Hooniverse Asks: What Engine Went From Zero to Hero With a Redesign?

What is it they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? That’s been the mantra by which a number of automakers and racer engine builders live. Today, what we want to know is your opinion on which engines were failures at first, but went on to live full, rewarding lives after a well-considered redesign.
Image: motorstown


  1. It’s debattable if it ever was a true zero, but Jaguar’s V12 was originally a LeMans-intended design put out to road going cars. Plagued by the usual British approach to combustion, it became an engine that most Jaguar-folks will call reliable once it is “sorted” (Britcar speak for long weekends?). Also, the “high efficiency” versions later on provided something like a 40-50% mileage gain. That is the improvement that comes to my head first with today’s Ask…

    1. The usual electrical/fueling weaknesses but mechanically very reliable. Nearly all of these engines never have their heads off in their lives.

      1. Good points and sort of my reasoning behind the disclaimer, too. But I figure for a driver it doesn’t matter all that much what takes the -mobile out of the auto-. Auxiliary or internal troubles are all the same the instant joy is done and anger shows up.

  2. The Ford Pinto engine family was solid and reliable from the get-go. Then Ford monkeyed with it and tried to put a turbo on it for the Mustang Cobra. Even with a low boost, the carbureted engine proved unreliable with blown turbos galore. After not offering a turbocharged variant for a few years, the now-fuel-injected 2.3L Pinto engine with both turbo and intercooler were released in 1983 to much fanfare and proved much more reliable.

    1. The engines were reliable, but the the turbos weren’t generally long-lived, thanks to problems with leaky center bearings. A friend had an ’85 T-Bird Turbo Coupe, and it needed a Garrett reman turbo before 50k.

      1. My ’86 SVO Mustang had the same issue with ~80k miles on the clock. It was in the heart of the Lost Era of American Performance, which I put from 1973 until 1996. Smog standards and the LS1 being the bookends thereof.

    2. I reckon it’s worth mentioning the YB Cosworth engine here, 2.0 Pinto block but Cosworth 16 valve alloy head, very turbocharged. 204hp straight out the box, exponentially more with some deft tickling. Rapidly became legendary.

  3. Buick slapped a turbo on the 3.8l V-6 in 1978 or so. Combined with a carb it could give a contemporary Mustang GT a run for the money, but brought new meaning to turbo lag in the process. Fuel injection arrived in 1984 and an intercooler arrived in 1986 and the Grand National legend was born.

    1. That V6 was an underrated hero even in the SHO. When shoved up the arse of a little Korean-built Ford based on a Mazda, it went from hero to superhero.

  4. The infamous/famous Pontiac “Iron Duke” 4-cylinder. Designed as a reactionary knee-jerk response to GM’s sleeveless-aluminum-block Vega disaster. The Iron Duke was a throwback to 1930’s tractor-level crudeness – sort of a “too crude to fail approach. What could go wrong? Well, GM found a way. The purchased a huge batch of defective connecting rods and mixed them in with other batches of good ones for Fiero engine production. The crap shoot was on- If your engine got a bad one Kablooey!!. I knew a guy who was a (suddenly former) Pontiac salesman in those days who quit when he came into work one Monday and noticed there were a couple of dozen Fieros behind the shop waiting for new engines.
    Later, of course this got sorted out and the Iron Duke was GM’s go-to cheapo engine for decades, and there are millions(?)of them still out there today shaking their engine mounts in primitive-engine pride. I can say that confidently because every one of those little Grumman Mail Trucks your Postman drives has one in it.

  5. Ford’s lackluster, early 2v 4.6L mod V8 was milquetoast at best in its initial iteration. Fast forward nearly a decade, and the PI heads gave it a nice top end with power nearly rivaling the 4v 4.6L. The 4v, meanwhile, went on to achieve peak badass in a punched-out version at 5.8L with a supercharger strapped on to make 662hp straight off the production Ferd line next to V6 rentals.
    Also, when modified by Koenigseggeegeeseggnigseg for its supercar, it was squeezed up toe 800hp and dragged that car all the way to 241mph.

    1. The Coyote/RoadRunner/VooDoo are all mod engines.
      I’ve had the 2001 4.6 2v in the Mustang (Pretty crappy), the 2v in the Vic (pretty strong), to the all-aluminum 3v and finally this 5.0… nuts.

  6. The 3.8 Essex V6s seemed to do better in RWD applications that FWD ones, but even then it was a crapshoot, going all the way back to its use in the Lincoln Continental.

    1. Good call on the Essex. The latter Essex (Mustang/Windstar) with the split port design is a solid and torque rich motor. There are people who take the Windstar intake manifold and put in on the base Mustang for some easy ponies on a pick and pull junkyard price.

  7. I know some others have mentioned the early GM 3.8’s that were transformed with a turbo for the GNs… while that is an impressive jump in performance, its application was a bit limited in scope. The venerable L36 Series II 3800 also received a noteworthy bump thanks to an M90 planted on top. Unlike the earlier turbo-3800s, the L67 Supercharged 3800 added gobs of torque to almost every marque in GM’s stable from Grand Prix GTP’s to Oldsmobile LSS’s.

    1. The “gallon motor” (3.8L=1 US gal) was steadily improved throughout its lifecycle. It’s amazing how many times GM managed to step it up with that thing.

  8. The 1992 Dodge 318 cu in 5.2 ltr gained 50 HP from the previous year to 230 HP w port injection and a “beehive” intake runners, heads, cam etc.

  9. The BOP V8 wasn’t good enough for GM.
    Good enough for almost every British car for 40 years,

    1. Just came here to post something on that.
      Too expensive to diecast in the USA and semi-abandoned by GM. Rejigged by Rover for sand-casting and it became the British SBC.
      First with Rover then Morgan, then TVR and others. With 215 ci/3.5 l. at first, a 3.0 l ohc version won the F1 world championship thanks to the Aussies at Repco. Later production versions went to 3.9, 4.0, 4.4, 4.6, 5.0, 5.3, 5.7 and 6.0 litres.
      And semi-abandoned?
      Buick made an iron version later which became their own V8, 300 & 350 ci and cut two cylinders of this to make the Buick V6, which was sold to American Motors before being brought back for another life in GM’s cars.
      The swappability of parts continues it’s use.That and the fact that it’s lighter than many four cylinder motors with half the capacity and lighter than any other V8 that came later.
      It’s still in production today.

  10. The AMC straight-six started in 1964 with 232 cubic inches and 145 hp, and was produced in some form or another until 2006, when it had 242 cubic inches, produced 190 hp, and was better known as the Jeep 4.0L.

  11. The Toyota A engine started in 1978 with 1.5L, a single cam, and 79 hp. It has been made in displacements up to 1.8L, with dual cams, and anywhere between eight and twenty valves. The most powerful version, the 4A-GE “Blacktop,” has individual throttle bodies, 5 valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, 12:1 compression, and was rated at 165 hp from 1.6L. A 1.3L version is still being build by Daihatsu.

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