Journal: These Are The Ten Best Vintage Four-Cylinder Engines

These Are The Ten Best Vintage Four-Cylinder Engines

Petrolicious Productions By Petrolicious Productions
July 16, 2014
37 comments

Last week, we asked you to name the greatest pre-1990 four-cylinder engine. Our question spawned a free-for-all debate on our website and various social media outlets, with votes coming in for everything from a late-1940s Crosley motor to the turbocharged Porsche 944 engine and plenty else in between. After reading your opinions and arguing the topic here in the Petrolicious garage, we thought it only right to distill the debate into a ranking of the ten best vintage four-bangers. We hope you agree with our rankings and rationale, but we’re fully prepared for dissent, so please let us know your thoughts. What did we get right, and what did we overlook?

#10 The Volvo B18–Retired New York schoolteacher Mr. Irv Gordon has put more than three million–yes, million–miles on his 1966 Volvo P1800, a feat for which he currently occupies real estate in The Guinness Book of World Records. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence for the greatness of the B18 engine, but even from a wider angle, this engine played no small role in cementing Volvo’s reputation for durability. The motor would eventually power not only the P1800 but also the 122S and the PV-544. And when Volvo was ready to move past the B18 in 1969, they simply bored it out and renamed it the B20.

#9 The Toyota 4A-GE–Sporting a Yamaha-developed cylinder head, the first generation 4A-GE engine was introduced in the 1983 AE86, with production lasting through 1991’s third generation. The engine made its American debut in the 1985 Corolla GT-S, but its most memorable application came in the form of the AW11 MR2.

#8 Offenhauser–Combining power and reliability, Offenhauser engines powered 27 Indianapolis 500 winners between 1934 and 1970. With some variants of the engine capable of three horsepower per cubic inch (almost 185hp/L), Offenhauser simply had no equal in the world of open-wheel racing at the time. Originally developed by Messrs. Fred Offenhauser and Harry Miller, the Offenhauser company saw its greatest success under Messrs. Louis Meyer and Dale Drake, who bought the name and designs in 1946. Not until Ford entered the picture in the early 1960s would Offenhauser finally see a serious challenge to its Indy supremacy.

#7 Cosworth BDA–Based on a Ford Kent block and combined with four valves per cylinder, this was the first Cosworth engine to use belt drive to its camshafts. From the time it was introduced in 1969, the BDA series set the standard that other manufacturers scrambled to match throughout the 1970s. Whether powering the Ford Escort RS1600, Formula Atlantic cars, or Group B rally cars, BDA engines were in a class of their own.

#6 Fiat Twin Cam–Often referred to as the Lampredi Twin in homage to its designer, Mr. Aurelio Lampredi, this inline-four powered a swath of Fiats and Lancias between 1966 and 1997, among them Lancia’s 037 and Delta Integrale rally legends. Indeed, this is the single most successful engine in the history of the World Rally Championship, winning a combined total of ten WRC manufacturer titles for Lancia and Fiat. Along the way, it also carried the Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo to two World Sportscar Championships in 1980 and 1981.

#5 Honda B16A–Introduced just in time for our 1990 cutoff, Honda’s B-series featured the company’s first application of its now-legendary VTEC system. If you loved your Civic SiR or your Integra XSi–and, in later years, your Integra Type R–you have this engine to thank.

#4 Ford Model T Four-Cylinder–At 177 cubic inches and twenty horsepower, the Ford Model T engine is, by today’s standards, the very definition of quaint. And yes, because of the Model T’s reliance on gravity to feed petrol from the fuel tank to the carburetor, the cars had to climb hills in reverse when fuel was low. All that being said, this is the car that finally weaned humanity from its dependence on Big Alfalfa. And those horse droppings you didn’t step in as you crossed the street today? You can thank the Model T for their absence.

#3 Alfa Romeo Twin Cam–Originally introduced in the 1290cc Giulietta in 1954, this venerable twin cam engine was ahead of its time from the outset and would go on to power forty years of Alfas. The engine, with its aluminum alloy block and a sound all its own (the sound!), would be adapted for use in Giulias, GTVs, GTA 1300 Juniors, Berlinas, and even Milanos.

#2 Volkswagen E-Motor–Germany’s version of the Model T engine, variations of the air-cooled E-Motor powered everything from early Beetles, VW buses, Porsche 912s and 914s, dune buggies galore, and a whole host of airplanes. So simple and robust was this motor that Volkswagen produced it for seventy years. Even now, it’s nearly impossible to go through a day, in any corner of the world, without hearing one these rattle past you down the street.

And finally, #1… the BMW M10–With a production run that spanned most of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, variations of the M10 powered everything from early BMW 1500s to the E30 316i. When the folks in Munich turbocharged the M10 and rechristened it the M12, they had themselves the engine that would carry Mr. Nelson Piquet to the 1983 Formula One championship and which would become the most successful BMW racing engine of all time. Unfazed at the prospect of gilding the lily, BMW eventually repurposed the M10 block when it developed the S14 engine that powered the E30 M3.

Images Sources: petrolicious.com, autolit.eu, oldcarmanualproject.com, fordheritage.blogspot.com, productioncars.com, bmw2002faq.com, justacarguy.blogspot.com, hagleyserver.com, autowp.ruozhonda.com

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37 Comments on "These Are The Ten Best Vintage Four-Cylinder Engines"

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Austin
Austin

I am with Gav Oxbury, but not just in sure numbers. The A series engines were one of the first if not the the first transvers mounted 4 cylinder engines.

Gav Oxbury

How about the BMC/BL A series and A+ series over 5,000,000 units in many vehicles over its history 1952-2004

Renaud Bouin
Renaud Bouin

And what about the Alfa Romeo Boxer ??

Jan Izik
Jan Izik

What about the B6ZE(RS). I think that it’s quite nice.

Nick Luker
Nick Luker

The Alfa Twin cam ahead of the Fiat twin cam????
You have to be kidding.
Having owned driven and worked on both
Lampredi’s master piece kills the Alfa
The Alfa engine design is a really old design

Eric Sternberg
Eric Sternberg

Chrvrolet Cosworth Vega!!

Francisco Miranda P.
Francisco Miranda P.

What about XU10j4RS engine from Peugeot-Citroen ?, it is master piece !!

here´s some info:

http://www.pugaddicts.co.uk/2012/02/xu10j4rs-engine-information.html

André Borges
André Borges

The Volvo in tenth is beyond me.

Jonathan Ranney
Jonathan Ranney

What about the Lampedi designed Fiat 128 series. Influenced an entire generation of Japaniece cars.

Adam Penman
Adam Penman

Really good article, leads us all into an engine argument!

I’m sad the BMC A Series engine doesn’t get a mention – with a production run of 50 years and it’s iconic use of a tiny engine bay – it was used in the Austin Mini (Cooper’s too), the MG Midget, the Morris Minor.

Iconic engine there – but probably beaten by the WV for its durability!

Johnny Warburton
Johnny Warburton

K series in corolla……?

toyonut
toyonut

Strange line up.. What about Toyota’s famous twincam 2T-G ?? Design of end sixties. 4AGE is a derivate of it, as all newer Toyota 4 bangers.

racer129
racer129

Wow, based on what criteria.

Ben Rogers
Ben Rogers

Ford Kent, this engine along with the A series BMC engine was the the birth of the British tuning scene and was the basis for the early days of Cosworth, it eventually evolved into the cosworth BDA engine, there have been more powerful motors but this was genisis for accessible performance in the The UK

Malcolm Cambridge
Malcolm Cambridge

I don’t think the Escort RS2000 used to illustrate #7 had the BDA engine. Just the SOHC 2L in those cars.

Wade Page
Wade Page

How did the Jeep 4 banger not make this? I loved that little bastard. Until I got a 4.0….

Jachu
Jachu

Alfa Romeo Twin Cam was produced in 80s as the Alfa Twin Spark and this engine was produced to the 1997 (Alfa 164 2.0, earlier in Alfa 75, 155 too).
Applause for Alfa’s 2.0 engine, which has more than a 140 HP and… 8 vavles 🙂 🙂

Glenn Hodge
Glenn Hodge

Alfa engines especially the twin sparks are flawed. They need a complete rebuild to clear out all the carbon build up and clogged EGR. Performance degrades over time as a result and Heads disassembled and cleaned at a mere 60000kms -is the only solution.

Ib Erik Soderblom
Ib Erik Soderblom
They are not the same engines. If you are not talking about the late Twin Spark versions of the original Alfa Twin Cam ? This gave Alfa the experience and knowedge to improve the later TS’s. The TS’s are improved, very improved FIAT based engines. The early 8 valve TS’s are similar to the real Alfa angines, as they are all alu alloy. The later TS’s degraded to cast iron blocks. I’ve driven 1.6 and two 2.0 TS’s. The 2.0’s are the most fun, but suffer badly from a poorly designed internaly lubriation system, making it essential to have the… Read more »
Nikola
Nikola

drove one of these for a year… grreat sound, smooth, nice to look at too , although one of the gaskets was leaking, and needed to change a lambda sensor

Sebastian
Sebastian

FE3N not list ? ist most powerfull engine series manofactured by mazda D:

custom FE3N = 400 /590 HP o_O

Joseph Schritz
Joseph Schritz

What does horsepower have to do with anything here?

Stefan marjoram
Stefan marjoram

Difficult to pick just ten but perhaps the list should have included the FIAT S76 engine of 1910. At 28.3 litres it was the biggest car engine of all time.

Don Slevin
Don Slevin

The Mazda 1.8 that powers the Miata is not on the list? Bulletproof and on the most popular roadster ever not to mentioned raced like mad every weekend? Seems like a big omission to me…LOL

Don Slevin
Don Slevin

Ah…didn’t see the pre 1990…although didn’t the model appear technically in 1989? My bad in any event…LOL

Evan Bedford

The 1.6 is pre-1990. And it gets up to rev’s faster than the 1.8. And it was built for turbocharging, so when naturally aspirated, it is bulletproof.

TAS
TAS

Neat to see the little BMW M10 engine represented. Yes, it was the base that helped to eventually evolve into the S14 also. But the DOHC M12 is a legend!

Some history on the M10 and the iterations of the M12 of the late 70’s-mid 80’s: http://drive4corners.com/index.php/the-flying-brick/

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Perfect timing… as I am heading out to the garage in a few minutes to start pulling the motor out of my 2002tii… long overdue for an overhaul! Fortunately, I have two little *helpers* to keep me company. 🙂

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia

Chris, glad to hear you’ve trained your little ones to do some wrenching for you!

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Well, yesterday evening we opened the bonnet, took a look around, but got distracted by the summer family table tennis tournament. 😉
Tomorrow has come, and we are on our way! Can’t wait to get this thing cleaned up and back on the road (hopefully with a few custom tricks to add a little spice and to show pride of ownership!). 🙂

Eric Pommerer
Eric Pommerer

Pg1 “Hmm. No M10.”
Pg2 “Intersting, No M10, yet?”
Pg3-4 “Interesting … intersting”
Pg5 “Yes! There it is!! I *knew* it!!!!”

Steve
Steve

Any of the Ferrari Lampredi I4 race engines

Ant
Ant

No A-series?!

lotofagos
lotofagos

what about 1.6 lotus twin cam engine? 😉

Vince Lupo
Vince Lupo

If this list was not strictly for car engines, I’d say that the Honda CB750-4 should be mentioned! Ground-breaking when it was introduced in 1969, and its transverse, overhead camshaft inline-four design set the stage for subsequent sportbikes from all manufacturers, even to this day.

Geoffrey
Geoffrey

For the ford cosworth engine, you put a picture of the engine made in “Torlon” the first polymere engine! Why???

Daniel Schöngut

I think the Alfa boxer 1,7 from the alfasud and alfa 33 could be in this list too.