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The Roundabout Blog

Magnificent sixes

  • The sweetness of six

    A V12 may be called on for endless, Promethean waves of power, and a V8 for off-the-line alacrity at the drag strip, but it is the six-cylinder engine – in all its crazy contortions, whether arranged flat, horizontally or in a classic V – that has arguably proven the most versatile of all internal-combustion power plants. These, in our humble opinion, are the world’s greatest standard-bearers for the joys of six.

  • Aston Martin DB5

    James Bond’s signature car was as quick and nimble as it appeared in 1964’s Goldfinger, thanks to a 4-litre in-line six-cylinder engine producing 282 horsepower. Granted, its zero-to-60mph time of 8.1 seconds could nowadays be bested by a Honda Accord, but for all its Savile Row polish, the DB5 was a visceral thing when pressed – not unlike its most famous pilot. (Photo: Aston Martin)

  • BMW M1

    With a body courtesy of Giorgetto Giugiaro – he of DeLorean DMC-12 and Volkswagen Golf fame – the BMW M1 not only gave rise to the Motorsport-branded Bimmer, it represented the first mid-engine BMW to be sold to the public. And what a mid-mounted engine it was: a 3.5-litre in-line six-cylinder unit producing 273hp. In 1979, Niki Lauda, whose bitter Formula 1 rivalry with James Hunt is dramatised in the film Rush, would go on to win the inaugural season of the Procar BMW M1 Championship, a one-make series created explicitly around the M1. (Photo: BMW Group)

  • 'Blue Train' Bentley

    Based on the Le Mans-dominating Speed Six – named so for the models’ 6.5-litre straight-six-cylinder engines – the so-called Blue Train Bentley did much to publicise the viability and spunk of Bentley’s six-cylinder unit off of the racetrack. In 1930, a Speed Six raced on public roads and beat a train running from the French Riviera to Calais. Not only did the Bentley win on that score, it booked passage across the English Channel and arrived in London minutes before the train ever put in at the French port city. (Photo: Bentley Motors)

  • Buick GNX

    As important to aficionados of speed as Pontiac’s GTO had been in 1964, Buick’s GNX was a world-blurring muscle car with humble roots. The second-generation Regal – in models designated Sport Coupe, T-Type and Grand National – had offered a turbocharged V6 engine since 1978, and with it built a strong reputation among enthusiasts. But it wasn’t until the car’s final year, 1987, that Buick rewrote the book, demonstrating that American muscle cars could light up the drag strip with something other than a rumbling V8. The limited-production, black-on-black GNX carried a catalogue of speed parts, along with a version of Buick’s 3.8-litre turbo six rated at 245hp but widely acknowledged to produce in excess of 300hp. The sprint to 60mph happened in a Corvette-humbling 4.3 seconds. Production was limited to a scant 547 cars, and the GNX carried a sticker price of $29,900 – more than double that of a standard Grand National. (Photo: General Motors)

  • Honda NSX-R

    The Honda/Acura NSX debuted for the 1990 model year as a Ferrari fighter with the civility of a Civic. Its mid-mounted engine, a mellifluous all-aluminium 3-litre V6 (later bumped to 3.2 litres), was a paragon of smoothness right up to its yowling 8,000rpm redline. And even with a relatively modest 252hp (the Honda’s prime rival, the V8-powered Ferrari 348, boasted 300hp), the original NSX could blast to 60mph in five seconds flat and press on to a drag-limited top speed of 175mph. (Photo: American Honda Motor)

  • Ferrari Dino 246GT

    The Dino – named for Ferrari founder Enzo’s son, credited with the design for its V6 engine – was intended as a Ferrari sub-brand for less expensive cars with fewer than 12 cylinders. But confusion ensued (Is it a Ferrari? Is it a Fiat?), and the plan was ditched in 1976. No matter, the essential goodness of the original 1968-69 206GT and its successor, the more powerful 1969-74 246GT and 246GTS, is undiminished. The cars’ compact, all-aluminium V6 engines kept the Dinos light on their wheels, and their mid-chassis placement (a first for a Ferrari-developed road car), afforded a rakish profile that has defined Ferraris right up to the current 458 Italia. (Photo: Ferrari, via Newspress)

  • Jaguar XJ220

    Initial plans for Jaguar’s first supercar called for a V12 engine – the traditional hardware for 200mph rivals from Italy. But thanks to financial pressures both internal and external, a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine was subbed in. No great loss; the resulting machine would go on to become the world’s fastest production car in 1992, being clocked at 213mph – about 10mph quicker than the Lamborghini Diablo or Ferrari F40 of its day. (Photo: Jaguar Cars)

  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL (Chassis No 2)

    A racecar adapted to the street, the 300SL was one of the quickest road cars of the 1950s, and one of the few to draw motivation from an in-line six-cylinder engine. Through advanced fuel -injection, the 300SL produced over 200hp – plenty to move its fairly scant 2,400lbs along the parkway. The gullwing-door SLs, particularly in rare aluminium-bodied form, are among the world’s most highly sought collector cars. (Photo: Daimler)

  • Nissan GT-R

    Engine tuners routinely wring upwards of 1,000hp from Nissan’s flagship sports car, the GT-R. The impulse is curious, considering that the car’s 545hp 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 is capable of hurling the 3,800lb coupe forward to 60mph in about three seconds. The GT-R’s power plant is a twitchy, easily agitated thing, which makes a driver grateful that one of the industry’s great all-wheel-drive systems is on board to put the power down. (Photo: Nissan North America)

  • Porsche 959

    With so many limited builds and special editions vying for the honour, what makes the 959 considered, by broad consensus, the ultimate 911? It was a technological leader, with computer-assisted all-wheel drive that could split torque according to road conditions. It was also rare, limited to just over 300 units and priced in Britain from £150,000 when it went on sale in 1986. But there was also the matter of an engine – a twin-turbocharged flat six wringing 450hp from just 2.8 litres of displacement. That is a rather astounding 161hp per litre. Quicker 911s have come along, but the 959 remains the spiritual high water mark for Porsche performance. (Photo: Porsche Cars)

  • TVR Sagaris

    The last car from Britain’s TVR before the sports-car maker fell into receivership in 2007, the louver-mad Sagaris was also the last in a long line of cars to make use of TVR’s glorious Speed Six engine, famed for its lightning throttle response and titanic power. With an aluminium block and head, and in displacements as large as four litres, the Speed Six had amply powered TVR’s Tuscan, Tamora, Cerbera, T350 and Typhon models. In the wicked Sagaris, it delivered 406hp, enabling the 2,400lb sports car to run from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds and press on to a top speed of 185mph. Wrote Top Gear’s Richard Hammond, waxing lyrical about the Sagaris: “And, all the while, there's that straight-six, howling its song for you. We all love a V8's bellow, but there's something about a straight-six...” (Photo: TVR)

  • Toyota 2000GT

    Often called first Japanese supercar, the 1967-70 2000GT made use of a smooth in-line six-cylinder engine. Originally from Toyota’s luxurious Crown sedan, the engine underwent a sporting makeover in the hands of Yamaha that included the addition of double overhead camshafts and a trio of two-barrel Solex carburetors. The engine’s output, 150hp, was modest compared with a rival like Ferrari’s 300hp, V12-powered 275GTB/4, but the Toyota was lauded for refinement and superb road manners. Toyota and Yamaha built just 351 examples of the 200GT over three years – and the car’s rarity has paid off. In April 2013, a banana-colored, left-hand-drive 1967 2000GT became the most expensive Asian car ever sold at auction, fetching $1,155,000 when it crossed RM Auctions’ block. (Photo: Toyota Motor Sales)