Requiem for a Dream Car

Porsche-356-e1430319818385Coolant leaks. Radiator issues. Broken water pumps.

What do all of these things have in common? Cars with air-cooled engines never have to worry about them. So why aren’t all of our cars – heck, why are virtually no cars built today – packing an air-cooled engine under the hood?

Simply put, carmakers have abandoned air-cooled engines because the benefits of having a lighter engine with fewer breakable parts outweighs the downsides, like having to replace the entire engine if it overheats or not being able to pass government emissions tests.

Having an engine that is cooled by the air passing over it might sound like the best of all worlds, but a combination of rapidly evolving technology and dramatically tightened environmental standards has doomed the air-cooled engines that powered such iconic cars as the original Beetle and Porsche 911 to mostly crop up at classic car shows.

It’s a horrible feeling to realize that your engine is leaking coolant, or that you’re going to need to buy a new part to keep your engine from overheating, but with emissions and cabin noise at the forefront of designers’ minds, the age of the water-cooled engine is unlikely to end as long as we’re using internal combustion engines.

The good news? Cars have come a long way since the heyday of the air-cooled engine; they’re called classic cars for a reason, after all. A big part of why we don’t see air-cooled engines any more is the fact that the reasons they made so much sense from an engineering standpoint, like the need for repairs on cooling parts, aren’t huge advantages any more. Many car parts are built more reliably and less expensively than they once were, and that means fewer headaches for owners.

So as much as we would love to feel the power of an engine unfettered by modern cooling technologies, we’ll have to save our air-cooled nostalgia for track days and car shows, and we think we can deal with that.

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