This past weekend being the Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S. also meant the running of that fast oval classic, the Indy 500. Today, the IndyCar series engine formula is a 2.2-litre turbocharged V6 running on E85. Chevrolet and Honda dominate the engine builders – along with, of all companies, Lotus – meaning that while the 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” may have come down to a nail biter finish, the number of options for which engine maker would cross the bricks first weren’t many.
Back in the day Indy used to be ruled by single engine manufacturer – that being Offenhauser – and Offys made use of only four cylinders under their double over-head cam/four-valve heads. Offys found favor not just on the Indy Car circuit, but in other open-wheelers as well, and they weren’t the only 4-pots to make it to the winner’s circle. One of the engines that helped end Offy’s dominance in Indy racing was the Cosworth-engineerd Ford V8, the DFV, and those two companies also conspired to offer a raucous four cylinder engine based on the sturdy Kent block. The BD-series, named for the belt-driven cams, has in its various guises powered everything from Formula Fords to the company’s monumental RS-200 Group B contender. Both Offy and Cosworth prove that once you’ve gone four, you won’t want any more.
Despite that, when it comes to racing engines, four-bangers – like Rodney Dangerfield – don’t seem to get much respect. Greater cylinder counts – notably eight and twelve cylinder engines – seem to get all the accolades and attention. That’s why today, we’re going to fete the four. Great engines are built on their wins, not their cylinder count, and as such there a lot of great fours that throughout history have shown just how it’s done. Which of those four cylinder race motors do you think is history’s greatest?