Mechanisms for internal combustion engine variable valve timing (VVT) have been the subject of almost 800 US patents since 1880. Over 110 of these patents were issued just in the three years 1985 through 1987. Also, many technical papers have been published on VVT mechanisms. We reviewed all of these patents and much of the literature. As a result, we have classified all the mechanisms found into IS basic concepts which we describe and evaluate in this paper.We conclude that VVT has much potential, but that very little of this potential has yet been realized. Serious difficulties have limited the application of variable valve timing to date. Virtually all VVT mechanisms proposed until recently suffer from high cost and complexity, limited variability, and high impact velocities. An improved system is described in a companion paper (1)*.