How Did a BMW Engine Find Its Way Into a Ford?


Unconventional solutions are required in a time of crisis and this is what resulted in a BMW engine being fitted into a Ford car. The story began in the 1970’s with the dramatically rising oil prices pushed up by producers that kept reducing the supply in the world market. The primary response of governments was to constrict local demand by introducing harsher standards for fuel economy.


A modern-day person can only imagine what kind of havoc this would have wreaked on the car manufacturing industry. At the time, gasoline engines were far away from the highly efficient ones that we have today. Automakers were forced to find an alternative which would provide the required amount of power while keeping fuel consumption as low as possible.


Time was of the essence as in the late 1970’s the price of a gallon of gasoline had gone way past a dollar and was heading for the unthinkable cost of two dollars. The situation was pretty desperate for manufacturers like Ford and not only.


The possible solutions weren’t particularly viable. Electric cars using lead-acid batteries were capable of covering very short distances only. The reduction in the size of cars would have limited effectiveness. Americans still wanted spacious sedans and large pickup trucks offering a comfortable ride at long-distance trips. The most effective solution was the use of diesel engines.


A diesel engine would be a good match to a Ford pickup truck or to an Oldsmobile station wagon. However, the leading maker of such engines, Mercedes-Benz, was not particularly cooperative.


General Motors made an attempt to redesign their V8 engine to include heads capable of handling diesel. The solution was not the best given that the combustion in diesel engines occurs as a result of intense fuel and air compression and not with a spark plug.


While the refitted engine passed the technical tests, it didn’t prove to be practical for cars like Cadillacs and Buicks. Still, the first mover is usually the most successful and this proved to be true in this case, with General Motors claiming nearly two thirds of the American market for diesel passenger vehicles in the beginning of the 1980’s.


Ford had to find a way to compete with their major rival quickly. The redesign of their V8 engine wasn’t viable so they had to come up with an alternative solution for their popular models like the Lincoln Continental sedan and Mark VII coupe. This is where BMW stepped in.


The engineers of the Munich-based automaker had created the M21 diesel engine in the middle of the 1970’s. It was their answer to the diesel models of Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot which were popular in the European market. They transformed the M20 straight-six engine with the use of new crankshaft, valves and pistons and with the addition of a turbocharger. The new diesel engine had a capacity of 2.4 liters and generated 115 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque. It had better acceleration compared to its Mercedes-Benz counterparts.


M21 was the diesel engine added to the Lincoln Continental sedan and the Mark VII coupe. While the diesel models didn’t have impressive speed or acceleration, they were dependable performers. The sedan had fuel economy of around 30 miles per gallon which is great even by today’s standards.


Why didn’t the Ford cars with diesel engines become a major trend in the American auto industry? The engineers managed to find technologies that made the classic gasoline engines more fuel-efficient quite fast. Additionally, oil prices underwent a steady decline in the 1980’s. Now manufacturers like Ford are embracing the eco-friendly trend more strongly than ever before and making ever more efficient cars.