Next time you have the opportunity, examine what the components of a 4-stroke internal combustion engine look like.

It's beautiful. The cams, their elegant oblong shape machined to tolerances of thousandths of an inch.

The valves, shaped like the bell of some magnificent musical instrument. Indeed they are virtuosic. Their motion, from the gentle rotation of those sensually-shaped cams, has a romantic quality to it.

The piston itself, looking somehow forlorn outside of the cylinder, its sealing rings protruding awkwardly from the side, still has a kind of grandeur to it; "Yes, I make this machine move!" it boldly proclaims. In contrast to the gentle, precise curves of the valvegear, the piston head is scarred with the carbon from millions of explosions.

The cylinder wall, solid and noble, stoic even in the face of those same explosions.

Lower still, the crankshaft, somehow exuding a working-class attitude. "While y'all up there are screwin' around with hydrocarbon vapors, I'm down here doin' all the work!" the crank yells. It's right, of course.

Beautiful, isn't it?

More than that, I find the whole car beautiful. Look at it, sitting there. It seems so docile, quietly displacing the air in the parking deck.

But give it about fourteen seconds, and it could be doing upwards of a hundred miles per hour. Those little spark plugs you screwed in? They have hundreds of volts of electricity arcing across their contacts sixty times every second.

Doing that burns gasoline, which pushes down those pistons. And the pistons, via the connecting rods, turn the crankshaft at mind-warpingly fast rates. And that pulley on the end there? It's turning a belt that turns those beautiful camshafts and opens the valves to let the whole thing keep running.

That's real beauty. Look at the myriad things happening under the hood. The only reason they keep happening is because they're already happening. If the camshafts stopped turning, then the camshafts would not be able to turn. If the oil pump stopped pumping, then the engine would be destroyed, and without it, the oil pump would never turn again.

Granted, the car isn't much on its own. It only cost a few thousand dollars. It's just a few thousand pounds of steel, aluminum, rubber, glass, and cloth. But put a competent individual in the driver's seat, and you can count on it being capable of doing whatever it does.

It's like a work of art. Everything has its function, and it all performs it flawlessly, from the tires putting hundreds of thundering pounds of torque on the ground to the electrons firing off inside the engine control computer. It all meshes, like a Swiss watch.

But that watch isn't half as fast.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.