Journal: What is the Greatest Pre-'90 Four-Cylinder Engine Ever?

What is the Greatest Pre-’90 Four-Cylinder Engine Ever?

By Yoav Gilad
July 10, 2014
176 Comments

Photography by Yoav Gilad for Petrolicious

There have been many legendary four cylinders over the hundred-odd years of automotive history. And with the exception of more recent super-exotics, four cylinders have provided the motivation for nearly every type of car from the most plebeian to the most glorified (Ferrari F1 cars, for instance). So we’re curious what you think the cream-of-the-crop is? There are no guidelines, it can be a high-strung 1930s racing motor (Offenhauser, anyone?) or a bullet-proof Volvo engine or the 1980s workhorse Toyota 22R, just make sure it’s pre-1990!

But please, when answering, let us know why you chose what you chose. And if you want to know which way we’re leaning, click here (after commenting of course).

What is the greatest pre-’90 four-cylinder engine ever?

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
177 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Noah Ndance
Noah Ndance
5 years ago

Easy answer. 1988 Toyota Celica Alltrac 3sgte

Ben
Ben
5 years ago

For performance I’d have to say the Peugeot 1.9 16v (XU9J4) and for robustness the XN series Peugeot motor.

Julio beltran
Julio beltran
6 years ago

To me…the one i grew up with.VW 2.0 9A 16v.known to produce over 400hp with stock internals.but then there was the E30 M3 engine for the wealthier….

André Borges
André Borges
8 years ago

Absolute fan of the redblock Volvos. Amazing performers if you know how to tweak ’em. We had lots of fun in rallies here in southern Brazil in the 90’s and 00’s.

Jan Wittkowski
Jan Wittkowski
9 years ago

I think also the Volvo-redblocks were/are great engines.
They were bulletproof and also successful in motoring. (e.g. in the Amazon)

Jon Haynes
Jon Haynes
8 years ago
Reply to  Jan Wittkowski

A friend and I both have Volvo 240’s, the last of the red blocks. He tried killing his before doing a V8 swap, but he grenaded the diff before he could. Instead of putting a brick on the gas and filming, he’s stripping it down and making it into a man cave coffee table, and I love mine (to spite not being able to keep the exhaust attached).

Josh
Josh
9 years ago

You forgot the Datsun l series 4 cylinder. They are bullet proof

Ari Tamminen
Ari Tamminen
9 years ago

My opinion is that the greatest 4-cylinder engine is the Opel/Vauxhall C20XE 2.0L DOHC (and it’s turbocharged variant C20LET). It was introduced in the Opel Kadett GSi 16V in 1987 and the equivalent Vauxhall Astra GTE 16V. It was used in varous forms of motorsport during it’s life, in rallying, junior Formula cars like the Formula Opel Vauxhall Lotus which was built totally for this engine (raced by drivers like Mika Hakkinen), F4, F3 (raced by eg. Nico Rosberg and many others), it basically dominated the 2 wheel drive rally scene in many countries for years in the Opel Kadett and Astra, was used in many racing cars e.g. in DTM, BTCC, WTCC (Chevrolet won the WTCC world championship with this engine still couple of years ago, even the engine went out of production already in 1997). For the street the engine has been used originally in the Opel Kadett E GSi 16V, Vauxhall Astra mk2 GTE 16V, Opel/Vauxhall Astra F GSi 16V, Opel/Vauxhall Calibra 16V, Opel Vectra 2000 16V and GT 16V, Vauxhall Cavalier mk3 GSi 2000 16V and SRi 16V and many kit cars like the Caterham Super Seven JPE (which was at it’s time the 0-60 mph world record holder) and many many retrofits to all kinds of race and road cars. It had 150 hp as stock from, but was and is quite easily tuneable. The turbocharged version had 204 hp in standard form, also easily tuneable.

oedipus
oedipus
9 years ago

Toyota 4A-GE (AE86) or BMW M3 E30 S14B23 & S14B25

Nikolai Karpuzov
Nikolai Karpuzov
9 years ago

BMW S14 engine. The heart of the most successful touring race car 🙂

Paul Onboost
Paul Onboost
9 years ago

Although I’m obviously late to this party, I’m surprised no one mentioned the BMW S14 motor that powered the E30 M3. A peaky little motor that is always happy up on the cams!

johnk24a
johnk24a
9 years ago

BMW M12/13 turbo that powered Brabham, Arrow, and Benetton.
Why? An estimated 1,400 hp from 1500cc. 933 hp/l, 15.3 hp/ci.

Stephen
Stephen
9 years ago

3TGTEU

Lou Tutone
Lou Tutone
9 years ago

Best pre 1990’s 4 cylinder engine has to be Toyota’s 4AGE 1600cc from the original MR-2

prebordao
prebordao
9 years ago

VW flat-4, for it’s long lasting significance…
PS – and probably overall engine produced in the biggest number ever !

Rayton Fingal Fissore
Rayton Fingal Fissore
9 years ago

The Lampredi engine that won so many rally championships for Fiat and Lancia must be up there on top. Started out in Fiat salons in the 1960:s and ended up in a Delta Integrale 1992.

Rayton Fingal Fissore
Rayton Fingal Fissore
9 years ago

Naturally the Alfa twin cam is on my top list but I have an other in mind. The 5 valve in-line four that propels the Yamaha FZR 1000 motorbike is probably one of the finest engines of the last decade. First came in 1987 with 138 hp and later 145 with clever ex-up valve that provided a nice grunt of torque. And it is the the mother to the famous Yamaha R1 engine.

Erik
Erik
9 years ago

I love the thunderstorm of a Fuhrmann flat 4 starting in the 550 RS up to the 904 🙂

Stefan van der Weele
Stefan van der Weele
9 years ago

2L 16v turbo from a Saab 900 turbo

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Yamaha Vmax. No one mentioned car or bike. As far as cars go, Subaru boxer motors.

William
William
9 years ago

I’m voting for the Porsche 944 as well. The 3 liter 4-banger is a thing to behold.

Fantuzzi
Fantuzzi
9 years ago

It has to be the Maserati 200si’s engines, sounds stunning, great Bhp/Litre for its age.

Just listen to it, V8 sounds with half the cylinders, black magic!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQSVdd1C71Y

sergio
sergio
9 years ago

alfa romeo twin cam 1750

RetroZen
RetroZen
9 years ago

Has to be the Offenhauser engine.

ross
ross
9 years ago

2 litre cosworth bdg – 140bhp/litre in 1978 – have injected alloy block version in my caterham – at full chat it is pure music!

Arne
Arne
9 years ago

I stay with Alfa Romeo in any case. Beautiful to look at, the allegory of a perfectly build 4 Cyl. in the 60s and 70s. And what a sound. I think there was never again a 4 Cyl. engine like in the Guilia Super with and exhaust that was seemingly welded by a musician. But there was also the boxer engine in the Alfasud. Small build, very reliable and eager for high rpms. And it also had an absolutely unique sound – I loved it!

Walter Matias
Walter Matias
9 years ago

S14 BMW M3 E30….

marc
marc
9 years ago

The 3 liter 4 that was in the Porsche 944. The largest modern 4 cylinder engine in a passenger car.

guestmkimr2
guestmkimr2
9 years ago

I love the toyota AGZE. 145hp stock with supercharger. Upgrade the SC pulley and bore out the pistons and it becomes a monster.
Of course its in a mki mr2. 1988 sc.

Smash

EdWoods
EdWoods
9 years ago

Either the first V4 ever: Lancia Fulvia’s 1.3L V4; or the L4 engine of its contemporary, and WRC winner, Renault Alpine: L4 1.3L R8 Gordini/Major engine. Can’t choose between these 2.

Shifty
Shifty
9 years ago

Cosworth RS200 Evolution Group B spec 2.1 litre turbo – just under 600bhp stock and capable of over 900. Game Over.

Leopoldo Santos
Leopoldo Santos
9 years ago
Reply to  Shifty

rs 200 wasant a pinto engine, is from the BD family, in this case a bdt cosworth

Adam Holter
Adam Holter
9 years ago

I’ll chime in: I personally love the design ethos behind Pontiac’s Tempest 4-banger. Need a small, efficient motor? Hell, chop a v8 in half!

Nikola
Nikola
9 years ago

Honda’s ZC1, Alfa Romeo Twin Cam and Twin Spark 8V, FIAT Lampredi, Cosworth’s YB, VW aircooled boxer and more…

Peter ej18
Peter ej18
9 years ago

Sr20dett and the ca18dett let’s not forget the mitsubshi Orion

PDQ
PDQ
9 years ago

The engine from the 1908 Cadillac Model G. It enabled Cadillac to be the first American car to win the Dewars Trophy and it was the inspiration for the slogan “Standard of the World”

Callum
Callum
9 years ago

Personally, the Toyota 3K-R deserves a mention. Take a carb’d, pushrod, non-cross flow 45hp @ 5400rpm 1.3 litre four, swap on a 16-valve twin cam head, mechanical fuel injection, quad throttle bodies and tuned exhaust for 190hp at 9800 rpm. And the noise… Oh my the noise. (Worth a YT)

Giuseppe Filippone
9 years ago

That is a gloriously difficult question to answer, but I’m going to try to anyhow. After some agonizing deliberation, and after the realization that I would be leaning exclusively in the direction of Italian motors, I at first thought that I would be singing the praises of the late 50’s-early 70’s Alfa Romeo I-4, but then I thought that that engine was always limited in its potential due to the lack of a four valve per cylinder configuration. Then, I thought of the narrow angle 4 that powered some of my favorite Lancia models of the mid 60’s and early 70’s, but those thoughts faded when I thought of the 4 cylinder boxer that powered the Alfa Sud, Alfa 33, and Alfa 145/6 models. To me, the best variant of this powerful, compact, and super reliable motor, was the 33 1.7 Cloverleaf variant with four Valves per cylinder and four overhead camshafts. Glorious sounds, nice robust torque curve that really woke up after about 2400rpm’s, and very strong top end performance.

Anyway, that’s my pitch. Would love to hear what the rest of you have to say…

Erdem Bilbilik
Erdem Bilbilik
9 years ago

The BMW S14B20 and the B23 variations.

JJJ
JJJ
9 years ago

“The Greatest” – generally, there cannot be such thing. The criteria for that are quite different for every single person.

In my opinion, an engine has to fulfill several points to be pretender for the crown:

1. The engine to be produced in considerable long period of time. How can engine be the best while is discontinued after a short period? Even the manufacturer thinks that is not good by some reason.
2. To be readily available and be produced in considerable number. Otherwise we should look at small batch special racing engines only.
3. The genesis – whether the engine is made to be cheap work horse or to perform. A cheap engine that everything in it is a compromise cannot be the best regardless being durable and reliable.
4. To be advanced and competitive for the lifetime and even after being discontinued.

The special editions or heavily modified versions of the engines should not be considered as prove for greatness. These versions are expensive, in small numbers, too different from the original and generally do not comply to points #1 & #2.

Considering the above, for me the best pretender is Alfa Twincam “Nord” engine.

Dietmar
9 years ago

I also go for the Lancia Fulvia 1,3 HF engine (818.342) which developed 140hp in it’s race version in 1969 already. This engine us impossibly unconventional and a really great piece of creative italian engineering, far ahead of their times. The Volkswagen VR6 and W12 engines base on the Fulvia narrow V-engine principle.

Giuseppe Fraschini
Giuseppe Fraschini
9 years ago

Definitely the Lampredi engines! Both SOHC and DOHC. Firstly the SOHC, when considering the evolution of the engine throughout the year, and for such a long time. That quite an achievement!! Then there is the DOHC Lampredi engine which was a revolution at its time, and is still in production from the sixties onwards. A good third would be the Fiat FIRE engine series, just before the nineties commenced this was the start of a new era, which is has been lasting for nearly three decades. Nowadays, having the state of the art ‘twin air’ technology. Guess you’ve noticed I’m a fiat guy… 🙂

Pierro
Pierro
9 years ago

I am surprised no one hasn’t talked about the Fiat 1.3 turbo i.e…. and what an engine !!

andza
andza
9 years ago

BMW m10 engine – with injection is the most beautiful engine and sounds good too with short headers.

Brian
9 years ago

Cosworth-designed 2.3L 16v from a Mercedes 190E.

1bar of boost on my stock engine from a 60 trim turbo is pushing 405hp. Not to mention the glorious glorious growl…

In later-year DTM form, the 2.5L version of this engine (derived from the original design, but arguably not Cosworth) was pushing 410hp NA. The engines called for a rebuild every 300 miles, but that’s pretty impressive for a 4cyl.

kip
kip
9 years ago

What about the Megatron

Bertram Wooster
Bertram Wooster
9 years ago
Reply to  kip

Can we count that as another vote for the M10? It’s the same block!

Roger
Roger
9 years ago

Possibly a top contender should be the Porsche flat 4-cam Carrera engine. What a totally masterful piece of engineering- and little bit different to everybody thinking along the ‘in-line four’ route…..

Sterling
Sterling
9 years ago

I’d have to go with the BMW M10 or the S14. Both extremely well built and long lived engines (original M10 in my 73 BMW 2002, still strong)

Bertram Wooster
Bertram Wooster
9 years ago

Yeah, OK, Alfa Twin Cam, BMW M10, Lotus Twin Cam, BDA and the Johnny-come-lately Toyotas, but no mention of the

Meyer-Drake Offy?

Seriously? 27 Indy 500 wins and not a peep? Huh?

racer129
racer129
9 years ago

Second the 951 turbo, the alfa four was museum worthy technology

Miki
Miki
9 years ago

Hmm… I would choose two,it is difficult for me to decide which one is better.
1. BMW S14 engine,which was put in the best car ever made- BMW M3 E30. There were 4 different versions: B20 (189 hp),B23 (197 hp), B23 EVO 2 (217 hp) and B25 EVO 3 (235 hp).
2. BMW M12/13 Turbo engine,which was put in Formula one car in ’80s… One of the most powerful engines BMW has ever produced.

Motorsentinel
9 years ago

Lotus Esprit from 1989 with the turbo-charged 2.2 L4 with 268 HP.

Brian Nutter
Brian Nutter
9 years ago

Offy!

Petrolicious Newsletter