Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

What would you say is the best engine ever produced? How about transmission?

“The D-series engines from Honda were very hard to kill, fuel efficient even when hotrodded around by the kids who often drove cars with them installed, and as long as you kept up with regular oil changes and timing belt changes every 90,000 miles, would easily outlast the car they were installed in.”

+1 to that. I had a Honda CRX Si with a D16A6 engine that I flogged regularly in autocross. It was also my daily driver that I maintained religiously. I sold the car after 15 years and 175k miles and the engine still burned absolutely no oil and ran like a sewing machine. Wish I could have kept it but the body was rotting.

Worst engine ever owned: Chevy Vega, whose block promptly cracked.

" Worst engine ever owned" ? Vega, sure…but,
Does the Yugo or the SAAB two stroke which had a life time warranty, BECAUSE IT NEEDED IT , get any consideration ? The British Leyland 4 in my SAAB 99 HAD to be right up there with other crappy, unreliable motors. Don’t want to see that POS on any good motor list. I had a run on owning cars I am ashamed of ! the one I regret not buy was an early Firebird OHC which seemed to be a great motor way back when. Any air cooled VW or Corvair had to be in the running for low level motors.

To me, there is no “best”. There are a lot of good ones and a much smaller percentage that fall into the worst category.

The worst ones in my humble opinion are the old wet sleeve Subaru engines from the 70s. The cylinder liners were removeable and were required to have engine block protrusion of about .005 of an inch with the protrustion being set by using variable thickness copper gaskets underneath the liners.

It was recommended that head bolts be retorqued every 15k miles and copper is a soft material.
Apparently no one in the design and approval stages had considered the effect of repeated head bolt retorquing on what are essentially soft crush gaskets…

I agree with dagosa (at least I think this is what you meant) that the old VW bug engine deserves a nod for its low cost and simplicity which enabled a whole generation of people to afford low-cost transportation. And a generation of young people cut their teeth learning basic auto mechanics on those engines.

Exactly @jesmed. I would call it a great " nitch" motor. It could not compete with many other motors in terms of performance and producing heat for the occupants. But, it did propel the VW in the exact way the engineers had in visioned with affordability, simplicity and durability. The same could not be said with the Corvair which was cursed by a poor chassis. Goes to show you that you can’t improve on a motor just by adding two cylinders. The VW motor was as specific as it could be. We had five in our immediate family and was the car I learned to drive on… The basic idea could not be improved upon and when it came time for me to buy my first car, I had tired of the ultimate car and motor designed for masses.

“They burn so hot that the exhaust sets the surrounding air on fire by separating hydrogen from water vapor and then igniting it” – What you’re seeing is unburnt fuel igniting, not the air or water. Water is stable up to about 10K degrees F. If the exhaust was that hot coming out, the headers would quickly melt down or possibly vaporize. Even thermite doesn’t burn hot enough to ignite water, and thermite would easily melt through an engine block.

I agree that the bug engine excelled in “repairability”. That’s an actual technical term meaning ease of repair. Military vehicles usually have that in their govt. specification when the bid documents arrive. A friend of my sister had an early version and her husband overhauled it on the kitchen table after taking it out of the car and carrying it into the house.

When treated right, it could last a long time. A social worker in Alabama in the 60s drove her Beetle for nearly a million miles and was only on her third engine at the time. That type of performance was virtually unheard of then, especially in a cheap import. An Austin would need a ring and valve job every 60,000 miles and would be completely finished by 100,000 miles.

I think the Crosley engine that came out right after WW II was worse than even the Vega engine. The Crosley engine was made out of steel and was brazed together. Eventually, it was replaced with a cast iron engine.
My favorite engine for longevity was the nail head Buick V-8 that came out in 1953. I had a 1954 Buick Special with the 264 cubic inch version. This car was in our family from 1955 to 1965 and racked up 160,000 miles without ever having the heads or oil pan removed from the engine. Two years after I sold it, it was still on the streets. The engine was outstandingly durable for the time.

There are probably a million stories about how easy those VW engines were to repair. Mine happened in the mountains of New Mexico when my VW camper started bogging down. It felt like fuel starvation, so I pulled into a roadside picnic area, pulled the carburetor, and cleaned it out on a picnic table. Bolted it back on, fired the engine, and it ran like a champ.

Not many engines an amateur could do that on, at a picnic table with a couple of hand tools.

For me, the best drive train is my Accord V6 with the 5-speed auto. It has excellent power from 0 to 80. That’s a combination of both the engine and transmission. The engine is the J30A4 and produces 240 hp with 212 lb-ft or torque. It is more than adequate for city, suburban, and highway driving. It is better than the 3800 in my 1998 Regal. Both had great low end, but the mid-range on the Regal was anemic. I suspect that is more transmission than engine. I’m just talking about personal experience. I never had a high output engine except for my mom’s 429 torque monster in our 1964 Cadillac Series 62. That thing screamed despite weighing in at 4900#. Output was 340 hp at 480 lb-ft torque.

GM= small block V8 and 3800 V6
FO= 351
CHR= 318 and slant 6

The Renault Alliance was a MT Car of the Year. Lovely little car, when it ran (seldom) , and didn’t have to accelerate. Cruising along it was quiet, smooth riding, and had wonderful seats. Guess that’s all MT requires.

In reality, it becomes apparent over time that the best " engine" to drive a car is the electric motor. The Teslar model S proves that the electric motor simply embarrasses any internal combustion motor in terms of durability, torque, compactness, simplicity and efficiency. As better batteries are allowed in these cars, the gas motor will be proven so inferior, it will be relegated to the museum for personal transportation.

No doubt, battery and electric motor technology are improving, @dagosa. And in some situations an electric vehicle will be much better suited than an IC powered vehicle but the demands on some vehicles will continue to best met with engines burning some type of fuel. The American driver is spoiled to climate control and I can’t imagine a battery powered car travelling far when a great deal of current is being poured into the heat pump. And charging stations will certainly grow in number and become somewhat common but not always convenient and while a jug of gasoline can be hauled out to some isolated location somewhat easily a larger generator, and the fuel to power it, must be hauled out to charge an ‘empty’ battery.

My nominee for best engine is the V-12 introduced by Pierce-Arrow in 1932.
Although the Great Depression essentially eliminated demand for super-luxury cars shortly thereafter, the engine lived on for another 38 years, powering Seagrave Fire Trucks.

An engine that was designed for quiet and smooth delivery of acceleration in a passenger car, but is also capable of reliably powering much heavier equipment–like large fire trucks–for many years is surely a well-designed, over-built engine. Some of these engines are still in service in older fire equipment, and they are still rock-solid reliable.

Battery technology is the only reason we aren’t all driving electric cars today. All we need is a breakthrough in battery technology and nobody will want IC engines anymore. Need proof? Almost no body uses IC engines for stationary power any more if electric service is available. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a working cotton gin powered by a central steam engine driving all the machinery with a line shaft and flat belts. That steam engine wasn’t replaced by an IC engine, it was replaced by electric motors.
I really am not optimistic about a real breakthrough in battery technology other than incremental improvements. There are only so many elements on the periodic table and the only thing lighter than lithium is hydrogen, which is inconvienently a gas.
Maybe someone will work out a viable “third rail” system on roads allowing electric cars to recieve and return power to the grid as we drive, like bumper cars at amusement parks.

"There are only so many elements on the periodic table . . ."
Some holes in the periodic chart were filled in by man-made elements, but Honda no longer makes Elements.

jesmed “Worst engine ever owned: Chevy Vega, whose block promptly cracked.”

I acquired a 1971 Vega from a relative who owed me $100. It was in excellent condition with 17,000 miles and receipts for a recently rebuilt engine. My relative neglected to tell me it was the second rebuilt engine! I drove the car over 2,000 miles with no problems. I was cruising on the interstate at 55mph in 4th gear when there was a loud bang! The engine seized and the rear wheels locked! I was able to coast to a safe stop. A fairly large piece of a cylinder wall had broken out and jammed the piston. What a horrible engine design.

@sgtrock21. Hah…I think the Vega engine block was an experimental alloy of cast iron and Swiss cheese.

@B.L.E. Electricity may have replaced steam for stationary operations, but in remote areas that are off the grid, there’s generally a diesel engine driving a generator to produce the electricity.

One of the worst transmissions ever made IMHO: The GM “Metric 200”