Journal: What is the greatest pre-'90 six-cylinder engine ever?

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

By Yoav Gilad
July 26, 2014
115 comments

Photography by Yoav Gilad for Petrolicious

A few weeks back, we asked you what the greatest pre-1990 four cylinder engines were and then shared the correct answers. Some of you dissented and claimed we were off, but it seems that most agreed with our choices. This week we move up the range to six cylinder powerplants. At this point I’m sure the Porsche-philes have already skipped ahead to stuff the ballot box, but in case you’re still reading: we’re aware of the flat-six. Yes, it’s a great engine. Perhaps, just for the sake of making this list more interesting, you could offer up more than your choice for the best variation of the 901? You’re already typing ‘Porsche 901…’ aren’t you? Oh well, just make sure whatever motor you pick, 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 six-cylinder engine ever?

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Levan Inadze
Levan Inadze
7 years ago

Without a doubt it has to be Alfa Romeos Busso V6

Edgar
Edgar
7 years ago

Alfa Romeo V6 is my favorit, it is work of art!

Ryan Campbell
Ryan Campbell
7 years ago

Pontiac Straight 6 250ci performance version (duh)

Kurt Xu
Kurt Xu
7 years ago

BMW M881/2/3, BMW M30B35/35 , BMW ALPINA B7S Turbo.

Kirby
Kirby
7 years ago

It’s a no brainer question when asked about the best pre 90’s six cylinder engine ever. The 3.0L V6 Alfa Romeo Busso Engine, the 3.0L maintained the gorgeous note of the original 2.5L but just amped up the performance to where it craved to be. This Engine was a work of art straight out of the box, no modifications needed.

My Runner up engine would go to:
Mercedes Cosworth 2.5L Engines in the 190E Evolution – An absolute cracker of an engine that many of the members in the comments have seem to have forgotten!

And my dissapointed engine award would go to:
PVA V6 in an Alpine GTA. It’s an engine developed to be cost effective and intended to be a universal power device to fit into every car. And they put this ‘average cost effective every car engine’ into an Alpine! a sportscar! they had to quickly bolt on a turbo to fix it’s dismal performance, and even then it’s rather mellow in comparison to existing 6 cylinders. The Unfortunate part is I really really like the Alpine GTA and would still buy one if the right car pops up for sale!

Fritz
Fritz
7 years ago
Reply to  Kirby

Sorry to be boring, but its clearly either the BMW M30, mainly for its longevity of production, component quality, tunability and the amount of Touring car championship victories. Additionally of course it was also the basis for the M77, M88 and S38 derivatives which produced class leading power outputs from the mid 70s to the early 90s. Name another engine which produces 92bhp per litre by fitting an exhaust and chip, like you can with the M88/3?
The Porsche flat 6 of the 80s is another strong contender, but it wasn’t really that available to the masses, and I would doubt the number of units built would get anywhere near that of the M30 – although a case for competition victories in the back of the 911 is strong.

Chuck
Chuck
7 years ago

I’m gonna vote for the Nissan RB series motors IE RB20DET, RB25DET, and the incredible RB26DETT. They just barely make the Cutoff of 1990, but I’ve never seen such a great line of straight sixes. They’re immensely strong, reliable, and smooth…and the sound.

DaveB
DaveB
7 years ago

Alfa Busso V6 for sure

Jouni Hyoekki
Jouni Hyoekki
7 years ago

Alfa V6 Busso. Beautiful sounding engine and it was successfull in racing arenas as well.

Jagermute
Jagermute
7 years ago

Mopar Slant 6! The “Buzzin’ Half-Dozen” was about as bulletproof as you could get, a unique exhaust note and incredibly stout (aluminum design, cast in iron for cost savings)
Plus: http://assets.blog.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/07/1960PlymouthXNR_04_1500.jpg

BaltazarGąbka
BaltazarGąbka
7 years ago

Alfa Romeo V6 Busso.

dragan
dragan
7 years ago

my vote for busso v6 too..glorious engine. beautiful sound, great character, reliable, looks so nice..

ND
ND
7 years ago

Busso V6!

De Souza
De Souza
7 years ago

A serious case could be made for the BMW M88 (certainly the first engine that comes to mind for my vote… air cooled flat 6 taking 2nd place) particularly when you consider its variants and the lineage it went on to produce. I’ve already seen a nod here for the M30 which is/was a titan of a power-plant that already received a nod as one of the top engines of the 20th century… and the block upon which the high performance M88 was based.

Mitch
Mitch
7 years ago

Datsun L28

Colin
Colin
7 years ago

Having owned both an 911 Carrera, and an E34 M5, I can assure you that the S38 in the BMW is simply hypnotic. It has so much more character and fire than the porsche engine! Don’t get me wrong, the 3.2 is also amazing, it’s just that those twin cams and 6 howling throttle-bodies are just more… So much more sexy. Have you ever heard one of those things scream it’s way thru 7000rpm?

Marshall
Marshall
7 years ago

Alfa Romeo Busso V6 for days.

J Miller
J Miller
7 years ago

901 is nice but I’d say 1987 930/66. A ROW flat six with a turbo conservatively rated 300hp and 430lbs or torque.

Jono51
Jono51
7 years ago

The BMW M30 – smooth, tough, easy to work on – powered so many great cars

Daniel Cooley
Daniel Cooley
7 years ago

Datsun L28 Turbo

Tom
Tom
7 years ago

The Chrysler Slant 6. Some day in the distant future aliens will find one in a cave. It WILL turn over and run.

Ben Rogers
Ben Rogers
7 years ago

Don’t mean to bang on about Great Britain but. Jag Xk, Aston Martin, Austin (Big) Healey, Ford Essex, etc. Ferrari made some nice ones too, decisions!

Zinhead
Zinhead
7 years ago

The air cooled Porsche will win, but another vote for the Busso V-6. What a great engine.

JJJ
JJJ
7 years ago

A vote for Alfa Romeo Busso V6 – Beautiful design, performs well, pornographically good sound 😛
It simply makes you do stupid excuses to poke your nose under the hood and see it.

Sean
Sean
7 years ago

The Buick turbo 3800.

Mark
Mark
7 years ago

Jaguar XK6 engine

XK120 and successors, C, D and E-type. Need I say more?
There might be “better” engines, but very few of those possess its history.

keith
keith
7 years ago

Another vote for the Alfa V6. Great engine.

Steijn Uijttewaal
Steijn Uijttewaal
7 years ago

Der Yoav, I’m sorry, but what do you consider when selecting an engine as “best pre 90’s 6 cyl. engine ever?
Characteristics as Torque,….. fuel economy…….??!!, willingness to rev, top end power and do not forget sound;…… really Yoav, you have to be more specific. 🙁

Stuart
Stuart
7 years ago

Any of the 80’s F1 turbo V6 engines. Twin turbos, Tolulene based fuels, 5bar+ boost, more power than any dynomometer of the time could handle and power delivery like a switch. What’s not to like?……

ARO
ARO
7 years ago

BMW M20 2.3 Liter, as found in E21 and onwards. Nothing can match the induction howl at 6000rpm. An engine that lasted for decades and beyond, for nearly all 3 and 5 series BMs. A classic OHC design that pioneered the belt driven era. Bulletproof.

Romesh Bastians
Romesh Bastians
7 years ago

The Alfa Romeo Busso V6 for me. The noise is goose bump inducing & the look of the engine in the engine bay is something else…

Guest (Johnny)
Guest (Johnny)
7 years ago

Lancia V6!

Johnny
Johnny
7 years ago

The Nissan S20 from the early Skyline or Z432 or Nissan L28 with the OS Giken TC24-B1 DOHC cylinder head, either with triple twin-choke Mikunis or Webers.

Michael May
Michael May
7 years ago

BMW M30/M88/S38, the BMW M30 (Big six) family is so strong, smooth, and reliable it is pure driving pleasure!!

rsdeo
rsdeo
7 years ago

Toyota xM series straight sixes started with the 2000GT ended with the Supra only to be replaced by the mighty xJ series sixes.

Ted
Ted
7 years ago

Alfa Romeo Busso v6

alan b
alan b
7 years ago

the mezger porsche flat 6
🙂

Kirk Robinson
Kirk Robinson
7 years ago

Ok, so I have never driven a Porsche 911 or an E-Type, so I am not a great judge, but that said I think the Jaguar 4.2 is superior to the Porsche. Visually, the Jaguar 4.2 is simply the most beautiful engine ever put into a road car. Furthermore, it is (albeit with headers and not cat or muffler) by far the best sounding engine I have ever heard in person. Its true that these contribute nothing to actual performance, but in terms of “greatness,” I believe these both to be important factors. The Jaguar motor was also built for a very long time, albeit with some small changes, but still. Racing heritage? Check. I wish I could say more on engine response/feel/power delivery, but I would really be making it all up. One day I’ll get behind the wheel of one of each, and then be able to make a more informed decision, but until then – its the Jag all the way for me.

Hans
Hans
7 years ago

Maserati 250F Formula One car with the 2,5 liter 6 Cylinder engine!
8 Grand Prix Victories Total, Stirling Moss 2, Juan Manuel Fangio 6, including the German 1957 Grand Prix ahead of Hawthorne and Collins, (super famous Grand Prix, Fangios last win).
Fangio won 1 1/2 World Champion title with it, the first 2 Grand Prix of 1954 and the whole title in 1957.

Philip
Philip
7 years ago

My personal favourite; the Jaguar XK engine. Specifically the 3.4 and 3.8L versions.

Worthy competition;
Alfa Romeo 2.5L V6
Nissan RB26DETT
BMW 3.5L M88
Chrysler Slant 6

Johan
Johan
7 years ago

BMW M88, and that’s coming from an all time alfa romeo lover. Reliability, these engines just goes on and on. High power output, even today, and with a very good rpm range makes it an engineering masterpiece.

Iain Holmes
Iain Holmes
7 years ago

A shortlist
Aston Martin I6 (db5/db6 etc)
BMW M88/S38
Jaguar XK
Benz 3l I6 from 50s
Porsche 911
Nissan RB26

Nathan Keeble
Nathan Keeble
7 years ago

Alfa Romeo’s Busso V6. They are incredibly fun, and the sound is truly awesome.

Marco Brestitsch
Marco Brestitsch
7 years ago

For me it’s the Alfa Romeo V6 designed by Giuseppe Busso. It’s reliable, looks great and makes a beautiful Sound.

mowgli
mowgli
7 years ago

I would go for either the BMW M88 just because of the history and reliability but also for the S38 for power and refinement.
The engines look good, are highly advanced and powerful even for today and can outlast the owner if properly cared for. As a bonus, they are one of the best sounding engines ever produced, ever. But if BMW would not be allowed as a choice for some reason, I’d go for a Porsche power plant because I just love engines that produce a special and unique sound.

Nicholas Robilliard
Nicholas Robilliard
7 years ago

Nissan RB series of engines; obvious choice being the RB26DETT.

Nicholas Robilliard
Nicholas Robilliard
7 years ago

Nissan RB series of engRB26DETT

samir shirazi
samir shirazi
7 years ago

Mercedes 300 engines on 50’s & 60’s cars.
performance is same as V8 sounds loud. nostalgic with plenty of champions

Brooks Wade
Brooks Wade
7 years ago

Soo many good choices for 6 cylinder, obviously the obvious choice is porsche, but the M88 is right up near the top. You also have the jag 4.2. But my pick has got to be the Mercedes M198.

Hugo Lallemant
Hugo Lallemant
7 years ago

The 1981 alfa romeo gtv6 2.5 liters who made me a car maniac.
The 3.2 liters flat six of my 911 cabriolet (but with proper designed inox exhaust.
The 3.5 (and later 3.8) liters from bmw (M1 and M5) due to the most beautiful and racing tyme manifolds ever included to a road car.

Brandon Valentine
Brandon Valentine
7 years ago

The Porschefile in me wants to say the 911 flat 6, but I know the truth: the AMC I6. In production from 1964-2006, it was a torque monster and nearly bulletproof. There’s pretty much nowhere you wouldn’t take that engine.