With a his­tory of de­sign­ing such en­gines go­ing back to the 1920s and be­yond, you could be for­given for think­ing it was Fer­di­nand Porsche who pop­u­larised the ʻflatʼ or hor­i­zon­tally-op­posed engine lay­out. But youʼd be wrong. In a fas­ci­nat­ing look back at en

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Del­wyn Mal­lett Pho­tos: DM Ar­chives

Del­wyn Mal­let’s fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of the flat-four engine


Hereʼs a lit­tle test of your au­to­mo­tive knowl­edge. I re­cently passed a pleas­ant and fas­ci­nat­ing few hours driv­ing a 1952 Le­mans 24-Hours class­win­ning sports car aroundmy lo­cal coun­try lanes. De­signed by anaus­trian pro­fes­sor of en­gi­neer­ing re­spon­si­ble for the pre-wa­rauto Union Grand Prix cars, it was alu­minium-bod­ied, tor­sion bar sus­pended and pow­ered by a flat-four engine orig­i­nally froma fam­ily saloon – what was it? And no, it's not the Porsche Gmünd coupé that won its class that year – that would be too easy (although I am very will­ing to take it for a spin. Please con­tactme via this mag­a­zine), so try again.

Give up? Be­fore you rush to Google, it was a Jowett Jupiter R1. In terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the sim­i­lar­i­ties to a Porsche 356 are re­mark­able but the ex­e­cu­tion could not be more dis­sim­i­lar. The Jowett is a skimpy open skiff of a ma­chine, with its 1500cc wa­ter-cooled engine placed not in the tail but as far for­ward as pos­si­ble, ahead of its ra­di­a­tor and jut­ting be­yond the front wheels.

Those of you whose au­to­mo­tive in­ter­ests en­com­pass more than just Porsches may have guessed the an­swer, but few will ac­tu­ally be fa­mil­iar with the R1 as only three were built and later scrapped by the fac­tory when their rac­ing was done. This sur­vivor was res­cued by an em­ployee and re­assem­bled – sort of – be­fore find­ing its way into the hands of a friend who, over many years, re­stored it to its Le Mans spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

The 1950 race was the first time that a flat-four engine had com­peted at Le Mans and the 1951 event was the first oc­ca­sion that two flat-four petrol en­gines of dif­fer­ent makes had raced against each other. The 1953 race would be the last at which ri­val makes of flat-fours slogged it out.

Porsche-cen­tric souls are prone to think­ing that the good pro­fes­sor in­vented the flat-four engine when his team de­signed the Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle, but the hor­i­zon­tally-op­posed ʻbox­erʼ engine is vir­tu­ally as old as the mo­tor­car it­self.

At the turn of the cen­tury, the fu­ture of the horse­less car­riage was still far from cer­tain in terms of mo­tive power. Steam, elec­tric­ity and the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion engine were all in con­tention. Fer­di­nand Porsche was back­ing elec­tric power with his Lohner-porsche de­signs of 1900 to 1905 and, for those back­ing the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion engine, its con­fig­u­ra­tion was also far from set­tled.

Karl Benz patented the first Mo­tor­wa­gen in 1886, pow­ered by a ʻflat-sin­gleʼ – a hor­i­zon­tal sin­gle-cylin­der engine. A decade later Benz de­signed the first hor­i­zon­tally-op­posed in­ter­nal com­bus­tion engine, a wa­ter-cooled twin-cylin­der de­vice patented in 1896. Benz re­ferred to his twin as a ʻKon­tra-en­gineʼ, con­tra due to the fact that the op­posed pis­tons worked in con­trary mo­tion around the com­mon crankshaft. Ad­van­tages of the engine were its low pro­file and, as the cylin­ders were set at 180 de­grees to each other, the dy­namic masses were well bal­anced re­sult­ing in smooth run­ning.

Such en­gines of var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties were fit­ted to Benz au­tos and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles and in 1899 the Kon­tra engine, with its crankshaft set lon­gi­tu­di­nally in the chas­sis, was pow­er­ing the first pur­pose-built Benz racer – and, as it hap­pened, due to the en­gineʼs low pro­file it was rear en­gined, po­si­tioned un­der the driver and pas­sen­ger. In 1900 the engine gained an ex­tra two cylin­ders, cre­at­ing the worldʼs first flat-four. The 54440cc flat­four, still fit­ted over the rear wheels, pow­ered a rac­ing Benz – which, in­ci­den­tally, was the first Benz to fea­ture a steer­ing wheel on an in­clined col­umn – and was also the last Benz ʻflatʼ engine.

In France, Mors was not far be­hind Benz in pro­duc­ing a flat-twin. The 850cc Mors ʻPetit Ducʼ of 1899 fea­tured air-cooled bar­rels with wa­ter-cooled heads – some­thing that Porsche did­nʼt adopt un­til the late 1970s, once again prov­ing that thereʼs noth­ing new un­der the sun!

The first car de­signed en­tirely in Bri­tain, and in 1899 rather late out of the start­ing blocks, was the work of Fred­er­ick Lanch­ester and fea­tured a re­mark­able hor­i­zon­tally-op­posed 4033 cc engine in which each op­posed pis­ton car­ried two con­nect­ing rods cou­pled to two con­tra-ro­tat­ing crankshafts, re­sult­ing in a re­mark­ably smooth run­ning engine. Even more ex­tra­or­di­nary was that each cylin­der was ser­viced by only one valve, func­tion­ing as both in­let and ex­haust.

In 1901 an­other Bri­tish com­pany, Wil­son-pilcher, of­fered an ad­vanced front-en­gined ʻsi­lent and vi­bra­tionlessʼ wa­ter-cooled flat-four pow­ered car, com­ple­mented in 1904 with a flat-six op­tion. Just one ex­am­ple sur­vives, a four cylin­der.

In the USA Henry Ford was mak­ing his first ten­ta­tive steps on the way to be­com­ing an au­to­mo­tive gi­ant. His one-off ʻSweep­stakesʼ racer of 1901 had an op­posed-twin engine with a mas­sive 7-inch bore dis­plac­ing 593 cu­bic inches (9.7 litres!). Fordʼs first pro­duc­tion car, the 1903 Model A, was pow­ered by a flat-twin of 101 cu ins (1668 cc) and the fol­low up mod­els C and

F also had boxer en­gines but of slightly larger ca­pac­ity be­fore adopt­ing an in-line four in 1908 for the car that made Ford a leg­end, the Model T.

As the 20th cen­tury got un­der­way the front mounted, mul­ti­cylin­der, in-line or ʻVʼ engine soon be­came the norm in au­to­mo­biles and the flat-four boxer went into hi­ber­na­tion. How­ever, flat en­gines were well suited to use in air­craft and per­sist to this day. The first was used by Brazil­ian aero­nau­ti­cal pi­o­neer and su­per­star Al­berto San­tos-du­mont in 1909 in his ʻDe­moi­selleʼ se­ries of mono­planes which were pow­ered by both air-cooled and wa­ter-cooled twins. In time, the VW, the 356 and the 911 engine were all mod­i­fied for use in air­craft.

Brad­fordʼs Jowett broth­ers, black­smiths and in­tu­itive en­gi­neers, had am­bi­tions to build a bet­ter small car engine than those then avail­able and set up busi­ness in 1901. In 1910, after a few false starts, they launched a light car (cu­ri­ously out of date as it was steered by tiller, the last to be so guided) pow­ered by a torquey wa­ter-cooled 816cc flat­twin that would stay in pro­duc­tion un­til Jowett ceased car pro­duc­tion in 1953 when it was still pow­er­ing their ʻBrad­fordʼ vans – mak­ing it the long­est pro­duc­tion run of a Bri­tish engine.

Ob­vi­ously very much of the ʻif it ainʼt broke donʼt fix itʼ school, it was not un­til 1935 that Jowett added an ex­tra pair of cylin­ders, and an ex­tra car­bu­ret­tor, and in­creased ca­pac­ity to 1166cc. The four-cylin­der engine was in pro­duc­tion un­til the out­break of WWII but was not as pop­u­lar with con­ser­va­tive Jowett cus­tomers as the ven­er­a­ble twin.

The flat-four may have dropped out of favour in au­to­mo­biles but flat and V-twins pro­lif­er­ated through­out Europe be­fore and after WWI in light­weight cy­cle cars and mo­tor­cy­cles from lit­er­ally hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers, the Mor­gan three-wheeler, launched in 1909, be­ing one of the long­est lived. In the USA there were even flat-twin-pow­ered wash­ing ma­chines for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties with­out elec­tric­ity!

In Bri­tain, ABC (All Bri­tish engine Com­pany), Rover and Aerial were no­table for their flat-twin ma­chines, but the most in­flu­en­tial twin-cylin­der de­sign of the in­ter­war years was the Cze­choslo­vakian Ta­tra T11 in­tro­duced in 1923. This ground­break­ing de­sign was pow­ered by an air-cooled 1105cc engine mounted on the nose of its torque-tube spine chas­sis. A four-cylin­der ver­sion, the T30, fol­lowed in 1926, and rearengined pro­to­types in 1931/33, which con­tinue to stir pas­sions and con­tro­versy when dis­cussing the ges­ta­tion of the Bee­tle – but we wonʼt go there now.

Ta­tra launched a much more so­phis­ti­cated, aero­dy­namic and rear-en­gined saloon in 1936, the T97, (a smaller ver­sion of their V8 T87) pow­ered by an air­cooled 1.8 litre flat-four engine de­rived from the 3litre V8. The T97 was short­lived due to the war and Cze­choslo­vakia's an­nex­a­tion but Ta­tra in­tro­duced an up­dated ver­sion, the T600 or 'Ta­tra­plan' in 1948 with a new 1952cc flat-four air­cooled engine – with a cast alu­minium fan hous­ing that could be mis­taken for that of a 911. In­ci­den­tally, the ʻotherʼ ma­jor Czech man­u­fac­turer, Skoda, built an ad­vanced one-off stream­lined saloon in 1935, with a flat-four engine mounted ahead of the rear transaxle.

Although lit­tle known in Bri­tain, the in­flu­ence of the Ta­tra T11 and four-cylin­der T30 should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Hans Led­winka, the highly re­spected chief de­signer of Ta­tra, was a con­tem­po­rary of Porsche and much ad­mired by Hitler who cited the lit­tle Ta­tras as in­spi­ra­tion for his own 'peo­pleʼs car'.

With the idea of a ʻVolk­swa­genʼ be­com­ing an ob­ses­sion in the Ger­man-speak­ing coun­tries, Aus­trian com­pany, Steyr, in­tro­duced their own ʻpeo­pleʼs carʼ in 1935, the pretty, stream­lined, Type 50 ʻBabyʼ, pow­ered by a front-mounted 984cc flat-four, wa­ter-cooled engine. 13,000 were built be­fore WWII ended pro­duc­tion.


Flat-four en­gines were once again gain­ing favour with the en­gi­neers of mid­dle-europe, but it was by no means cer­tain that the VW – and sub­se­quently the first Porsches – would fol­low that route. For quite some time the Prof favoured a two-stroke ver­ti­cal twin with dou­ble pis­tons in each cylin­der. A flat-twin was also a front run­ner, as was a three-cylin­der ra­dial two-stroke (Porsche's 1931/32 Zun­dapp pro­toype had used a 5-cylin­der ra­dial) – even a diesel was tested.

It was not un­til late in the de­sign evo­lu­tion that the ʻnew boyʼ at Porsche, Franz Xaver Reim­spiess, took an­other look at a four-cylin­der boxer and laid out the engine that pow­ered the Bee­tle and even­tu­ally the Porsche sports car to their ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess. (as an aside, Reim­spiess also de­signed the VW logo.)

Dur­ing WWII Jowett, now un­der new man­age­ment, hired Ger­ald Palmer, a promis­ing young de­signer, gave him a clean sheet of pa­per and more-or-less said 'sur­prise us'. Palmer came up trumps, pro­duc­ing the fast­back Javelin saloon. Launched in 1947 the Javelin, de­spite ini­tial re­li­a­bil­ity prob­lems with the engine, was a sen­sa­tion, praised by the mo­tor­ing press for its out­stand­ing ride and han­dling, as well its looks.

Palmer chose the flat-four con­fig­u­ra­tion for his engine, al­most cer­tainly in def­er­ence to Jowett's le­gacy in the 'flat' tra­di­tion but also due to its ad­van­tages in smooth­ness of op­er­a­tion and low cen­tre of grav­ity. De­spite the engine be­ing well up in the bow and in the airstream Palmer chose to wa­ter­cool the engine, again, as Jowett's twin was so cooled. (Alec Is­sigo­nis, work­ing at Mor­ris Mo­tors Ltd on the soon to be launched Mor­ris Mi­nor, had also spec­i­fied a flat-four engine but it was ve­toed by the man­age­ment for cost rea­sons.)

The mer­its of the Javelin were demon­strated by a sen­sa­tional class win in the 1949 Spa 24-Hours race and the team prize in the Monte Carlo Ral­lye, which prompted Jowett to build what would be­come the Jupiter two-seater sports ver­sion. Ger­ald Palmer had left the com­pany by this time and through a con­vo­luted chain of con­nec­tions and as­pi­ra­tions Jowett en­tered into col­lab­o­ra­tion with ERA (English Rac­ing Au­to­mo­biles) to build the pro­posed and as yet to be de­signed car, and this is where Pro­fes­sor Eberan von Eber­horst en­ters the frame.

Although Fer­di­nand Porscheʼs team had, in 1933, de­signed the V16 Auto Union Grand Prix car, it was not to be built in Stuttgart but at the Horch works, part of the Auto Union con­glom­er­ate, 400kms away in Zwickau, Sax­ony. Horch had to cre­ate a rac­ing depart­ment from scratch and Pro­fes­sor Porsche rec­om­mended Aus­trian en­gi­neer Eberan von Eber­horst should be in charge. Von Eber­horst re­mained at Horch un­til the war and was re­spon­si­ble, after Porscheʼs con­tract ex­pired, for the new 3litre for­mula V12 Type D of 1938.

Flee­ing the Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion at the end of the war, von Eber­horst ar­rived in Gmünd in time to try 356/01, the mid-

en­gined, space-framed road­ster that was the first to carry the Porsche name – and he was might­ily im­pressed that the hum­ble Volk­swa­gen parts could pro­duce such a dy­namic ve­hi­cle.

Porsche was also work­ing on a Grand Prix project (in ef­fect a 1500cc mini-auto Union) for Ital­ian com­pany, Cisi­talia, and Ferry Porsche en­gaged von Eber­horst as a con­sul­tant. By 1949 the Cisi­talia project had stalled and von Eber­horst was tracked down and in­vited to join the ERA team and de­sign a new chas­sis for the up­com­ing Jupiter.

To ac­com­mo­date the Javelin engine and tor­sion bar sus­pen­sion, von Eber­horst cre­ated a large di­am­e­ter tubu­lar chas­sis not dis­sim­i­lar to the Auto Unionʼs. Even be­fore a car was com­pleted the new Jupiter Jowett, as it was ini­tially named, was en­tered in the 1950 Le Mans 24-Hours – then still by far the most im­por­tant as well as the most test­ing race in Europe, if not the world.

The com­pa­nyʼs gam­ble paid off when it won the up to 1500cc class. Sixty cars started, of which just 29 fin­ished, with the Jowett clas­si­fied 16th. Places 21 to 29 were all in the 750cc class, first of which was a Czech flat-twin Aero Mi­nor fol­lowed by five flat-twin Pan­hards and two Re­nault 4CVS.

The 1950 event also fea­tured the first mid-en­gined racer to com­pete there, a rather un­gainly 5-litre M.A.P. (Man­u­fac­ture dʼarmes de Paris) diesel-pow­ered road­ster. The engine was a su­per­charged flat-four 2-stroke with two op­posed pis­tons shar­ing each of the four cylin­ders – it failed on lap 39.

Encouraged by their un­ex­pected suc­cess first time out, Jowett built the skimpily-clad light­weight R1 for the ʼ51 race. It failed to fin­ish, break­ing its crank on lap 19, but an­other stan­dard bod­ied but light­ened Jupiter again won its class, tour­ing to the fin­ish after all of the very rapid Gor­di­nis ex­pired. The 1951 race was sig­nif­i­cant in that it saw the re­turn of Ger­many to in­ter­na­tional rac­ing and Porscheʼs ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mit­ment to the 24-Hours, and a two-decade long quest for out­right vic­tory. Omi­nously for Jowett, the 1100cc Porsche, run­ning in the class be­low, fin­ished seven laps ahead of the Jowett and a 750cc Pan­hard-pow­ered DB came home three laps ahead.

Shoot­ing for a hat trick, three R1s were built for the 1952 race. Porsche also brought three cars to the event, two run­ning in the 1100cc class and the third, with a new 1500c engine in the same class as Jowett. Two Jowetts failed but the third car, as all of its im­me­di­ate com­pe­ti­tion fell by the way­side, again cruised to a class vic­tory.

Porsche suf­fered sim­i­larly, one of the smaller ca­pac­ity cars re­tir­ing after six-hours, and the 1500cc car, when it was com­fort­ably lead­ing its class and many laps ahead of the R1, was dis­qual­i­fied in the 19th hour for keep­ing the engine run­ning dur­ing a re­fu­el­ing stop. Jowett was also out­run by an 850cc flat­twin Dyna-pan­hard in the ʻmo­bile chi­caneʼ class! (How­ever, this should not de­tract from the fact that ac­tu­ally fin­ish­ing the race was in it­self an achieve­ment – in 1951 32 cars failed to fin­ish, and in 1952 41 cars failed.)

Whereas in any other race the win­ner is the first to cross the fin­ish line and re­warded fit­tingly, at Le Mans, in a man­ner that only the French could con­coct, by far the big­gest prize money was awarded to the win­ner of the ʻIn­dex of Per­for­mance' – which meant that, for in­stance, in 1951 a French 614cc flat-twin Monopole which came home 23rd of 28 fin­ish­ers and 73 laps be­hind the win­ning Jaguar C-type took home more in prize

money! By 1952 san­ity pre­vailed and the prize money be­came the same for the over­all and In­dex win­ners.

Run­ning into fi­nan­cial trou­ble and lack­ing the re­sources to de­velop a new car, Jowett aban­doned rac­ing while on a high and only two years later ceased car pro­duc­tion.

The en­gi­neers at Porsche were only too aware of the lim­ited po­ten­tial of the Vw-based engine and, hav­ing com­mit­ted the com­pany to rac­ing as a way of gain­ing pub­lic­ity and sales, Ferry Porsche com­mis­sioned a new engine from his team. The man tasked with the job was Ernst Furhmann. Us­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence gained work­ing on the flat-12 Cisi­talia engine, Furhmann de­signed a dou­ble-over­head-cam engine, us­ing shafts and bevel gears to op­er­ate the camshafts. Re­quir­ing a watch­mak­erʼs pre­ci­sion to set up but when done prop­erly fa­mously re­li­able in use, it was des­tined to be­come one of the great race en­gines of all time.

Given work num­ber 547 it would soon be known sim­ply as the ʻCar­reraʼ engine and from its first ap­pear­ance in 1953 would power Porscheʼs gi­ant-killer rac­ers for the fol­low­ing decade.

The last 356 ran at Le Mans in 1957, a pri­vately-en­tered Car­rera Speed­ster, which failed to fin­ish. The last flat-four Porsches to run in the event were a quar­tet of pri­vately-en­tered 2-litre 904s in 1965, by which time the fac­tory 904s were run­ning six- and eight-cylin­der en­gines.

Post-war aus­ter­ity had prompted a Euro­pean resur­gence in small ca­pac­ity en­gines. Citroen launched its own peo­pleʼs car, the 2CV ʻTin Snailʼ. Con­ceived be­fore WWII in­ter­vened, it fea­tured a clev­erly de­signed but some­what fee­ble 375cc air­cooled flat-twin. The engine would, in var­i­ous en­larged forms, power sev­eral Citroen vari­ants through the 1950s and ʼ60s.

Pioneer­ing French mar­que, Pan­hard, hith­erto a builder of lux­ury cars, now threw all of its ef­fort into light­weight aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient small ca­pac­ity cars, at first pow­ered by a 610cc flat-twin, later en­larged to 850cc. Glas, DAF, BMW and Steyr would also pro­duce small flat-twin-pow­ered cars in the 1950s.

The 1957 Steyr-puch used a Fiat 500 body sup­plied un­der li­cence but pow­ered by its own flat-twin de­vel­oped by Erich Led­winka, son of the pre-war Ta­tra de­signer. Start­ing at 493cc and 16bhp by 1964 the engine had been en­larged to 660cc and the hot rac­ing ver­sions were push­ing out up to 60bhp. In the hands of Pol­ish rally ace, So­bies­law Zasada, the po­tent Puch even won the 1966 Group II Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship, be­com­ing (and re­main­ing) the small­est ca­pac­ity car to do so.

A French ʻmight-have-beenʼ lux­ury car of ad­vanced de­sign was the 1950 Hotchkiss-gré­goire of which fewer than 250 were made be­fore pro­duc­tion ceased in 1954. The chas­sis and much of the run­ning gear was com­posed of alu­minium cast­ings and it was pow­ered by a 2180cc wa­ter-cooled flat-four engine driv­ing the front wheels. Citroen in­tended their mag­nif­i­cent and revo­lu­tion­ary DS, in­tro­duced in 1955, to be pow­ered by a flat-six air-cooled engine, but sadly, although pro­to­types were tested, it

had to make do with the ex­ist­ing in-line four-pot engine from the Trac­tion Avant.

In Bri­tain AC Cars spent more money than they could af­ford build­ing, with­out suc­cess, pro­to­type flat-four and flat­six en­gines de­signed by their Pol­ish ex-aero en­gi­neer Zdzis­law Mar­czewiski.

Ir­ish-born trac­tor mogul Harry Fer­gu­son de­voted much ef­fort in the late 1950s de­vel­op­ing an ad­vanced 4-wheel drive car that fea­tured anti-lock brakes and a belt-driven SOHC 2.2 litre flat-four engine. He died in 1960 but his com­pany con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment and the R5 was first shown in 1965. It was not pretty but tech­ni­cally way ahead of its day and went much bet­ter than it looked. Subaru launched its first 4WD box­erengined car, the Leon, in 1971.

In the US Pre­ston Tucker made a bid for au­to­mo­tive fame in 1948 with his Tucker 48 sedan – the 'car of the fu­ture'. Tucker's own engine ran into de­sign prob­lems so he bought-in a Franklin flat­six air-cooled engine most com­monly used in he­li­copters and some­what in­ex­pli­ca­bly then set about turn­ing it into a wa­ter-cooled mo­tor. Even­tu­ally only 51 Tuck­ers were built.

To­wards the end of the 1950s Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers be­gan to think small(er) to counter the Euro­pean im­ports. The most rad­i­cal amongst the ʻcom­pactsʼ was the 1960 Chevro­let Cor­vair, the na­tion's first and only air-cooled, rear-en­gined car. The six­cylin­der, alu­minium engine was se­cretly road-tested in con­verted Porsche 356s (see Clas­sic Porsche #37). The first six-cylin­der Porsche road car? In 1962 the 150hp Cor­vair Spy­der tur­bocharged op­tion be­came avail­able.

Un­doubtably prompted by the suc­cess of the Bee­tle, and Porsche, there was a re­nais­sance in the flat-four con­fig­u­ra­tion. Lan­cia in­tro­duced its alu­minium 1500c wa­ter-cooled engine in the Flavia in 1960, vari­ants of which would be pro­duced un­til the mid 1980s. Euro­pean Car of the Year in 1971 was the tech­ni­cally ad­vanced Citroen GS, pow­ered by an all-new 1015cc four-cylin­der ohc air-cooled boxer engine.

An­other ex­cep­tional boxer-pow­ered car to hit the high­way in 1971 was the Alfa Sud, de­signed by ex-porsche en­gi­neer, Ru­dolf Hruska. Born in Vi­enna in 1915, Hruska was yet an­other of Porsche's Aus­trian en­gi­neers, join­ing the con­sul­tancy in 1938 where he stayed un­til the end of the war. Hruska then moved to Turin where, along with Carlo Abarth and von Eber­horst, he was in­volved with Piero Du­sioʼs Cisi­talia project, li­ais­ing with Porsche, still then based in Gmünd. After Du­sio pulled the plug on the Cisi­talia ef­fort, Hruska worked for Alfa Romeo, Simca and FIAT be­fore, in 1967, be­ing of­fered the chance to de­sign Al­faʼs first fwd car. The re­sult­ing Sud fea­tured an 1186cc OHC boxer engine (later it grew to 1490cc) that would hap­pily spin to 7000rpm, pro­vided rev­e­la­tory han­dling and was one of the great cars of the ʻhot hatchʼ era.

By the late 1960s, Porsche was a flat-six com­pany as far as its road cars were con­cerned but was forced by mar­ket­ing cir­cum­stances to lend its name to the Vw-pow­ered 2.0-litre 914. In 1976 Porsche in­tro­duced the 912E as an en­try-level model for the Amer­i­can mar­ket us­ing the same VW engine but it was short-lived and after a few months it too went out of pro­duc­tion.

The Bee­tle it­self re­fused to die, be­com­ing a liv­ing fos­sil, un­til the fi­nal one rolled off the Mex­ico pro­duc­tion line in 2003. Since then it has been left to Subaru to up­hold the tra­di­tion of the four-cylin­der boxer engine but in re­cent times Porsche re­turned, some­what con­tro­ver­sially, to the flat-four arena with the tur­bocharged Cay­man 718. CP


Op­po­site: Le Mans 1952 – a pair of Jowett Jupiter R1s (#46 and 64) sand­wich an Osca as they chase after the Porsche 356SL of Lachaize and Martin. Both Jowetts were pow­ered by flat-four wa­ter-cooled en­ginesBe­low left: 1877 Benz engine from which the ‘hor­i­zon­tal sin­gle’ engine for the first mo­tor car was de­vel­opedBe­low right: In 1896, Benz patented this wa­ter-cooled hori­zonatlly-op­posed twin, called the ‘Kon­tra-engine’

Above: The 850cc Mors ‘Pe­tit Duc’ of 1899 fea­tured air-cooled cylin­ders with wa­ter-cooled heads – rather like Porsche’s race en­gines of the late 1970s and ’80s!

Be­low left: Ford’s ‘Sweep­stake’ engine was a flat-twin dis­plac­ing 9.7 litres!Be­low right: Ford’s first pro­duc­tion engine was this 1668cc flat-twin of 1903

Above left: Bizarre in the ex­treme, the 4033cc Lanch­ester engine in which each op­posed pis­ton car­ried two con­nect­ing rods cou­pled to two con­tra-ro­tat­ing crankshafts…Above right: In 1901, Wil­sonPilcher of­fered an ad­vanced front-en­gined ‘silent and vi­bra­tion­less’ wa­ter-cooled flat-four pow­ered car. This was joined in 1904 by a sim­i­lar flat-six (see bot­tom right pho­to­graph)

Be­low left: 1952cc flat-four engine used in the 1949 Ta­tra­plan saloon. Cool­ing sys­tem is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to that of the 911!Be­low right: Steyr used this wa­ter-cooled 984cc flat-four in its own ver­sion of the peo­ple’s car in 1935

Above left: Pre-war Jowett was pow­ered by a flat-four, dis­plac­ing 1166cc. Oddly, it did not prove as pop­u­lar as the older 816cc flat-twin, which re­mained in pro­duc­tion un­til 1953!Above right: The post-war ver­sion of the Jowett ‘four’ as used in the Javelin

Above left: AC Cars also got in on the act, spend­ing money they could ill af­ford on de­vel­op­ing a wa­ter­cooled flat-six engineAbove right: French twin­cylin­der Mathis VL333 fea­tured wa­ter-cool­ing, with in­di­vid­ual ra­di­a­tors for each bar­rel and head

Be­low left: The V1 pro­to­type that ul­ti­mately led to the VW Bee­tle was pow­ered by a flat-twin air-cooled engineBe­low right: A com­plete con­trast in ev­ery re­spect, Citroen’s flat-four wa­ter­cooled GS engine of 1971 fea­tured over­head camshafts

Be­low: One of the finest, most free-revving flat fours of mod­ern times was the 1186cc Alfa Sud engine (it later grew in size to 1490cc). It was de­signed by Ru­dolf Hruska, an ex-porsche en­gi­neer who had worked on the post-war Cisi­talia project, among oth­ers

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