Throughout automotive history, there have been some pretty amazing car models which stood out as spectacular pieces of automotive art, like the Duesenberg SJ, the Jaguar E-Type, the Ferrari 250 California, and the Aston Martin DB5. While the styling on these cars alone is better than most new models, the motor under the hood is what helped to create the legend.
Classic car engines give us a refreshing look into the past, showcasing older technologies. Looking back at these powerplants, we notice some pretty amazing engineering in terms of how the valves work, how the carburetors get their fuel, and how the exhaust manifolds alter the sound of the engine. This also shows us that some American V8 engines’ technologies are from the 1950s, just with some minor changes to make them more efficient.
Classic car engines are beautiful pieces of automotive art that shows where engineering came from and what changed over the years. Here are ten of the greatest classic car engines ever made.
10 VW Boxer Engine – 1936-2006
The VW Boxer engine is one of the first powerplants produced by the German automaker for use in its Type 1 people’s car – nicknamed the Beetle. The engine displaced between just under 1.0 liters to a maximum of just under 2.0 liters.
The VW Boxer engine is an iconic piece of technology due to its use in the Beetle, which eventually spread to the Type 2 Kombi and other VW products. It produced very little power but was reliable and easily fixed and maintained, making it a great motor for amateur mechanics.
9 Blower Bentley – 1927-1931
The Blower Bentley is one of the most famous engines thanks to its use in the Bentley 4.5-liter race car of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The 4.5-liter inline-4 engine featured a Roots-type supercharger mounted to the front, producing around 175 hp.
The racing version of the engine gained a new crankshaft, pistons, and a revised lubrication system resulting in a bump in performance to 240 hp – better than the Bentley 6.5-liter of the same time. The Blower Bentley is a gorgeous car but costs a fortune to purchase and keep running.
8 Chevrolet 350 – 1967-Present
The Chevrolet 350 V8 engine is an ongoing legend of the auto industry. It first made its debut in the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, before becoming a standard engine in other models a year later. Chevrolet kept the 350 in one form or another in production until 2003, when they finally ceased production.
GM sold the tooling to a different company that made such a massive profit from the 350, that GM bought the tooling back – at big expense – and continued production as a turn-key crate engine for hot rods and swaps. The 350 is a brilliantly reliable V8 with excellent performance and economy.
7 Jaguar XK6 – 1949-1992
The Jaguar XK6 straight-6 engine is another legendary motor that stayed in production for an incredible 43 years. The original engine displaced 3.4 liters and powered the XK120 sports car – then the fastest production car in the world.
The XK6’s displacement grew to 3.8 and 4.2 liters for the Mark II and E-Type, before gaining some more modern technologies in addition to the already quite modern DOHC layout. The last car to feature the XK6 was the Daimler DS420 Limousine used by the British Royal Family.
6 Porsche 3.3 Turbo Flat-6 – 1975-1989
The Porsche 911 is basically the sportier version of the VW Beetle but evolved over the years to become what is most likely the best sports car on the market. Back in the 1970s, the second generation 911 arrived and with the advent of turbocharging, it became one of the greats.
Granted, the nickname ‘Widow Maker’ didn’t exactly come about for nothing – as the turbo-lag caused quite a lot of accidents. The 3.3-liter turbocharged Flat-6 produced just 256 hp and 243 lb-ft, but all of it arrived at the same time relatively high in the rev range. It is thanks to this car that modern 911 Turbo Ss are so ludicrously fast.
5 Rover V8 – 1960-2006
The Rover V8 may be a bit of a strange choice for this list, but the engine is a historical piece of the British auto industry. The Rover V8 arrived on the auto scene in 1967 as an all-aluminum engine – a futuristic concept. It was based on the Buick 215 V8 but with a British spin on it.
Displacement ranged from 3.0 liters to 5.0 liters, with Rover, Land Rover, Morgan, MG, TVR, Triumph, Ginetta, Leyland, and even Bowler using it in various of their cars. While the 3.5-liter version was pretty bad in terms of reliability, the 3.9-liter improved massively.
4 BMW M88 – 1978-1989
BMW has many great engines, but the ones which stand out are the straight-sixes – a BMW specialty. One of the greatest has to be the M88 designed for the M1 supercar of the late 1970s. The engine in its M88 form produced 273 hp, while the M88/1 went up to 464 hp in the M1 Procar.
The power kept climbing and the turbocharged M88/2 Group 5 version pushed 986 hp in its highest tune. The M88 was also the basis for the E28 M5’s engine, as well as the donor for the E30 M3’s 4-cylinder. While the M1 never really competed as BMW wished, the M88 engine did serve the company well in its other models.
3 Chrysler HEMI – 1951-Present
The Chrysler HEMI engine is one of the most widely known American powerplants – mostly thanks to the name. The HEMI engines are called such as their combustion chambers are hemispherical, rather than square, resulting in a better burn and more pushing power directed towards the piston head.
The HEMI started out as a straight-six engine, before transitioning to a V8 which took the American muscle world by storm. The largest displacement of the HEMI engine reached 7.0 liters before the latter generations were reduced to a more reasonable 5.7 and 6.4 liters.
2 Lamborghini V12 – 1963-2010
By now, every motoring enthusiast probably knows the story of Ferruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari. As a result of their disagreement, Lamborghini created a car company that not only made faster cars than Ferrari but made more desirable cars.
The first engine Lamborghini commissioned was a V12 for use in their first car, the 350GT in 1963. The engine displaced 3.5 liters and gradually increased in size until it reached 6.5 liters in the Murcielago, which ended production in 2010 – a full 47 years after it debuted.
1 Ferrari Colombo – 1947-1988
Probably the best classic car engine has to be the Ferrari Colombo V12. The engine debuted in 1947, displacing just 1.5 liters and producing 116 hp. It found its way into the 125 S Formula One car. The engine quickly grew to 3.0 liters – its famous 250 moniker – and produced between 220 and 270 hp.
The Colombo continued improving and growing and eventually ended production in the 412i of the late 1980s as a 4.9-liter. The Colombo V12 is not only the most famous engine the Prancing Horse made, but it is also a beautiful thing to look at and listen to.