The Twin Cam Engine: From Racing Cars to Family Saloons

David looks at how the twin-cam motor evolved from use as a specialist racing unit to eventually power all manner of cars from sports cars and grand tourers to everyday family cars and motorcycles – a process that took three-quarters of a century, from Peugeot’s first racing success in 1912, through to the late 1980s

The first successful twin-cam engines were developed shortly before WW1, and Peugeot (arguably starting the whole story off in 1912) is the name most associated with this breakthrough, though its twin-cam engines were collectively designed and developed by a triumvirate of racing driver/engineers – Boillot, Goux and Zuccarelli, plus designer/draughtsman, Ernest Henry – rather than Peugeot’s own design staff. As is often the case with breakthrough designs, success came from a final synthesis of previous partly successful experimental design efforts, and the twin-cam engine was a good example. An excellent 1981 book, The Classic Twin Cam Engine, by Griffith Borgeson describes this process in fascinating detail.

Many famous racing car and motorcycle marques have used engines of this type, with good reason as the twin-cam engine’s design allows for lighter and more efficient valve gear driven by gears, chain, or more recently toothed belts. Almost any internal combustion engine’s breathing is improved, and thus its performance and economy, though higher production costs for many years precluded widespread use.


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