V6 engines have been offered in cars since the earliest days of automobile production. The V6 has been a popular choice for many types of cars and trucks since the 1960s. Today V6 engines are among the most produced and are designed and built by most major automakers.
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The Marmon Motor Car Company was one of the earliest pioneers of V6 engines. As part of a general progression towards engines with even greater power, Marmon built first a V2, then a V4, V6, V8, and finally a V16. In the early 1900s, Buick experimented with a design for a V6 but the engine was never used in any of its cars. V6 engines wouldn't find their way to mass market cars until the 1950s. General Motors designed a V6 engine with a 5 litre displacement for inclusion in some of its pickup trucks for the 1959 model year. In 1962, the Buick LeSabre became the first American production car to use a V6 engine. The engine was a 3.2 litre version of Buick's 3.5 litre V8, which was also offered in higher trim levels of the LeSabre. Soon other automakers were capitalising on Buick's success and offering V6 engines in a number of new and existing models.
Like all V engine designs, the V6 uses a single crankcase with two banks of cylinders attached. A common crankshaft is driven by all six cylinders. V6 engines are measured in terms of the angle at which the cylinders oppose one another. Many V6 engines use a 90-degree mount, while others use an acute angle for a more compact design. Since each side of a V6 contains an odd number of cylinders, the engine is not naturally balanced (while two cylinders fire on one side of the engine, only one cylinder fires in the opposing bank). Most V6 engines include a balance shaft to provide smoother operation. In cases where the engine is located at the front of the car, it can be positioned differently to provide front- or rear-wheel drive to the vehicle. For front-wheel drive, the V6 is mounted in a transverse manner, perpendicular to the length of the car. A longitudal mount, with the engine parallel to the length of the car, is used for rear-wheel drive.
One of the key advantages of a V6 engine is its relatively compact size. Although it is wider than an inline engine, a V6 is only three cylinders long, and shorter than an inline-4 cylinder engine. This is an important consideration when designing a new car, especially in cases where multiple engines will be offered and therefore will need to be mounted in the same amount of space. Due to their compact size, V6 engines are often the subject of turbocharging or supercharging. This is because they allow enough space in the engine compartment for the additional equipment to be installed. In many cases, V6 engines represent a compromise between low-cost, low-powered 4-cylinder engines and inefficient, heavy V8 engines.
As a compromise option, the V6 also had disadvantages in certain applications. In cases where fuel economy is of primary importance, the V6 is a less useful option than a 4- or even a 3-cylinder engine. The power potential of a V6 is also limited by its size, especially for automakers who prefer not to use turbochargers. Most high-end sports cars still use engines with 8 or more cylinders. The V6 engine is also more mechanically complex than an inline engine with 4 or 6 cylinders. This means there are more components to break down and repair may be more difficult. Much of this added complexity comes from the fact than a V6 engine is not balanced during operation, while inline-4 and V8 engines are.
Following Buick's bold use of a V6 engine in the 1962 LeSabre, automakers have found countless uses for V6 engines. Japanese automaker Nissan was among the first to devote itself to the production of V6 engines, which it used to power its sedans, Z-series sports cars, and even some racing models. Following the energy crisis of the 1970s, new federal standards required automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets. One quick way of doing this was to sell more cars with smaller engines, and V6s replaced many V8s. Today, V6 engines can be found in anything from entry-level compact cars to large pickup trucks and SUVs. Some sports cars and muscle cars, such as the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, offer V6 engines in their base models while reserving V8 engines for higher-end performance versions. In many mid-size cars, V6 engines are offered as an upgrade from a standard 4-cylinder engine.
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