changes a vehicle experiences. And in the world of performance engines, that perfect timing is everything.