CAR magazine’s very own technical editor, Nicol Louw, is an International Engine of the Year judge. And he was recently asked by the folks over at Engine Technology Magazine to name what he believes is the greatest engine of all time.
Check out Nicol’s choice below, along with those of other past and present International Engine of the Year judges. Thanks to Engine Technology Magazine for allowing reproduction of this article here on CARmag.co.za…
Nicol Louw: BMW 1200 Boxer Twin
To claim this outlandish award, an engine needs a royal lineage, proven history and wide range of applications. In short, it has to endure and evolve with current technology. This is where the BMW boxer twin, developed in 1921, has no equal. Designed by German mechanical engineer, Max Friz, the first iteration appeared in the R32 motorcycle. It gained electronic ignition, overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, fuel injection and water cooling over the years, but the basic concept remains in the latest 1 200 cm3 unit found in the popular R 1200 range of motorcycles. Apart from the torquey nature, which proves to be more advantageous in real-world riding than ultimate power, it has heaps of character and remains a popular choice for endure and road bike (and even kit-plane) applications today.
Liu Hongcang: Ferrari F136F
The greatest engine of all time, for me, is the Ferrari 4,5-litre V8. The F136F was, and arguably still is, the top NA engine of any era. Its output-per-litre of 127ps (or 134ps in the wonderful 458 Speciale) has to be commended, as do the high compression ratio of 12,5:1 and the high redline in excess of 9 000 r/min. The engine could be nominated for any number of reasons – it certainly has the technical prowess. But the F136F has much more; it makes one of the most spine-tingling noises – the clamour of the engine is simply amazing – but its driveability, flexibility and usability are also very strong reasons to choose this engine.
John O’Brien: Lexus 1LR-GUE 4,8-litre V10
To attempt to answer what is such a subjective question, I’ve attempted to play it relatively safe and go for an engine that, to me, ticks all the boxes. Mechanically advanced, sonorous and potent, the 1LR-GUE is the jewel in the Lexus LFA’s already magnificent crown. A cocktail of exotic materials such as magnesium and titanium, the 72 V10 is capable of revving from idle to the 9 000 r/min redline in just 0,6 seconds – a good enough reason to nominate the engine in itself. But add to that a Yamaha-tuned ‘Octave Harmony’ acoustic, which combines mechanical fury with the type of intake and exhaust note combination that truly makes the hairs on your arm stand on end, and the whole package is simply staggering. Ten individual, electronically controlled throttle bodies and 12-hole injectors for each cylinder, a compression ratio of 12:1 and low friction internals result in the lightening throttle response. Despite its potency, the engine’s compact dimensions and weight make it smaller and lighter than a typical V8. The second choice I had was GM’s small block V8. The oversquare unit has been a sophisticated addition to the engine market since 1955, with over 100 million examples produced. The now ‘LT’ family of engines is still bringing big, unstressed horsepower to a diverse range of vehicles.
Marc Noordeloos: Volkswagen VR6
The greatest engines of all time? Ferrari’s 4,7-liter V12 in the F50 jumps to mind. There’s also the brilliant BMW S85 V10 – if only they built a mid-engined sports car around the 8 250 r/min, 5,0-litre masterpiece. But there’s a more pedestrian German engine that’s etched in my brain as particularly glorious, helped tremendously by its launch timing. Volkswagen’s unique VR6 came to market when I washed cars at the local dealership. My then-boss loaned me his 1992 Corrado VR6. The lovely sound of the narrow-angle six-cylinder permeated my curious teenage ears. Its smoothness, packaging and power were such a change compared with the four-cylinders that graced much of the US line-up. I eventually procured a tweaked Mk3 Golf (GTI) VR6 and later ordered a brand-new VR6-equipped Mk4 R32, but the impending expenses surrounding an expectant wife annulled that purchase. Maybe it’s time to hunt for a used example.
Jason Cammisa: Mercedes-Benz M198
I could spend hours listening to my esteemed colleagues debating the best engine, but it’d be more fun to drown out their arguments with the orchestral wail of the 3,0-litre straight-six used in that gullwinged masterpiece, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL. At a time when one horsepower per cubic inch was the unreachable moon-shot standard of specific output, the M198 produced nearly 1,2. It had direct injection in 1954, a half-century before Mercedes’ cars had computers powerful enough to try that trick again. And the noise? Oh, yes, the noise. This six barrages your cochlear ducts with every audible frequency at the same time; a full-bodied wall of sound whose breadth and strength is simply unmatched. Keep fighting, boys, I can’t hear you.
Dean Slavnich: BMW i8 powertrain
The problem in trying to answer ‘what is the greatest engine of all time?’ is that the question itself is fundamentally flawed. I mean, it’s like comparing apples to pears. And where exactly do you start with this? A legendary atmo V6/8/10/12 (circle your favourite cylinder count here) from yesteryear can’t – and shouldn’t – vie for this title against, say, a modern day turbocharged four-cylinder masterpiece. They’re both relevant in their own unique ways; two designs of their very own era. And then there’s fuel type. Can we really compare VW’s torque-tastic V10 TDi to, say, BMW M’s V10 monster? And how about throwing hybrids, electrics and fuel cells into this equation too? Perhaps the problem is not the question but rather me – I just have too many greatest engine contenders! But looking forward is what I’ll do and so with that one guideline I choose the powertrain in the BMW i8 as my greatest engine of all time. And that’s the key here: it’s the package as a whole I’m selecting, not specifically the 1,5 triple. Is the BMW i8 the most progressive sports car to date? In a word, yes! The i8 represents a momentous leap forward in terms of engineering and technology; it really is an automotive vision of the future that’s essentially available today. While other car makers in this $120 000 battlefield are putting out products with so-called downsized turbocharged motors that are inevitably six or eight cylinders in design, the i8 is a three-cylinder marvel. The fact that a sports car of this caliber with just 1,5 litres of piston displacement and a seamlessly integrated e-motor works so well is living, breathing proof that hybrid technology that was once questioned, and even mocked, is here to stay. And it might even be the saviour of the internal combustion engine and sports car as we know it. The powertrain consists of a 1,5 turbo-triple to the rear axle and a front axle e-motor, meaning the i8 can outsprint a Porsche 911 while being good for 2,1 L/100 km and emissions of only 49 g/km. For the record, 231 PS (170 kW) comes from the IC unit; the remaining 132 PS (97 kW) from the e-motor, and the word on the grapevine is that there’s much more to come too…
Jens Meiners: Volkswagen V10 TDI
When Volkswagen went on a mission to conquer the luxury market with the Phaeton and the Touareg, its aim was not to catch up the established competition, but to exceed it. And one of the key ingredients was the awesome 4 921 cc V10 TDI, a twin-turbocharged, all-aluminium, undersquare engine with pump-jet high-pressure injectors. Mated to a six-speed automatic, it made 750 N.m of torque, with a high-output version added to the Touareg portfolio in 2008
(850 N.m). It was economical, too. The engine was the crowning achievement of a quarter century of diesel engine development at VW, and at time of launch it was the most powerful automotive diesel engine by far. I vividly remember the dark growl and the inexorable power of the Phaeton V10 TDI, up to a terminal velocity of over 270km/h (the governor allowed for a generous surplus).
Georg Kacher: Ducati VSD HSZ
My favourite engine is one that runs on water. Impossible? Then one that runs on air. Still can’t do it? Okay, then let’s throw efficiency out of the window and zoom in on a different animal. How about a normally aspirated 2,6-litre V8 featuring a desmodromic valvetrain. This Ducati design was developed for Audi and Lamborghini. It’s not a pipedream but an engine that actually exists, which has been bench- and road-tested, which would probably be in production by now had Ferdinand Piëch not lost his job. Alternative desmo variations were based on the big block V8 and V10 powerplants. All it takes to grow goose bumps as tall as fir trees is to fire up this motore stupendo. The first prototypes idled at 3 000 r/min, were from the beginning redlined at 12 500 r/min, and made an absurdly illegal yet absolutely intoxicating noise. A real beast with awesome grunt – and with higher emissions than a pre-war Russian tank. The engineers claim they could have fixed it, but at what cost? In performance terms, the light and small still-born high-mech Ducati Kraftwerk scored full marks for proactive throttle response, eagerness to rev, and raw grunt. In combination with a scalable electric power pack rated at 85 kW, the maximum power output of the VSD HDZ V8 (a very small displacement, high-revving unit) was a stunning 750bhp. Even though it didn’t run on air or water, this engine did, on my very personal excitement scale, epitomise the dog’s man bits!
Bill Visnic: Nissan VQ V6
When Nissan launched its all-new VQ-series V6 in 1995, the world instantly had a new benchmark for six-cylinder engines. The VQ series established a standard for V6 noise, vibration and harshness that outperformed and indisputably rivalled BMW’s hallowed in-line sixes. The US at first got only the seminal 3,0-litre VQ. Its 190 hp (eventually 227 hp) appears undernourished by today’s standards, but at that time, 63 hp/litre from a normally aspirated V6 was heady stuff, while the VQ’s whippet throttle response and its stupefying, vibration-free revving made for a devilish performance impression that far exceeded the hard numbers. Little wonder it revved nothing like a mass-market V6: the VQ was a shocking 45 kg lighter than the same-size V6 it replaced (9 kg was cut from the valvetrain alone!). It had 10% fewer parts and introduced innovations such as micro-finished crankshaft and cams and an unmatched degree of automation in its assembly plant in Iwaki, Japan. But it was the VQ’s supernatural NVH that had competing engineers benchmarking the engine for more than a decade.
Graham Johnson: Honda F20C
When we last ran this same Greatest Engines of All Time feature in ETi, I declared the 2,0-litre from the Honda S2000 the greatest engine of all time. I highlighted its immensely fun ability to rev to a heady 9 000 r/min (a feat still not matched by today’s car engines and indeed unlikely to be bettered given the trend for lower-revving forced-induction powerplants). I called its mechanical variable valve timing application ‘genius’ (sadly, ever more sophisticated electronics put an end to the mechanical setups that you could actually feel jump onto a different cam. It was a sensational leap in performance the moment the jump happened). Furthermore, I believe it is a fact that Honda never had a warranty claim on a single VTEC unit, while the S2000’s heart remains the most powerful-per-litre naturally aspirated engine. At the time of that original story, I wrote that people will forever remember this engine as one of the all-time greats. Over a decade on, that statement still rings true. Indeed, I often consider buying an S2000 just so I can own a small piece of engineering wonder, but then the sports car that the 2,0-litre powered was, well, bloody awful!
Juergen Zoellter: Bugatti Type 35
For me, there are actually two greatest engines of all time: the 2,0-litre engine of the Bugatti 35 and the 6,3-litre engine of the Ferrari F12 GTO. Not to mention the brilliant 2,0-litre engine from the Honda S2000, or the fascinating 3,8-litre boxer engine of the Porsche 911 GT3. I have, however, chosen the Bugatti 35 engine, on account of the value and technical refinement of what I consider the most extraordinary engine of its era. The three-valve technology of this straight-eight engine was revolutionary at that time and allows extremely high revs, up to 6 000 r/min, thanks to an innovative (low friction) multiple bearing system. Its power output of 90 hp is not that high, but it is how it is produced that makes this engine a work of art. The engine reacts with amazing immediate throttle response, revs up very linearly and powers the most successful race car of all time. Without any sound tuning, the lightweight aluminium engine emits a metallic mechanical sound. The Bugatti 35 shows an extraordinary durability due to unique craftsmanship – built by hand!
*Courtesy of Engine Technology Magazine