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Wednesday 5th December 2012


PH BLOG: (EM)MOTIVE POWER

Engines are getting dull and losing their soul - Dan celebrates those that still have it


We car nuts don't half spend a lot of time anthropomorphising human qualities onto our machines. Cripes, even Mercedes boasts of more 'emotional' gearshifts in the press material for the new SLS AMG Black Series. What exactly does that mean? Does it get huffy if you muddle your upshift? Weep if you mis-time your downshifts? I'm not sure I want an emotional gearbox. Mechanical will do just fine, thanks.

Just don't ask where the tech came from
Just don't ask where the tech came from
Engines, on the other hand. Now there's a device where 'emotion' is a more desirable trait. In an age where the differences in character between diesel and direct-injected/turbocharged petrol engines (well, it's been a couple of weeks since we last discussed it... ) are blurring it's easy to get a little misty-eyed about engines boasting qualities we can engage with.

Which got me thinking. What's my favourite engine? Ever?

A humdinger, eh?

My shortlist starts with ... the direct-injected straight-six from the 300SL Gullwing. It's a great looking engine for starters, canted over on its side with that huge intake plenum on the other. And that mechanical fuel injection overfuels at start up and tickover, meaning lots of spluttering and clouds of black smoke. But by heck, when it gets going. It could only be German too, the Deutschland Uber Alles bellow, the sound of a nation of engineers emerging from a dark cloud and devoting their considerable expertise to something much more worthwhile. The 300 SLS roadster I once drove with straight-through side exhausts was just amazing too.

Just kicked in, yo, etc
Just kicked in, yo, etc
But I need to consider an in-line four too. A twin-cam. The twin-cam in the Lotus Cortina is pretty special; the Cosworth-headed BDA that followed in RS Escorts pretty appealing too. But I think I'll go a bit more up to date and instead opt for the manic buzz of VTEC Honda four. The S2000's, I think. Am I allowed a fruity induction kit with that? My blog, my rules. So yes. Exhaust noise is for show-offs - induction noise is cooler. Different - very different - but just as beguiling, a flat-four turbo Subaru engine deserves a place on the shortlist, especially one of the more exotic high-revving JDM STI ones like that in the Impreza Type-RA R I once drove. And if we're doing flat-fours, I can't ignore the Alfasud's either, the rasping engine note of my grandpa's awakening the first stirrings of petrolhead yearning in a very young Dan. I didn't know what the noise was. But I knew it was different from mum and dad's Escort, and I liked it.

AMG's M156 - not bad for its first self-built effort
AMG's M156 - not bad for its first self-built effort
You'll notice I've not mentioned a V8 yet. Or a V12. I've probably not spent enough time with older ones of the latter, though the 599's is pretty raw and feral. Better than current direct-injection Ferrari engines, which sound as charismatic as a sewing machine at tickover. But it's impossible to ignore a V8 and, if I have to pick one, it's AMG's M156 6.2. It just feels immense, unburstable and brimming with self confidence and charisma, especially in the old CLK63 Black Series in which it was originally developed, but also in its most extreme form in the SLS.

Can you see where this is going, though? You've probably already guessed. I know, I'm sorry. There's no little Porsche love to be found in the PH editorial team but if I have to pick just one engine it's going to have to be a flat-six from Stuttgart. Naturally I'll pick the most exotic - the last of the line Mezger four-litre from the GT3 RS 4.0 - but the beauty of this selection is that any naturally aspirated Porsche will give you a taste of the same, be it a basic Boxster or 911 with a plank on the back and interior full of roll cage. Old carb-fed ones sound fabulous. New direct-injection ones still do too. And it's that sense of inertia-free balance that seals it, especially the howl that builds, builds, builds and then hardens into a searing, hollow scream beyond 5,000rpm. And it's the same whether you're accelerating onto the M25 on your morning commute or pinning it up Kesselchen on the way up to the Karusell.

Motoring hack 'likes Porsche best' shocker
Motoring hack 'likes Porsche best' shocker
Ach, it's just an engine, a collection of bits of metal churning away. The emotion bit is just us projecting onto it. But there's something about that sound and sensation that sets those good to be alive endorphins flowing.

There's my shortlist anyway. What's yours? It can include non-German engines too, for what it's worth...

Dan

Author: Dan Trent
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