Americans don’t really have a positive view of diesel engines, as most Americans think of the old days of compression-ignition engines, where smog and black smoke filled the air. Much of that stigma has a lot to do with the American diesel engines of the 1970’s, specifically the GM-built 5.7 liter diesel V8. Which is why Ford actually borrowed a diesel engine from BMW.
The aforementioned GM V8 was actually derived from one of GM’s most commonly-used small block V8s. It was retrofitted for diesel duty in response to the oil crisis of the ’70s, where fuel economy was becoming paramount. This engine was notoriously unreliable and exacerbated the already negative view of diesel engines in America.
Ford, though, had a good idea. Across the Atlantic, European car brands were actually developing quality diesel engines which had been selling well in America as well. Mercedes-Benz was famous for making a sturdy diesel, but wasn’t willing to share with the ‘Mericans. But, the folks in Munich needed to develop a diesel engine to compete with their rivals over in Stuttgart. So BMW had a diesel engine made from its M21 inline six-cylinder engine. This proved to be a much better alternative to what the American companies could build so Ford asked to use it.
Fortunately, BMW obliged, and Ford started selling its cars with said diesel engine, against Mercedes-Benz. In fact, Ford marketed the Lincoln Continental Mk VII against Mercedes-Benz, claiming to have a “European designed 2.4-liter Turbo Diesel.” This is funny for a couple of reason: One, it wasn’t marketed as a BMW engine but just a “European” engine. Two, if an American car company marketed their engine as European today, it probably wouldn’t go over very well with many of today’s Americans.
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