Five engine donors that should just be enjoyed…


Chris Pollitt

Those of us who like classic cars also, generally speaking, love tinkering. We can’t help ourselves. We simply cannot leave things alone. In many cases, this is why we have classic cars in the first place. It’s somewhere to direct that tinkering energy, rather than say, in the house, where we drive our families mad by ‘fixing’ things that weren’t broken in the first place. You’re nodding along. You know exactly what we mean. 

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Of course, for some, this need to tinker can’t be satiated by just buying a car that needs some fettling. Most of us are happy to polish, to service and to maintain our classics. Others take things further with modification, or in the nth degree, by building an entire car out of a kit. And part of this usually involves an engine donor. There are so many cars out there with wonderful, soulful, powerful, exciting engines. And we want those engines to be in cars they were never meant to be in. 

But, before rehoming an engine in surroundings that confuse it, how about we enjoy them in their natural habitat. These engines, for the most part, are desirable because the car they were fitted to was also desirable. So let’s not ignore that. Instead, let’s celebrate the engine donors before they fall under the mechanical knife. You never know, you might like them more here than in whatever car you had planned for them…

Rover V8

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The Rover V8 is arguably at the top of the list when it comes to an engine that ends up in anything but a Rover. Mainly because it was used, under licence, in myriad other cars like TVR et al. By letting other companies use the engine, Rover sort of set a precedent. Though saying that, the Rover V8 was itself a cast off from another brand – namely Buick. That’s why the Rover P5B is called the P5B. 

Even today, the Rover V8 is a firm favourite of classic engine swappers, kit car builders and apex-hunting track heroes. Yes, there are better options like the LS and the small block Ford, but still the Rover is the V8 of choice. But don’t forget the range of cars this engine was fitted to. The P5B, the P6, the SD1, the Range Rover, the Land Rover and even the Sherpa van. It was a legend, and it powered legends. Legends that should be celebrated, not cut up. Come on, you know you’d have a P6 3500S. 

Fiat Twin Cam

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The mighty little Fiat Twin Cam engine has become so famous for finding a home in other cars, that it’s easy to forget where it came from and what cars it powered. And that’s something of a shame, as the little Fiat lump was fitted to many, many cars. Designed by ex-Ferrari engineer, Aurelio Lampredi, it was an incredibly clever, revvy, soulful little engine. And one that pushed the boundaries of what could be expected in 1966 mass market automobiles. 

The first car it was fitted to was the legendary Fiat 124 coupe and spider. But that wasn’t the only place it ended up. From Fiat, it would find a home in the Ritmo, the 131 Abarth, the Regata and even the Coupe of the ‘90s. And then there was Lancia. The Beta, the Trevi, the Delta, the Thema and the Kappa all had the Fiat Twin Cam. So too did the Alfa Romeo 164 and 155. Oh, and the Morgan Plus was built with it for a time. All cars that are still sought after today. 

Cosworth YB

Ah yes, the Cosworth YB. The only engine in this list that will legitimately make some people from Dagenham wonder just how much they can get for a kidney. Or their child. Why? Because the YB is the holy grail in performance Ford circles. The daddy, the guv’nor, the alpha in a sea of betas. The Zetec tried to dethrone it when home hobbyists started bolting Garret turbos to it. However, it wasn’t enough to take the crown. Nothing was. The YB was and still is the king in Ford circles. 

It’s a bit mad really, given it’s nothing more than a 2.0 Pinto with a 16-valve cylinder head and a turbo. But then, that twin-cam cylinder head was developed by Cosworth, and the turbo was from Garret. This meant that when it was slotted betwixt the front struts of what would be the Sierra RS Cosworth, it made for a thrilling ride. Same thing in the Escort. Brilliant cars that should be celebrated and enjoyed, not harvested to make a Mk2 Escort go sideways. 

Alfa Romeo Busso V6

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There are many engines in the automotive world, but there are few that can claim to be beautiful. After all, an engine is a machine, not a piece of eye candy. However, that didn’t stop the Italians from making the legendary Alfa Romeo Busso V6 a thing of utter beauty. It wasn’t just looks though, it was also powerful and infectiously tuneful. Truly, this is an engine you can legitimately buy just for the noise it makes. 

The Busso V6 is a firm favourite with replica and kit car builders, but let’s not forget that this is a heavy hitter that has been intrinsic to the success and following of many a car. The Alfa Romeo 155, the 75, the 156, the 166, the GTV and the mad, but brilliant, SZ all played host to the Busso in one guise or another. All great cars that should be experienced to their full potential.

Vauxhall C20XE

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Whilst Ford and Vauxhall fans will tell you they’re different tribes altogether, the uncomfortable link is that one of Vauxhall’s better engines is more closely related to the Cosworth YB mentioned above than you might think. Again, it was a 2.0 16-valve, twin cam petrol unit. Like the YB, it could be had in turbocharged C20LET guise. The link, however, was not the turbo. It was the cylinder head, which was also developed by Cosworth. 

This engine is a popular choice for older Vauxhalls, giving Chevettes, Mk1 Cavaliers and Novas modern day power. It’s also popular in kit cars. Most jarringly for some Ford fans, it’s also a common engine to see in Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts. But, despite being well-suited to all those cars, there is nothing like enjoying it from the seat of an Astra GTE 16V, or a Calibra Turbo. Cars you should definitely try out before plucking the engine for something else.

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