This week, video surfaced of something truly outrageous: A giant 12.3-liter V16 engine, wearing four turbochargers, maxing out an engine dyno at an indicated 4515 horsepower. The video was astonishing, but the skepticism was almost instantaneous: Internet folks couldn't figure out if the feat was a fake, a fluke, or a fantasy. So Road & Track paid a visit to the shop that built the supposed monster motor to see just how real this whole thing is.
The engine is the centerpiece of an outrageous, perhaps laughably unrealistic hypercar project out of Dubai called . When it was first shown , the Devel came with : 5000 horsepower, 0-60 in 1.8 seconds, and a top speed nearing 350 mph. It wore kit-car bodywork, sported an engine that sure didn't sound like a quad-turbo V16, and .
We can't speak to the existence of the Devel Sixteen car. , as grammatically shoddy and light on evidence as ever, doesn't work too hard to back up its claims—the only car photos are from 2013, and the pages where you'd hope to find information almost all come up blank.
By comparison, the engine that's set to power the Devel Sixteen is infinitely more real. Because there is one—only one, and it's a prototype—and I'm looking right at it.
[Update: This post was originally published on December 11, 2015. On November 3, 2017, showed the V16 engine, on an upgraded, higher-horsepower dyno, making an indicated 5007 horsepower.]
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occupies an utterly anonymous commercial building on the outskirts of Muskegon, Michigan, 200 miles west of Detroit on the banks of Lake Michigan. The penultimate structure on a dead-end avenue, SME looks like it could be home to a midsize construction company, or maybe a local newspaper printer. Only the numerous burnout marks in the driveway hint at what goes on behind those steel walls.
"Twelve hundred, 1300 horsepower is where we start," Alex Esnaola, the business manager and de-facto PR guy at Steve Morris Engines, tells me as we walk into the shop. SME specializes in taking traditional hot-rod engines (mainly small- and big-block varieties of GM and Ford V8s) and applying copious forced induction to produce four-figure power. With a focus on electronic fuel injection and huge turbochargers, SME's engines most often find their way into street-legal drag cars that can rip a scorching quarter-mile time but still be reliable enough to drive to the track and back.
Tom Bailey's SME-powered, 3500-horsepower Camaro is a good example of the shop's work. The modified muscle car ran a six-second quarter-mile every day, five days in a row, with 1000 trailer-towing highway miles in between, . Bailey has a second, even wilder SME-powered Camaro that traps at 220- MPH that . These are not trailer queens.
But it's one thing to build big-turbo LS engines with power output measured in tons. It's another thing entirely to build a quad-turbo V16.
I ask Steve Morris why the wealthy Dubai backers of the Devel Sixteen project picked him to build the engine. "I don't know," he says with a grin. He seems a little bemused by the whole Devel spectacle. "They originally thought this would be a lot simpler than what it is," he says. But what Devel asked Morris to build was anything but simple. "They wanted it with four turbos, V16, and that's really the only parameters they gave me for the thing."
Oh, and they wanted it to make 5000 horses.
Let's get one thing out of the way right now: This is not, , simply two GM LS V8s joined at the crank. But there are plenty of similarities between this V16 and a run-of-the-mill Chevy small block, and that's not accidental. "We're very familiar with the Chevy platform. It's 80- percent of what we do here," Esnaola says. "We wanted to keep this in something that we know pretty well. So there are some things that we have taken from the LS variation, some things that we've taken off the big-block Chevy platform, and some things that we have designed ourselves."
So, yes: This is a single-cam, pushrod, 90-degree engine, with two-valve heads. And individual items, like the valve rockers, are in fact, GM LS-style parts. "I'm not gonna go make all these little one-off proprietary things, when that thing works," Morris says, picking a familiar-looking roller rocker out from a row of 32 lined up in an overturned Devel valve cover. "I use them all the time, and that works great."
But Morris and Esnaola chafe at . "This is not as simple as getting in SolidWorks and copy-pasting," Morris says. "You need to make everything else work. You can draw it on CAD, that doesn't mean it works. I've actually seen some of those guys that have cut and welded those motors together. I'm actually impressed. But it's nothing that would work here, it would just twist itself apart like crazy."
Things got very un-LS-like right from the start, when Morris had to figure out the design of the V16 crankshaft. The engine required an entirely novel, 45-degree firing order, to avoid firing two cylinders on the same side in sequence, or worse, two cylinders at once—either of which would grenade the engine. It wasn't as simple as offsetting two LS cranks either. "I literally sat down with a piece of paper and just drew out firing orders," he says.
Everything grew out from the crank. The one-piece, billet crankshaft measures 48 inches long and, like the billet camshaft that came next, it was commissioned from a specialty shop. "They just laughed," Morris says. "At first they thought it was a joke."
Next up was the engine block itself, which started out as one giant, 48-inch-long billet that cost $13,000. Machining, done at a friend's shop that could handle such a big piece of metal, carved something like 350 pounds of material off the billet. Again, as a pushrod V8 with a 90-degree cylinder angle, this block shares some dimensions with familiar GM engines, but it's not a carbon copy. The gap between the middle two cylinders allows for a central thrust bearing on the crankshaft, a Ford small-block design feature that Steve figured would disperse the load of that four-foot crank better than an LS motor's rear thrust bearing. The eight main bearings caps are all incorporated into a one-piece girdle for extra crank stability; the two-valve cylinder heads are still being refined.
The open-plenum, short-runner air intake is beautiful, with a long, graceful arc like an art deco wall hanging. It gobbles the high-pressure air coming off those four 81-mm turbos, custom-built for the project and producing 36 pounds of boost at full throttle. An injector sits at the bottom of each of the sixteen long intake runners. A custom home-brew software setup was required, because, not surprisingly, nothing off-the-shelf could support 16 ignition coil drivers, Morris says.
It's been a long journey to get to this point for SME. The team has been working on the engine for a year and a half. About six weeks ago, they strapped it to the dyno for the first time. "When I started it up, that was some serious butt-puckering time," Morris says. He'd commissioned a spare crankshaft, but the water-jacketed billet engine block, camshaft, and basically everything else were one-offs. "If something went catastrophic, if it destroyed the block, that would be astronomical to fix," he says.
With the wastegates wide open and the turbos only creating about three pounds of boost, the engine made 1050 lb-ft of torque at 3000 RPM. To hit that 5000 horsepower target without overloading the crank and making the engine tear itself apart, they had to make it rev. "If I wanted it to, I could make it make 3500 lb-ft of torque down around 4000 RPM," Morris says. "But it is extremely hard on a motor. RPM will save these motors." Right now, at 36 pounds of boost, Morris estimates the engine is making around 5000 horsepower at its 6900 RPM redline—the engine maxes out his biggest dyno, which can only measure to 4515 horsepower. The plan is to push that redline to 8000, which will require beefing up the valvetrain.
"It is surprisingly quiet for how much horsepower it makes," Morris says. "You get more turbo noise off of it than anything." With four garbage-disposal-size turbos that only start making boost around 4000 RPM, that's probably not a surprise.
"I have no illusions that I'm competing with Ferrari, Lamborghini,"he says. "This is big horsepower. That's all. It's gonna drive, but will it purr like a Ferrari V-12? No," Morris says with a chuckle. "That's not what we build, and that's not really what they hired me for either."
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I have to make one point very clear: During my visit, I did not get to see the Devel engine run. When I arrived at SME, the staff was in the process of tearing down the engine for post-dyno inspection, and the intake and cylinder heads had already been removed.
So I cannot say with absolute, 100-percent certainty that Morris and his team have built what he says they have. I, like you, have .
But I saw the engine that appears in those videos and heard the team explain everything that went in to its development over the past 18 months. I also got a ride in Steve's big-turbo, 1000-horsepower Chevy Trailblazer SS, which looks completely stock, but runs the quarter-mile in 9.98 on the factory wheel-and-tire package.
Having seen, heard, and felt these things during my three-hour visit, I'm confident that Morris and his team have built exactly what they say they have: A quad-turbo V16 that makes something north of 4500 horsepower. What happens next is anybody's guess.
Steve Morris Engines is basically a subcontractor to the Devel Sixteen project. This one-off V16 is simply a proof-of-concept prototype, to show that the engine the Devel people wanted can in fact be built. And building the engine is about as far as Morris wants to go with it.
Drivetrain, packaging, radiators, accessory drive, and engine-compartment layout are not something Morris says he's interested in working on. "They've talked to us about that, and I've said, 'I do not build cars.'" he says. "That stuff is way over my head. I have no inclination that I have that kind of ability. We build engines. That's it."
Whether Devel can come up with a chassis and drivetrain to support this beastly motor is as much of a mystery to Morris and his team as it is to the rest of us. "I don't know how many streetable cars are gonna run around with 3000 or 3500 lb-ft of torque and have any chance of living on the street," Esnaola says.
Which is why it's all the more amazing that a shop in Muskegon, staffed by a handful of guys, was able to build this one-off daydream engine in the first place. Morris isn't an engineer—he grew up working on drag cars, spent a few years working for Dart building Pro Stock cylinder heads, opened and closed a number of small-time race shops, and learned some hard lessons about business along the way. The same week that the Devel Sixteen dyno video came out, Morris closed the deal to buy the plain-looking building that houses his business.
If the Dubai-based folks behind the Devel project can get to the point in chassis development where they need multiple quad-turbo V16 engines, SME will build them. Historically speaking, that's probably not very likely to happen. But on the off-chance that Devel succeeds, we know what will be powering it. "We were contracted to build a bullet," Esnaola says. "And we built a bullet."