Let’s say you’re an automotive company with visions of providing the most powerful supercar ever conceived, and the time has come to develop an engine platform to deliver the motivation you seek. Such an engine doesn’t exist, so what do you, as the limited-production vehicle manufacturer, do? The manufacturer of the Devel Sixteen – with no internal engine development division – turned to none other than Steve Morris and the team at Steve Morris Engines (SME) in Muskegon, Michigan, to conceive an all-new engine architecture to produce the required power, while retaining a solid level of reliability and relative user-friendliness.
The result? A 754 cubic-inch (12.36-liter) quad-turbo, V16 configuration producing well over 4,500 horsepower in street trim. And if that’s not enough, Morris is now working to produce 5,000 horsepower in race mode.
“This engine has been developed, designed and machined from scratch,” says Morris. “The customer contracted with us to build a V16 with four turbos for this car and make the power they wanted.”
From Conception To Design
Although Morris is well-versed in building engines that make monstrous power, they are typically based upon existing architecture – such as the LS, big-block Chevrolet, or other existing platforms – so the conception of this complete engine was somewhat of a departure from the norm for SME. However, the company does have extensive experience in developing billet intakes and other billet engine parts used in its other big-power engines, like the one they’ve created for Tom Bailey’s Sick Seconds Drag Week program, so it was with this experience in mind that Morris set out to create the all-new V16 platform for this customer.
“I had to learn it all. About a year-and-a-half ago, I did approach a block company for assistance with the project, but they brushed me off,” he says. “So, I decided I was going to have to figure this all out and build it myself. There are no other companies involved with this engine; we have designed this all in-house and machined all the custom parts in-house, outside of the block which is too big for my machines. Most vendors I bought pieces from have no idea what we are working on except the crank and cam guys. We had a non-disclosure agreement with the customer, which added to the need for us to do as much as possible in-house and not rely on others to tell me how do to anything.”
The customer only had three goals in mind when they contacted SME. The interesting thing about the engine’s development process is that Morris was given no specifics – the customer simply wanted an engine that had 16 cylinders in a V configuration, and four turbos; the rest was left up to the noted horsepower wizard to determine.
“We build custom, big power engines. We don’t just buy parts and pieces and just throw them together like 99 percent of the world. Customers come to us and tell us what they want to do and we make it happen, then we keep working with that customer for years to come. We do this for all customers with any engine need. This customer came to us and said ‘I want this much horsepower out of a V16, can you do it?’ I said, ‘We can do it, it’s going to cost this much money.’ He said okay, and we started building. It’s been a year and a half from concept to completion,” says Morris.
Morris is expectedly tight-lipped on many of the internal details and dimensional specifics at this time, but he did share many of the behind-the-scenes development trials and tribulations with us. Stay tuned, as there is much more to come in the future on this wild and exciting engine platform. Not only will the engine finds a home in the Devel Sixteen; Morris also says it may fit well into the powerboat market as the development process continues.
Starting with a blank sheet (or blank CAD file, as the case may be) meant that Morris had to specify the proper configuration for the engine from the very beginning. Oiling system routing, cooling system layout, the cylinder head arrangement, and more were all established during the process of research and development.
“We had to figure out how to route the oil passages, lifter design, cylinder bore spacing, cam height, and crankshaft design. There’s a whole lot involved in this deal to get it right. We had to figure out the firing order that would be most efficient, as the V16 fires a cylinder every 45 degrees instead of two cylinders every 90 degrees like some may think a V16 would,” says Morris.
As a result of the firing cycle configuration, the engine also picks up a solid amount of power since the operation is so smooth – there’s a firing cycle in between what’s normally a dead spot in a V8 design.
“Just figuring out the firing order took a few days. I literally sat down with a pencil and a bunch of paper and traced out firing orders until I came up with what I wanted and then talked to my crank guy to see if dynamically there would be any problem,” he said. “This was all while I was figuring out where the thrust would be, main and rod size along with location, crankshaft snout, and rear flange.”
Morris relied on his engine building expertise throughout the design process; as he already knows how to make immense power with the traditional V8 engine, having the opportunity to work with double the amount of cylinders in some ways simplifies the task of making power, and yet at the same time, complicates things.
“I don’t need to re-engineer the wheel. I already know how to build and do ‘X’, I knew what needed to happen to make horsepower and make it live via all of the things we already do,” says Morris. “We didn’t need four overhead cams, balance shafts, or some elaborate cylinder head no one ever thought of before. We just didn’t need to do all of those things to make reliable horsepower. When someone wants to make 4,500-5,000 horsepower, that’s a different thought process to me.”
Here’s What We Know
Unlike many of the 12-cylinder-and-larger engines that have been produced over the years, like the Bugatti Veyron’s W16 and numerous Ferrari and Lamborghini power plants, the V16 engine block is completely machined from one big, solid, extremely-expensive hunk of billet.
Ultimately, Morris’ plan is to work towards a block and cylinder head casting, as the production of the billet piece is cost-prohibitive, but as things currently stand it’s worked out quite well from a development perspective.
“This engine is the prototype, the testbed for more engines down the road,” says Morris.
The development process gave Morris the freedom to design exactly what he thought would be most viable; although there are influences from the products he works with often – the LS platform and the big-block Chevrolet come to mind – the overall design from intake manifold to oil pan architecture came from the Michigan horsepower factory.
Certain components were sized to take advantage of current production parts. Take engine bearings, for example. Although Morris didn’t disclose their origin, he did explain that those dimensions came from an existing bearing design that he then modified, as the cost to have a bearing company tool up to make a one-off set of engine bearings didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the customer or the project.
There were several months invested in figuring out how we were going to do the block. The cost of making mistakes on this project is astronomical. – Steve Morris
“I knew what I wanted to do with the main caps. The block has a one-piece main-cap design; all eight caps are incorporated into one solid piece that acts as a complete girdle system to provide rigidity. There are four studs per cap section and more along the outside rail; structurally it holds everything together versus a deep-skirt design where there are just cross-bolts,” says Morris.
Not surprisingly, Morris raves about the learning experience of building an engine from scratch.
“There were several months invested in figuring out how we were going to do the block alone,” says Morris. “Just the material for the block cost me a pile of money, and I don’t want to screw that up. The cost of making mistakes on this project is astronomical; a billet V16 crankshaft costs a big pile of money also, and a simple oiling problem can destroy a crank and block that cost more than a complete 2,500 horsepower V8 engine.”
With respect to the crankshaft, we were curious as to whether there were any concerns with twisting front-to-rear with such a long piece of material. Morris sized the mains and selected the bore spacing and other dimensions based on how the crankshaft would perform; he freely admits enlisting the help of crank and camshaft manufacturers in engineering this project.
“You do have to keep in mind that the crank is not just a V8 crank with a long piece of material off the end of it. It is doing work the entire length,” he says.
As this engine has double the number of cylinders compared to the engines he traditionally works with, Morris commented that the horsepower per cylinder is really not out of line at all.
“I’ve had the engine apart several times before and after dyno sessions to see if there were any concerns I needed to address. Especially with respect to the cooling and oiling systems – how are these things working inside the block? We had to build a billet dry sump oil pan for it. The first time I revved it up on the dyno, it sucked all of the oil out of the tank, so we had to fix that,” says Morris.
An even bigger shocker is the discovery that this engine is using a hydraulic-roller camshaft design. Read that again. Well over two tons of horsepower, and a single hydraulic roller camshaft is installed.
“I have leaned on this engine pretty hard for this RPM level. The full street version does make 3,000 horsepower on 93 octane pump fuel, and I want to limit the production engine to 4,000 horsepower max on C16 fuel in ‘street mode’,” he says.
We wondered about the possibility of camshaft twist front-to-rear and whether this might affect valve timing events, but Morris assures us that’s not the case. He did mention that the engine has a large-core camshaft, and while he didn’t specify a dimension, we can guess 55 to 60 mm would be a reasonable dimension.
With only 20 pounds of boost pressure and regular 93-octane pump fuel, the engine has turned the SME dynamometer to 3,006 horsepower at 6,900 rpm and 2,407.2 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm.
On VP Racing Fuels’ C16 high-octane dino juice, how does an insane 4,515 horsepower at 6,900 rpm and 3,519.3 lb-ft of torque at 6,600 rpm sound? Remember, this is still with a hydraulic-roller camshaft!
This was the point where the dyno ran out of steam and wasn’t able to measure any higher.
The client wants 5,000 horsepower, and Morris says it will achieve that in race trim, although it requires a change to a solid-roller camshaft along with other valve train changes to the engine’s design in order to raise the RPM level over the current configuration.
Morris tells us that he’s built his second dyno specifically for high-power engine testing, but will now have to do some more work and possibly design and machine a new billet absorber to be able to handle 5,000 horses. By the way, Morris builds and modifies all of the dyno equipment himself, and has done so for years.
Creating an engine from nothing more than an idea is an immense undertaking. There are so many major and minor details that must be taken into account during the process, each of which affects at least one other detail in a significant way. It is amazing to us that the Steve Morris Engine team was able to not only create this engine, but bring it to life and push their in-house dyno to the highest numbers it’s ever seen in the process. But it wasn’t easy.
“You’re always going to find issues that you can’t find in computer simulations after you actually do it, and that’s what we’re coming up with. I am sure in the production engine we will have to change some things but we’ve been good so far – the block, crankshaft, and bearings are holding in there well, and I’m really happy with that. It’s been great to work with customers that understand the value of our work, and not just the costs of it on a piece of paper,” sums up Morris.