The straight or inline engine is an internal combustion engine with all cylinders aligned in one row and having no offset. Usually found in four, six and eight cylinder configurations, they have been used in automobiles, locomotives and aircraft, although the term in-line has a broader meaning when applied to aircraft engines, see Inline engine (aviation).
A straight engine is considerably easier to build than an otherwise equivalent horizontally opposed or V engine, because both the cylinder bank and crankshaft can be milled from a single metal casting, and it requires fewer cylinder heads and camshafts. In-line engines are also smaller in overall physical dimensions than designs such as the radial, and can be mounted in any direction. Straight configurations are simpler than their V-shaped counterparts. Although six-cylinder engines are inherently balanced,[vague] the four-cylinder models are inherently off balance and rough, unlike 90-degree V fours and horizontally opposed 'boxer' four cylinders.
The inline-four engine is the most common four-cylinder configuration, whereas the straight-6 has largely given way to the V6 engine, which although not as naturally smooth-running is smaller in both length and height and easier to fit into the engine bay of smaller modern cars. Some manufacturers, including Acura, Audi, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Volvo, have also used straight-five configurations. The General Motors Atlas family includes straight-four, straight-five, and straight-six engines. Some small cars have inline three engines.
Once, the straight-eight was the prestige engine arrangement; it could be made more cheaply than a V-engine by luxury car makers, who would focus on other specifics than the geometric ones, and even built engines more powerful than any V8 engine. In the 1930s, Duesenberg used a cylinder block made from aluminium alloy, with four valves per cylinder and hemispherical heads to produce the most powerful engine on the market. It was thus a selling point for Pontiac to introduce the cheapest straight-eight in 1933. However, following World War II, the straight-eight was supplanted by the lighter and more compact V8 engine, which allowed shorter engine bays to be used in the design.
When a straight engine is mounted at an angle from the vertical it is called a slant engine. Chrysler's Slant 6 was used in many models in the 1960s and 1970s. Honda also often mounts its straight-four and straight-five engines at a slant, as on the Honda S2000 and Acura Vigor. SAAB initially used the Triumph Slant-4 engine tilted at 45 degrees for the Saab 99, but later versions of the engine were less tilted.
Two main factors have led to the recent decline of the straight-six in automotive applications. First, Lanchester balance shafts, an old idea reintroduced by Mitsubishi in the 1980s to overcome the natural imbalance of the inline-four engine and rapidly adopted by many other manufacturers, have made both inline-four and V6 engines smoother-running; the greater smoothness of the straight-six layout is no longer as great an advantage. Second, fuel consumption became more important, as cars became smaller and more space-efficient. The engine bay of a modern small or medium car, typically designed for an inline-four, often does not have room for a straight-six, but can fit a V6 with only minor modifications.
Some manufacturers (originally Lancia, and more recently Volkswagen with the VR6 engine) have attempted to combine advantages of the straight and V configurations by producing a narrow-angle V; this is more compact than either configuration, but is less smooth (without balancing) than either.
Straight-6 engines are used in some models from BMW, Ford, Jeep, Chevrolet, GMC, Toyota, Suzuki and Volvo Cars.
Some buses and trains with straight engines have their engines mounted with the row of cylinders horizontal. This differs from a flat engine because it is essentially an inline engine laid on its side. Underfloor engines for buses and diesel multiple units (DMUs) commonly use this design. Such engines may be based on a conventional upright engine with alterations to make it suitable for horizontal mounting.
See also: Inline engine (aviation)
In aviation, the term "inline engine" is used more broadly, for any non-radial reciprocating engine, including V engines, W engines, H engines and horizontally opposed engines.
Many straight engines, in the stricter sense, have been produced for aircraft, particularly from the early years of aviation and through the interwar period leading up to the Second World War. Straight engines were simpler and had low frontal area, reducing drag, and provided better cockpit visibility.
Straight sixes were especially popular in the First World War, and most German and Italian and some British aircraft used descendants of Daimler's pre-war inline six. Prominent examples include the German Mercedes D.III and BMW IIIa, Italian Isotta Fraschini V.4 and British Siddeley Puma.
The British de Havilland Gipsy family of engines and their descendants included straight-four and straight-six upright and inverted air-cooled engines which were used on a wide range of smaller aircraft around the world, including on the Tiger Moth biplane, and helped made the configuration popular for light aircraft. Menasco and Fairchild-Ranger in the United States, Renault in France, Walter in Czechoslovakia, and Hirth in Germany all built a similar range of engines which were popular in their respective markets.
Some straight aircraft engines have been inverted, with the crankshaft at the top of the engine, and the pistons hanging down rather than the reverse. Advantages of the inverted arrangement include a raised thrust line for improved clearance for the propeller, which either allows for the use of a larger, more efficient propeller, or for shorter undercarriage. Since the thrust line is higher, the engine can be mounted lower in the airframe, improving visibility forward, which is no longer blocked by the cylinder heads. It also allows for a simpler exhaust to keep gasses clear from the cockpit.
See also: Motorcycle engine
In motorcycling, the term "in-line" is sometimes used narrowly, for a straight engine mounted in line with the frame. A two-cylinder straight engine mounted across the frame is sometimes called a parallel twin. Other times, motorcycling experts treat the terms parallel, straight, and inline as equivalent, and use them interchangeably.
INLINE ENGINE–A type of reciprocating piston engine in which an even (4-6-8-12) number of cylinders are arranged either in a straight line or in a V-type configuration directly above (or below) the crankcase.
in-line Engine layout in which the cylinders are arranged in a row, and in-line with the wheels of the machine.