FROM the outside they look like ordinary Fiestas, the Ford Motor Company's European minicar. But what is under the hood could launch an automotive revolution.
In the next few weeks, Ford of Europe will begin field tests on a new type of engine dubbed the two-stroke. Actually, two-strokes aren't all that new. But they were symbolized by cars such as the East German Trabant: rough, noisy, and belching pollution.
A new generation has been designed by the Orbital Engine Corporation, an Australian firm. It is lighter, simpler, and at least 11 percent more fuel-efficient than conventional four-stroke engines used in today's cars.
Perhaps most important, the designs appear to be able to meet California's proposed tough new clean-air standards.
"This should quiet critics," says Ken Johnsen, president of Orbital's United States subsidiary, the Orbital Engine Company.
Ford, an Orbital licensee, plans to put about 50 Fiestas into fleet use and if they prove durable and reliable, a production version could follow.
"Within something of a three-year time frame is ... what we're looking at," says Brian Cumming, Ford's two-stroke engineer. A US model might follow a few years later.
Orbital plans to meet the initial demand for two-strokes from its new engine plant in Tecumseh, Mich., which has a production capacity of 100,000 units a year. Meanwhile the Chrysler Corporation is working on its own unique two-stroke design and hopes to have it in production in the US by 1996.