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The Horizontal Revolution

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1154
  • Category: Porsche

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Common engine architectures include the V-type and incline engines, but the most unique of the three is the horizontally opposed engine. The horizontally opposed engine, also known as the boxer engine, is the only engine that has pistons that move from side-to-side and give the engine a flat look. The boxer engine has an uneventful past, a rich present and bright future. The original design for the boxer engine comes from Carl Benz in 1896 (Hendriks, 2006). The concept for the engine was scarcely used until just between the two world wars. The boxer twin started off being produced for motorcycles by companies like BMW, CZ, Harley and Honda. Shortly after World War II, Ferdinand Porsche released the KDF (the original VW Beetle), which was based on the NSU and Mercedes Benz prototype. Common cars that used the flat engine design were: The Chevrolet Corvair, Porsche 914, Porsche 911 and the Subaru Impreza (Hendriks, 2006). The flat engine was first used in motorcycles during the time of World War II. In 1923 BMW released its first motorcycle, the R32, with a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder engine (BMW Motorrad, para 2).

This engine architecture was used by many motorcycles after the R32’s release. In fact, many aircraft still use a horizontally opposed engine to power their propellers. One of the most spectacular things about the boxer engine is its design. Unlike any other internal combustion engine, the pistons lie horizontally opposed with the cylinders on the left and right side of the block. This allows boxer engines to run perfectly smooth and free of vibrations with a four-stroke cycle, regardless of how many cylinders it may have. Considering all of this, the balance of the flat engine is what has made it so popular amongst sports cars. Each piston’s movement is exactly counterbalanced by the corresponding piston movement of the opposite side (Subaru of America, 2012). Since the engine is low and wide it allows the vehicle to have better stability and control. Unfortunately this wide design makes the engine much harder to work on and service, which is why most vehicles don’t use this glorious engine. There are some companies like Subaru and Porsche that use the boxer engine frequently. Porsche uses the engine in their 911’s for balance and performance. Subaru, on the other hand, uses the boxer engine on every single one of their vehicles. Subaru is the only company to produce vehicles with only the Subaru Boxer engine as the power plant.

While Porsche uses the flat-6 to power the rear wheels of their 911’s, Subaru uses the flat engines to power their all-wheel drive system. Thanks to Subaru’s rich rally history the boxer engine became a huge success. Subaru has a fantastic rally history. In 1993 Impreza took over from the Legacy in the World Rally Championship. The Impreza managed a second place finish on its debut event, but it wasn’t until halfway through 1994 when the Impreza won its first event. 1995 was probably the most stunning season for Subaru. An article on Rallye-Info.com entitled “Subaru Manufacturer Profile & Rally History” summarizes Subaru’s rally season: The season started off with a Monte Carlo win for Carlos Sainz. With two events to go Subaru was still 3rd out of 4 manufacturers entered in the WRC. But on that penultimate event Toyota was disqualified from the entire season and Subaru managed podium lock outs on both the last events of the year. (www.rallye-info.com, 5) I believe that if it weren’t for these teams being disqualified Subaru wouldn’t have had such a successful rally career.

This would have affected Subaru as a company and drastically decreased their sales and popularity over the years. Subaru won their first makes WRC title and followed this up with two more titles ahead of Ford and Mitsubishi. Subaru’s 3rd makes title happened in the new WRCar era, however before this era had a chance to improve competition.(www.rallye-info.com, 5) Since there were only four rally teams during that time it was easy for Subaru to stand out. This season put Subaru on the map in my opinion. The world rally blue color option was Subaru’s top selling due to the success and popularity of their rally team. Because of this every Subaru fan can instantly recognize the famous gold and blue Subaru rally colors.

The way I see it, the boxer engine can only go forward from here both in popularity and in performance. Subaru has recently announced a third generation of their boxer engine that is said to be more fuel efficient to compensate for a fuel-efficient-focused world. The engine will run cooler while still making more horsepower (Subaru of America, 2012). I believe this update was very necessary considering that the last generation was introduced in 1989.

Automotive companies like Subaru, Scion and Toyota have only recently released a new model of car using the boxer engine. These three cars are said to be for the car enthusiast and encourage buyers to modify them. I believe this is only the beginning of a sports car boxer revolution. Other car companies may see what success Scion and Toyota have with venturing out and trying the horizontal design in their own vehicles and try to do the same. Scion advertises their FR-S to be a fun-to-drive sports car. These cars are focused not on power, but balance and so the boxer engine was the perfect implementation of this. Subaru has announced that they will be releasing a performance version of their model, the BRZ. I believe things are looking up for the engine and I hope to see a lot more of it in the future.

As previously stated, the boxer engine’s biggest weakness is its difficulty to work on. Hopefully with the new generation of enthusiast driver cars using the horizontally opposed engine this will make dealerships and mechanic shops more accustom to working on them. This will hopefully bring repair prices down, as this type of engine becomes more popular.

With all of its uniqueness and engineering glory, the boxer engine has an eventful past, a vivid present and a bright future. I can only hope that the world comes to appreciate this engine as much as I do. It sounds great, feels great, and most of all it is dependable and hard-working. Live on boxer engine, live on.


Hendriks, H. (May 2006). The history of the flat or boxer engine. Tales of Toy Cars. IX (3). Retrieved from http://www.breithaupts.com/totc615.htm Subaru of America,Inc. (2012). Subaru boxer engine. flat. smooth. smart. Retrieved from http://www.subaru.com/engineering/boxer-engine.html

Subaru of America,Inc. (2012). Technicians reference booklet: Boxer engine series module. Retrieved from http://manualov.net/Subaru/Subaru3.pdf Subaru Boxer Engine. (n.d.). Subaru of Keene. Retrieved from http://www.subaruofkeene.com/subaru-boxer-engine.htm

Flat Engine. (n.d.). Fixed Reference. Retrieved from
Subaru Manufacturer Profile & Rally History, (n.d). Ralleye-Info. Retrieved from http://www.rallye-info.com/carmake_profile.asp?make=9
BMW Motorrad. (n.d.). Europe’s Oldest Existing Manufacturer. Retrieved from

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