Though it's been called many things, the VTEC acronym stands for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. VVTLEC doesn't quite roll off the lips, but the adjectives one tends to spew out after experiencing it for the first time do. They run the gamut but almost always include the "F" word. Ol' Soichiro-san would've been pleased. April 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of VTEC in the automotive world. The 1989.5 Integra XSi was the first production Honda that featured the technology. Shortly after, Civics and CRXs received the same B16A engine.
But all of this began much earlier-sometime during the early 1980s, in fact-and none of it had anything to do with automobile engines. The technology behind VTEC originated from Honda's motorcycle side. Honda's engineers knew that four-valve engines made great top-end power, but that two-valve ones were competent down low and even idled nice. The quest soon became one in which a 500cc engine would spin to 11,000 rpm yet idle patiently at a mere 1,000 rpm. The result was what Honda internally labeled as its "REV" mechanism, or "HYPER VTEC" to the rest of us. The technology allowed for only one intake and one exhaust valve per cylinder to operate below certain engine speeds but for two intake and two exhaust valves per cylinder to function above that threshold. It allowed for the best of both worlds.
Honda launched the NCE (New Concept Engine) project in 1984, which aimed to push the limits of top-end torque production without sacrificing low-end performance. Japanese-market '85 Civic and Integra engines were the result of this project. More importantly though, it convinced engineers that a dual-camshaft profile-or a mechanism that could dynamically alter camshaft timing-must be a part of the company's next-generation engine. Engineer Ikuo Kajitani, who was a part of the NCE team, was particularly enthusiastic about making this happen. The ideal engine would have better fuel economy and a higher output across the entire powerband, specifically, about 90 hp per liter. But 90 hp soon began to seem too low; it was, after all, only 10 more than the engine they'd just produced. Based on the suggestion of then Honda R&D president Nobuhiko Kawamoto, a new goal of 100 hp per liter was set.
"It felt like a dream," Kajitani recalled. "Conventional engines in those days could only produce 70 or 80 hp per liter. But here we were, being asked to increase it all the way to 100 horses. It wasn't going to be easy. An engine becomes subject to a higher load as you increase its rpm," Kajitani said. "So, we had to keep in mind the quality-assurance target of 15 years, or 250,000 km, for a mass-production engine. We all wondered how on earth we were going to reach that number while ensuring the required quality of mass production." After all was said and done, Kajitani officially set the goal for the new VTEC Integra engine: 160 hp and an 8,000rpm redline. A goal is one thing, but the technology had yet to be created. All of this led to daily arguments as to whether or not such an engine was even possible. After three months, Kajitani put it all on the line, ordering his team to move forward. A technology proposal would soon be chosen and developed.
The unique valve cover, the hidden spark plug wires; this is something any serious engine
The "Type R" moniker is likely responsible for cementing VTEC's power status into enthusia
The only DOHC VTEC V-6 engine Honda ever produced, the C30A and later C32B engines were on