Well? Why do American car manufacturers feel the need to put fit their cars with engines so huge as to be considered insane by British drivers? There is a reason of course. It's simple. The engine has to be huge because the car is also ENORMOUS. 5 litre engines are necessary when driving 4 meter long cars weighing over 3 tons.

In the UK no-one would buy such a car. No-one could aford to run it. Petrol (Gas) prices in England include over 70% tax. In the US, fuel costs <insert small number> cents per gallon, while in the UK, we pay <insert larger number> pence per litre. British drivers pay so much for fuel that it woud simply be impractical to run any more than a 2 litre engine. Most people talk about "one-point-something" as their engine size, and cars are physically so much smaller that the power:weight ratio is similar anyway.

Where would I rather live? The US. But I wouldn't drive a huge car. I'd run something small and enjoy the saving.

I'm not sure when you were in the US last but gas is about $2.00 per gallon here in California now. and Detroit hasn't made many cars over about 2 tons in quite a while. In fact, the majority of US cars are actually Japanese in design and are assembled here in the US.

see geo metro, ford aspire, or yugo.

the 5 liter engine you are most likely talking about is in Ford cars like the Mustang or a different version in the pickup trucks it makes, which are both made in Canada now. The Mustang is a performance car, where the european designers went for more cylinders and higher RPM to make more horsepower in high RPM ranges. The US designers tended toward 8 cylinders and big displacements to make horsepower in low RPM ranges.

Status in the US in the 1950's 1960's and 1970's meant you had a car as big as a whale that could seat about 20 and it got 3 gallons per mile. Because back then you actually *could* get gas for pennies a gallon. So it's still the case here in the US to see people who are well off buy big cars because that's what dad did, when he could afford it he bought a Cadillac land yacht and then he was riding in style. Although any more you see a lot of mazda miatas, Porsche Boxsters, and BMW Z3s running around

Personally I'd take a 3000 pound Mustang with a Cobra 4.6 liter in it over any of those any day.

Update:

SUV's are trucks, they are built on truck frames and use truck engines, and therefore are not counted as cars. As you see lots of big trucks anywhere I doubt the original poster was talking about trucks. Obviously trucks have plenty of reasons to be big and have lots of power. Carrying stuff for one, status aside. Also I forgot to mention that England has its own group of big cars the Rolls Royce for example. For the record I live in the bay area and yes you do see lots of SUVs.... the miserable bastards. I have a sneaking suspicion that my death will be because of a road raged dumb fuck driving an SUV that rolled his status symbol over my transportation. And as SUV's are only dangerous to those not driving SUV's He will probably survive.
None of y'all know the REAL meaning of a "huge US car engine". Try my last (and only) car, a 1976 Lincoln Continental 2-door land yacht with a 7.5L V-8 (460 cubic inches), and a curb weight of just over 6,700 lbs. It got about six miles to the gallon while I drove it (US$45 or so to fill up the 25-gallon tank, for a paltry 200 mile range), and measured over 19.5' (~6.5m) in length.

For comparison, that V-8 is five times the size of my friend's Ford Escort's engine. But as TallRoo pointed out, the power-to-weight ratio of these two cars is probably quite similar; 385 lb-ft of torque can only do so much to move a gunboat like that old Lincoln. The difference is that in the Escort the engine whines incessantly on its way up to 90mph; in the Lincoln, that big-block purred at 90. Of course, I was scared to take the car past that speed because of the completely shot front suspension alignment, which caused a scary lack of stability anywhere past 65 mph...

At this very moment, my good friend is putting the finishing touches on that engine, newly rebuilt and modified along with its attendant C6 transmission, in order to do a "custom install" into his 1973 Mercury Montego sedan...Update 9/12/01 The transplant is complete...but the stock transmission is severely lacking, and will have to be replaced with a truck unit.

Having a huge engine is a status thing, I believe. Almost every kid wants some huge Detroit iron with an engine big enough to fry a chicken over every cylinder. In small towns, when there was nothing to do, you could always get a bunch of yahoos together and have a race (until the police showed up).

I used to have a Pontiac GTO with a 350 engine and a full race cam. It sounded like it was going to stall all the time, but it was monsterously fast. The fastest I ever went was better than 150 miles per hour on a lonely Texas highway. Thank God there were no suicidal armadillos that day.

When you're a kid, you have to "one-upsmanship" the other guy. Showing up with an economical car would get you laughed at. The only thing you would be good for was to make the beer run.

When you get older, economics and family expenses kill your need for speed. All of the guys I would race with would never even think of speeding around with their kid in the car. Detroit muscle gets replaced with Japanese aluminum, fastback Mustangs get sold to other kids for Toyota station wagons or hatchbacks.

I still drive that killer GTO in my dreams, though.

Every one seems to have missed the real point here. Americans need bigger cars and bigger engines because we drive around on such an enormous land mass. Britian is tiny.

If I were to somehow transport my 1972 Monte Carlo to the isle, I'm sure that slamming the accelerator to the floor would plunge me into the ocean almost before I could apply the brakes. In the states, I need that kind of power and speed to propel me to work in as short a period of time as possible.

I rely on my 7.9 liter V8 to jockey for position between street lights and to merge onto Las Vegas highways. It's a war over here, and if you ain't got the displacement then you're road kill.

British cars are cute though, and I'm sure they have their uses. I wouldn't mind having one. I could keep it in my trunk (boot) and use it drive from my parking space to my office.

The reason American cars have such huge engines begins with the nature of America itself. First of all, America is a large country, rich in natural resources. As strange is this may seem today in the era of OPEC it should be remembered that America spent the first half of the Twentieth Centrury as a net exporter of petroleum. Petroleum exploitation began in the hills of Pennsylvania and later in Texas. That explains why US oil companies are everywhere. The American automobile industry sprang up in a climate not far unlike that of the Gulf States. Once people get used to low prices for something it becomes a political problem when that luxury goes away.

The fact that America retains substantial domestic oil reserves and domestic production of its own makes the U.S. less vulnerable than it might be to oil price shocks. America is still vulnerable, but what hits the US is felt by everyone. The perception of vulnerability is simply not so strong as elsewhere, and probably not as strong as it ought to be.

Second, America is a big, new country with a rather small population. If you look at a world population density grid you will see that even in the relatively populous states east of the Mississippi River, the U.S. population rarely exceeds 25 or 50 per square kilometer. In Europe 250 to 500 is more typical. in some highly urbanized parts of the world the number may exceed 1,000 per square kilometer. Such numbers are atypical in America, except perhaps in New York City. Because American cities had room to grow, they grow out rather than up, and expansion includes planning for traffic.

The youth of America affected how our cities grew.. Few American cities are over 300 years old. I have seen graves in Amiens, France older than Jamestown. Europe and Japan have significant historical and architectural legacies stretching back to medieval times. They have also had more wars. Cities were often fortified for protection from bandits and armies so late as the Thirty Years War. History has left much of Europe with exceptionally narrow streets that are challenging to navigate in a Ford Focus, much less a Cadillac Fleetwood. Some American alleys would be streets in Europe. Many American cities were small towns when Henry Ford introduced the Model T. We grew up around the car, not the knight.

Simply put, we have more space than Europe and that leaves more space for parking, wider roads, and more travel lanes with less sacrifice. This greater space means that there is more space to absorb the pollution from a single vehicle, making problems less marked. This means there is less incentive to address them, particularly when such actions would affect the luxuries Americans are used to. it is politically very diffiuclt to advocate conservation without an apparent crisis, such as in 1973 and 1978.

With wide streets, plenty of parking and cheap gas combined with low population density it's easy to see why American cars and motors are large.

Tax policy also contributed to the relative size of America cars. America has very low fuel taxation compared to Europe or Japan. The fuel taxes collected fund highway construction. This is not an accident. When automobiles were first developed, all car engines were big. They had to be, as early internal combustion engines weren't terribly efficient. And in the early days of the automobile, when cars were a luxury item, there was no real social costs associated with what were curiosities.

But at the end of World War II many things changed. Europe and Japan were devastated, America was not. Exporting the tooling required to rebuild a war-stricken world earned the average blue collar worker a good living. But Europe was faced with rebuliding. Heavy petroleum imports would suck away funds better used for the reconstruction And if Europeans drove cars so often as Americans congestion would overwhelm the continent. America, with all its space, still produces some monumental traffic jams. If Europeans drove like we do, the continent would become a parking lot.

So a tax structure was crafted to discourage that sort of consumption. Fuel taxes were kept high as automobiles were treated as a luxury. From the point of view of European governments, the benefits in reduced fuel consumptions was matched by a steady source of income they desperately needed. America has some luxury taxes, but they are minimal and a one time event. In many countries, cars were taxed annually, and the amount of the tax increases with engine size. For example, in France cars were taxed according to the number of "cheval" (horses, or horsepower), which is why France's most enduring car is called the "deux chevaux". Other taxes varied according to literal displacement. If the tax increases substantially above 2.0 liters, then a lot of cars will have 2.0 liter engines. Displacement restrictions also encourage car makers to develop very high tech, multi-cam engines that rev high, because that is the only way to get more power out of a fixed displacement. in America, designers were always free to simply increase the size of the hammer. And the sledgehammer approach really works. then and now. In 1950 Brooks Cunningham bought a Cadillac Deville, added an extra carburetor, signed up Miles and Sam Collier to drive it, and finished ninth at Le Mans. Today the Dodge Viper and Z06 Corvette regularly outrun cars that cost more than double their price.

Without tax, economy or regulatory reasons to limit the size of American car engines, the industry incentive to go to smaller motors was zero. Big motors are fun. Small motors can produce real power, but only at high RPM. Big motors produce big power right now. They produce loads of torque at very low RPM. In fact, they produce lots of torque at almost any RPM. If you drive one, you'll like it. Trust me.

Hence, the big motored American automobile or SUV is less a product of a peculiar American character than a natural consequence of the different conditions found here.

Appendix: Population Density and Public Transportation

America's low population density explains why public transportation in America is so bad by Japanese or European standards. In all but the very largest of American metropolises public transport is so bad as to render the automoble not a luxury, but an economic necessity.

Let me offer an example. I live in Columbus, Ohio and have a friend who was involved with a reorganization of our local bus system, known as COTA. A consultant was brought in to rationalize the city's bus routes. He laid out his maps and began with the statement: "assuming a population density of 200 per acre."

As we have seen earlier, such numbers can readily assumed in much of the world. But not in Columbus, even though by population it is the 15th largest city in America. My friend informed the consultant the population density inside the city limits was typically around 40 per acre, sometimes 20 and only approached the assumed 200 in a very few neighborhoods. In my neighboorhood of small, working class homes, the 20 number applies, and we aren't rich.

This means America is very spread out compared to much of the world. So if a bus must have 20 passengers aboard to pay for itself, and the percentage of people wanting to go somewhere is the same in both Europe and America, then the average American will have to walk much farther to catch said bus. Or the bus will have to pass by much less often. Both further discourage riding. This leaves Americans with a simple choice. Heavily subsidize a generally underutilized public transportation system. Or see commute times increase, often by a factor of ten or more. The long commute times itself constitutes a barrier to employment.

For example most bus routes run to and from downtown because these are the routes where the bus sytem makes money. Downtown is the only place where parking and traffic penalties are high enough to induce well-heeled people to ride. Therefore downtown routes are fairly efficient, and useful. But most low-paying jobs are not downtown. A worker needing to travel to an adjacent suburb, often must go downtown first and then back out to the adjacent suburb. This can turn a ten minute drive into a two hour off-peak commute, including transfers. That can turn an eight hour work day into a twelve hour marathon. Imagine the effect that can have on child care costs and availability. It is also a barrier to employment. And if you don't have work, how often are you going to take a three hour ride to put in a job application before you get discouraged?

America's low population density has significant economic implications, particularly for the poor and working class. Limited public transportation often impedes their progress out of poverty. Automobiles are expensive to operate, and the necessity for reliable transportation sucks income that could be used for other things, like books, the internet or even decent housing. America's dependence on the car renders the working poor extraordinarily vulnerable to mechanical breakdown.

In America, the choice is often drive or stay home. That means we keep cars on the road that are falling apart, creating further pollution and safety hazards, because many people simply have no other good choice. It also makes our economy far more vulnerable to oil price jumps than many other countries. Remember that once you own a properly maintained automobile, the costs of driving a few additional miles are quite low. In fact, the more you drive the cheaper costs per mile go.

For a sample population distribution see http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/plue/gpw/index.html?main.html&2
US cities are ranked at http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108676.html

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