By David M. Kinchen
Saab 96
Saab 96
The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday, June 3 that Ford has developed a three-cylinder engine for cars built and sold in the U.S. market, which I'm assuming will also include Canada  (Link: 

The new 1.0-liter "EcoBoost" three-banger is the smallest engine Ford has ever built and is patterned on the same power-plant  technology used in much bigger vehicles, including Ford's popular F-150 pickup truck
"Consumers are telling us they want to buy affordable vehicles that get many more miles per gallon," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of global product development. "Our new 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine will give consumers looking for hybrid-like fuel economy a new, more affordable choice."

The new engine is expected to deliver horsepower and torque outputs equivalent to or better than most 1.6 liter four-cylinder power plants, Kruzak said.

The only new three-cylinder car currently available in North America is the Smart fortwo, but three-cylinder cars are nothing new, having been manufactured by Volkswagen, Suzuki, Geo/Chevy Metro, Daihatsu, Daewoo  and European marques such as Peugeot, Audi, DKW and Wartburg which  made or still make three-cylinder diesel and gasoline engines.  

The three-cylinder car I'm most familiar with was my 1965 Saab 96 two-door sedan, powered by a three-cylinder, two-stroke gasoline engine of less than one-liter capacity: I think it was 850 cubic centimeters -- smaller than many motorcycle engines. As far as I know, the Saab was the only European two-stroke three-banger imported to the States, and when emission controls made two-stroke engines impossible to market in the 1967-68 period, they switched to four cylinders  for subsequent Saab 96s and later models.

My Saab looked like an old fashioned bathtub turned upside down and had plenty of power from the engine. The automatic oiling system was kaput, so I had to add oil to the gasoline, just like a lawnmower or outboard motor or my Bultaco motorcycle. Saab claimed the three-cylinder engine was the equivalent of a six-cylinder one because of the two-stroke design, but they were exaggerating.

 I got good value from the car, which I owned in the early 1970s in Milwaukee, buying it for a few hundred dollars and making a profit when I sold it. It was a front-wheel drive car like my 1971 Saab 99E, which used a conventional (four-stroke) four-cylinder engine made for Saab by Triumph of England. Back in the day, Saabs were the cars to beat in the brutal road rallies of Europe, including the Rallye Monte Carlo.

The Times story said that "more than a third of the cars U.S. consumers are buying from Ford and General Motors Co. so far this year are powered by four-cylinder engines. That's almost double what people bought from GM in 2008, and more than a 70% gain among Ford customers."

This is good news because smaller fuel-efficient engines are just what this gas-guzzling country needs to power its cars in an age of $4 a gallon gas. My current car is a 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser with a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine that is more than powerful enough for me. Since I just spent more than $1,000 on new sensors and other computer-control devices on the paid-for  PT, I'll be keeping it for many years.

Editor's Note: Dave Kinchen was auto editor for two years in the 1970s at The Milwaukee Sentinel, which he says were the two most favorite years of his journalism career. He was also real estate editor at the same time, enabling him to cover stories in dependable new (test) cars.