Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophies have served to inspire OEM powertrain engineers worldwide since the engine competition began in 1995.

After the auto makers celebrate their award with employee rallies and cocktail receptions, the coveted hardware generally ends up on a chief engineer’s desk or in a lobby display case.

Not so for General Motors Co., whose 2010 10 Best Engines award for the all-new 2.4L Ecotec direct-injection 4-cyl. has been traveling like the Stanley Cup.

Chris Meagher, global chief engineer and program manager for Ecotec, even nicknamed the award “Stanley” to draw from the mystique of the 117-year-old trophy given to each year’s champion of the National Hockey League.

The victorious team allows its players personal time with the fabled silver-and-nickel cup, and they revel in taking the trophy places it’s never been.

GM had the same idea with its latest Best Engines award, which happens to be the auto maker’s 22nd. The trophy was given at the Ward’s 10 Best Engines banquet in January during the North American International Auto show in Detroit.

Recently, GM Powertrain’s engine-calibration team took the trophy on a development trip to the Western U.S., making stops in California (Death Valley, Big Bear and San Diego); Las Vegas; Arizona’s Snowbowl ski area; and Hoover Dam.

“We are trying to get the trophy to as many of the roughly 200 people who had significant input to the execution of this engine,” Meagher tells Ward’s.

Hoisting the 35-lb. (15.5-kg) Stanley Cup over one’s head generally goes along with hoisting large quantities of Canadian lager, so the hockey trophy has suffered through many mishaps and misadventures.

For instance, it’s been lost, submerged in swimming pools and held hostage. It was drop-kicked in 1905 onto a frozen canal in Ottawa, ON, only to be recovered in the morning by remorseful (and hung-over) players.

Meagher gave strict orders that the 10 Best Engines trophy be treated like a delicate gem. Steve Bedford, development systems manager for Ecotec engines, agreed and allowed the trophy to go home for personal parties and celebrations.

But Bedford’s not aware of any such tomfoolery. Besides, the Lucite Best Engines trophy cannot be reshaped by a tinsmith like the Stanley Cup.

“We tried to be super careful with it, so there are no unusual stories and no incidents,” he says. “Somehow a dent in a traveling trophy seems less problematic than a corner chipped off this award, which will stay with us for a while.”

When will the Best Engines trophy settle down?

“We’re not sure when the trophy will be back,” Meagher says. “It is now making similar rounds with some of the design engineers and lab development engineers.”

Ultimately, he expects the award to end up in the GM’s Powertrain museum or in the Ecotec conference room, both in Pontiac, MI.

No word on whether it will come home in early June, about the time one lucky hockey team is beginning a summer of Stanley Cup celebrations.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com