Inside A Sports Car Engine: The Ins & Outs

Charlie Kimball, seen taking a corner during the race, had his best career finish placing second. The 27-year-old is well known for being the only driver on the series with diabetes (John Lucero)
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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

For car lovers, a sports car is one of the more exciting phenomenons. Seeing a sleek Jaguar speeding down the road may fill you with awe, but you may also be filled with curiosity. If you’ve ever wondered how the latest sports cars can reach their incredible speeds, you’ve come to the right place.

The engine of a sports car is a fascinating and powerful thing. As you’ve probably guessed, its design differs in a few crucial ways to that of the typical family vehicle. This article is the ultimate guide to understanding what goes on under the hood of some of the most powerful sports cars on the market today.

Normal engine design

For the engine novices, let’s begin by looking at a ‘normal’ car’s engine.

The engine works by a process called combustion. This is essentially the process of burning fuel by combining it with air. The engine system in every car is designed to combine fuel and air in a specific way that moves parts called pistons. These pistons allow you to start the car, stop the car and change speeds.

The Internal Combustion Engine is the engine you’ll find in every single car on the road today. In this type of engine, fuel and air combust within the engine itself. There are two main types of internal combustion engines – Diesel engines and gas turbine engines.

Every car with a gasoline engine uses something called a four-stroke combustion cycle.

Four-Stroke Combustion

The four strokes are:

– intake stroke

– Compression stroke

– Combustion stroke

– Exhaust stroke

In the first stroke, the piston is positioned at the top. The intake valve opens moving the piston down. This allows a cylinder of air and gasoline in.

Next, the piston goes back up, compressing the mixture of air and gas. This compression intensifies the explosion.

Once the piston is back, the spark plug ignites the gasoline, creating the explosion, driving the piston back down.

When the piston reaches the bottom, this opens the exhaust valve, and causes the exhaust (excess gases) to exit the vehicle from the tailpipe.

Once this cycle is complete, it continues to repeat.

This system is made up of a few important parts which work together to facilitate combustion.


This is the core of the engine. The piston moves up and down inside the cylinder. Some engines (like the engines of lawnmowers and other small machines) have a single cylinder, but most care have four or more. In an inline engine, you’ll find four cylinders arranged in a row.

Spark plug

This is the mechanism that creates a spark in order to ignite the air and fuel mixture. Without perfectly timed ignition, combustion cannot occur.


Engines have both intake and exhaust valves which open and close at the correct time in order to allow the mixture in or out of the combustion chamber. During the compression and combustion phases, these valves are shut, keeping the chamber sealed.


Pistons are pieces of cylindrical metal which move up and down within the cylinders providing changes in pressure.

Piston rings

These are the sliding seals that prevent the mixture or the exhaust from leaking throughout the process. If you have ever heard of cars burning oil, this is usually due to a faulty, leaking piston ring.

Connecting rod

This rod connects the piston to the crankshaft, moving with the piston and crankshaft.


The job of the crankshaft is to take the piston’s up-down movement and transform it into a circular motion.

About the fuel delivery system

The fuel delivery system is attached to the top or the side of the cylinder heads. In older engines, you’ll likely find carburetors, while newer engines typically use a fuel injection system.

This system works to combine fuel and air before it enters the combustion chamber and is ignited. Fuel is moved from a reservoir, where it is stored at optimal pressure, into the fuel distributor. The fuel distributor meters out the fuel to each cylinder. Fuel injectors squirt fuel from a nozzle into an inlet port in the cylinder head.

Overview of a regular engine

Modern everyday vehicles have engines that are designed with efficiency in mind. For one, they need to comply with fuel and emissions standards. These engines are also built to last. This means using stronger metals that operate relatively slowly. The fuel system is also designed to be efficient and functional, so there is no need to use a performance adder

Sports car engine design

The design of a typical sports car engine is not dissimilar to that of a regular vehicle. The differences in design facilitate high speeds and peak performance. There are a few major differences between a regular engine and sports engine that give sports cars their power.

Firstly, the entire system tends to use light-weight materials. Because the pistons and the crankshaft and the pistons need to move much more quickly, they are usually made with durable steel or aluminium.

High power engines tend to have higher compression rates. To allow for higher compression, the piston rings are usually designed to create a much tighter seal.

The valves are also designed to facilitate a much quicker intake of fuel and expulsion of exhaust fumes. Cylinder heads are often made with titanium, a light-weight material, which helps them to deal with the additional power.

In the fuel delivery system, sports car engines are designed to transport and deliver fuel at a much faster rate. This is where performance adders come. Most manufacturers add a turbocharger or supercharger, which forces the engine to take in more fuel and air, thus creating more horsepower.

Sports car engine maintenance

It goes without saying that the engine of a sports car requires frequent checks and maintenance. Because it is operating at high speeds, and burning more fuel, it is more likely to become run down. Here are some common issues that arise.

1. Oil levels

With increased speeds and power comes more friction inside the engine. Engine oil is critical. It reduces friction between all of the moving parts inside the engine, thus reducing the risk of engine damage.

It’s important to check oil levels in a sports car frequently. It’s also important to check the oil’s color. For instance, if the oil is dark, this can be a sign of contaminants, overheating, chemicals or sludge.

2. Coolant levels

Coolant works to dissipate all of the heat generated by the engine. If you don’t have the correct amount of coolant, your engine will begin to overheat.

3. Replace spark plugs

If you notice that your engine has begun to misfire, has trouble accelerating or has trouble starting, it may be a sign of faulty spark plugs.

4. Replace the turbochargers

Symptoms of a malfunctioning turbocharger include unusually slow acceleration, burning oil, excessive exhaust smoke, or a loud, shrill noise. Because turbos force more fuel into the combustion chamber, a leaking or loose turbo will interrupt the system. If you are in need of a replacement turbocharger, try Goldfarb Inc:

Fun facts

1. The loud stereotype isn’t exactly true

While many people imagine sports cars as loud, screeching vehicles, most modern engines are designed with sound in mind. In fact, modern-day sports cars are some of the most quiet cars on the market.

2. Some sports cars have eco-friendly engines

While sports cars do burn more fuel to facilitate high-speed driving, some of the latest cars have impressively low emissions. Check out the Mazda MX-5 or the BMW 4 Series Coupe to see how these vehicles use high MPG to reduce emissions.

3. The Bugatti Veyron needed 12 radiation’s

This sports car produced so much heat in the engine, he manufacturers decided to put 12 different radiators around the body of the car.

4. Sports cars almost died out

In 1973, the fuel crisis led to some tough fuel standards that meant sports cars were no longer feasible. However, after a 17-year hiatus, the sports car re-emerged on the market.

5. Most sports cars are front-engine, real-wheel-drive (FR)

This layout has persisted for generations. In almost every sports car, you’ll find the engine in the front and the driven wheels at the rear. This design distributes weight evenly throughout the vehicle, making high speeds easier to sustain.


So, there you have it. Everything you need to know about the engine of a sports car, and how it manages to produce so much power. Unlike regular engines, sports car engines are carefully designed so that every single part, no matter how small, can move quickly. This allows for fast fuel burning, and high combustion rates.

Sports car engines require stringent care and maintenance. If you are the owner of a sports car, be sure to check oil and coolant levels regularly, in order to prevent engine damage. If you are unsure about performing these checks yourself, it’s worth taking your car to a mechanic for regular servicing.

Sports cars can accelerate and move fast. This puts additional strain on their engines. In order to keep your car healthy and safe, take it to your local auto mechanic regularly.

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