Straight-six engines seem to be ignored or blindly dismissed by certain segments of the performance world. Whether intentional or not, the inline six-cylinder engine has proven to be not only a reliable workhorse, but to also pack quite a bit of performance potential. Maybe it’s because all of the inline sixes on this list are “imports” (except for one, kind of, as you’ll see), but wherever your brand loyalties may lie, there is no denying the power and potential of these engines.
The video starts off with an engine that’s little-known here in America: the Australian Ford Barra engine. Found in a variety of Ford Australia’s performance vehicles in a variety of displacement options, they all feature dual overhead camshafts with variable cam timing. The later models came factory turbocharged and are known for being stout performers. The Australian car series Mighty Car Mods even used one to make 600 horsepower at the rear wheels and power a Toyota Cresta to nine-second quarter-mile times, all with stock parts.
Next there is the Toyota JZ line of inline-six engines, which have an almost cult-like following in the sport compact world. The 2JZ, and its lesser known brother the 1JZ, are mainly known for powering Supras, but can be found in a number of different Toyota and Lexus models. With a base displacement of 2.5 liters for the 1JZ series, and 3.0 liters for the 2JZ line, they both utilize dual overhead camshaft, 24-valve cylinder heads, with VVTi (Toyota’s variable valve timing) options, as well as both factory turbocharged and naturally aspirated variants. The JZ family is heavily supported by both the American and Japanese aftermarket, and achieving four-digit horsepower levels is a very attainable goal.
Then there is the BMW S54 engine. Originally powering the E46 M3, E85 M Roadster, and E86 M Coupe, it displaced 3.2 liters and is a dual overhead cam headed engine as well. Designed as the high performance version of the M54 engine, it developed more than 100 more horsepower (338 horsepower) than the M54 and added 0.25-liters of displacement in stock from. They featured BMW’s “VANOS” variable timing system on the exhaust camshaft, and an oil scavenging pump from the factory. With a factory rev-limit of 8,000 rpm, these engines were truly screamers from the factory. They have also gained popularity in the grassroots drift movement, as reliable powerhouses, finding homes in E36 chassis with large turbochargers.
The fourth engine on the list in the video is listed as a Nissan S20 from an R33 Skyline, but this is actually incorrect. The car in the video is powered by an RB26DETT which is revered as a unicorn in American circles, as the entire RB series of inline-six engines was never offered as a factory option in the United States – adding to the mythos of the RB platform. A series of engines ranging from 2.0 to 3.0-liters, with a variety of cylinder head, camshaft, and aspiration systems, the variants are easily decoded thanks to Nissan’s straightforward naming convention. The RB26DETT, for example would be a 2.6-liter RB-series engine, with “D”ual overhead cams, “E”lectronic fuel injection, and “T”win “T”urbochargers. As the RB series are best known for powering the Skyline R31-R34 generations (1985-2002 model years), and the fact that Skylines were never imported to the US, only increased American fascination with the series.
Fifth on the list is the TVR Tuscan Speed Six. The inline-six in the Tuscan ranged from 3.6 to 4.2-liters, with power peaking at 440 horsepower from the factory, making it a stout performer. However, we’re not sure that its seven-year model run can compare to the longevity of the others on the list, regardless of the fact that the Tuscan was regarded as an amazing sports car. However, we’ll give it a pass, as it was driven by John Travolta in one of our favorite movies of all time: Swordfish.
The final straight six on the list probably on the list more because of the car it was in, rather than the engine itself, and that’s the 3.0-liter straight six from Mercedes-Benz in the 300 SL Gullwing. Really, the performance of the 300 SL was thanks to the chassis, moreso than the engine. However, it does hold the distinction of being the first automotive engine featuring direct injection, and of being derived from the V12 of one of the most iconic fighter planes from WWII – the ME-109. They were able to coax 240 horsepower out of the engine with a lopey camshaft, but lost most of its street manners in the process.
So do you agree with this list? Or do you have an alternative choice that you feel should have made it? Sound off in the comments below!