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Big Stick Diplomacy; 20 Monster Engines and their Unlikely Recipients


Big Stick Diplomacy; 20 Monster Engines and their Unlikely Recipients

Lamborghini LM002

Counting down twenty of the biggest, most powerful or game-changing engines ever fitted to the unlikeliest of production cars.


Okay, so we’re bending the rules here with a mere 2.0L four-cylinder, but underestimate the Cosworth YB at your peril. Ford had fallen behind in the arena of touring car racing and wanted to do something about it, enlisting the services of F1 engine builder extraordinaire Cosworth, who attached a giant Garrett T3 turbo to spectacular effect. There had been giant killers before, but nothing slayed Goliath as convincingly as the 204bhp Sierra Cosworth - or did it with as much attitude. Porsche and BMW M cars were left trailing in its wake, and that’s before the tuners started working their magic.


The early 2000s saw its fair share of well-endowed hot hatches - the BMW 130i and VW Golf R32 being two rivals with a six-shooter under the hood, but neither did it with as much style as the Alfa Romeo. Equipped with the firm's famous Busso V6 in 3.2L form, it didn’t dominate competitors with sheer power as much as pure charisma. It may have led to some famously lively torque steer, but the 250bhp GTA is far more coveted today than either German, and we haven’t seen it's like since in the sector, even from Alfa itself.

18. ALPINA B8 4.6 (E36)

Alpina has always enjoyed a special relationship with BMW. The firm has always respectfully bowed to the M Division in terms of power outputs, but all that changed in the 1990s with the E34 five series based B10 BiTurbo, and later the E36 B8. BMW themselves had tried and failed to shoehorn a V8 into the E36’s engine bay, yet Alpina succeeded - after making a mere 43 changes to the engine bay. The tuned 4.6l V8 developed 333bhp, but it was the torque that kept the M Division awake at night - the B8 made the M3’s maximum twist at just 1,000rpm.


Hailing from an era when front-wheel drive hadn’t completely taken over the mainstream, the Sunbeam lotus was another creation with one purpose - to take the chequered flag, only this time it was in the World Rally Championship. It was a huge task, so Lotus called in the expertise of Lotus, who slipped their famed 2.2L twin-cam four into the snout of the humble Talbot hatchback. The result was 150bhp for the road car, and a mighty 240bhp in race-trim, enough to claim the 1980 WRC. The Sunbeams output would not be bettered by another naturally aspirated hot hatch until the Peugeot 306 GTi-6 came along seventeen years later in 1997.

c63 amg


We came close to awarding this slot to the lesser known, special order C55 AMG, but as powerful as the previous generation V8 was it pales in comparison to the follow-up. Despite the C63 designation, the V8 actually displaces 6.2 litres, but that’s nitpicking. The important point is that mammoth capacity only has a compact executive saloon to motivate, and it comes complete with a soundtrack Thor would be proud of. The C63 could tyre smoke its way to sixty in 4.6 seconds and its 457bhp made the BMW M3 look limp-wristed. When the naturally aspirated C63 finished production, it was producing 507bhp – 80bhp more than even the next generation M3 could muster, despite being twin-turbocharged.​

TVR Speed 12

15. TVR SPEED 12​

The fact a TVR makes such a list is no surprise given their long history of fitting fat Rover V8s to hairy-chested sports cars. However, even by TVR standards the Speed 12 measured completely off the bonkers chart. Mating two Cerbera Speed 6 engines on a common crank resulted in a broken engine dyno – one that was rated at 1,000bhp. Testing each bank individually resulted in 480bhp a side, so TVR claimed 960bhp. Even TVR’s famously unhinged chief Peter Wheeler condemned it as too fast and wild for the road, but it made for a great spectacle when TVR took it GT racing. The fact only one road-registered car exists is why it doesn’t climb even higher.​

BMW M5 E28

14. BMW M5 (E28)

The super saloon that started it all, and for many, the one that remains the pinnacle. BMW had kicked off its official M Division road car efforts with the bespoke, mid-engine M1 supercar. The car was great - the sales were not. Around the time of the M1’s demise, BMW’s bodyguards were in need of a stupidly fast, but anonymous saloon car to safely transport the top brass. Some bright spark had the idea of fitting a five series with a leftover 286bhp, M88 3.5 litre straight six from the M1, and the saloon car that could munch a Porsche 911 whilst having space for five and their luggage was born.​

Source - Wikimedia commons


Take one commercial US pickup truck with a 4.3 litre V6, slap on a huge turbocharger, a water-to-air intercooler, fit low compression pistons, a new injection system, intake and exhaust manifold. Simmer with super unleaded fuel and bake at 280bhp & 350lb-ft, before garnishing with a four-wheel drive system. The Syclone and its SUV twin the Typhoon could outsprint a contemporary Corvette, dispensing 60mph from a standstill in just 4.3s​.



The first V10 on the list, and a diesel SUV too. The V10 Touareg was another one of VW supremo Ferdinand Piech’s engineering indulgences that also gave us the W16, quad-turbo Bugatti Veyron and a 4.0 litre, W8 Passat of all cars. Even though there was a later V12 500bhp Tdi Audi Q7 that easily eclipses the Touareg’s 309bhp, it’s the sheer naughtiness of the 553lb-ft of torque that elevates the VW 4x4 onto the list. That and an unforgettable advertising campaign featuring the V10 Touareg towing a Jumbo Jet.​


11. ROVER 75/MG ZT V8​

It's hard to know where to begin with the Rover 75 V8. The regular 75 was a fine car, despite its over-reliance on retro-kitsch styling, but a sporting one it was not. MG had done a credible job sorting the chassis, but out of the dying embers of the BMW/Rover divorce and the ‘Phoenix 4’ acquisition came the V8.

It was a complete re-engineering of a transverse, front-wheel drive car into a longitudinal, rear-wheel drive monster, created on a budget with money found down the back of the sofa of the works canteen. Rover imported a 4.6-litre Mustang V8, Prodrive came in to consult, and the production car ended up with a rather lacklustre 260 bhp. In response, there were completely bonkers threats of an extreme "X Power" version, using nitrous oxide of all things to make a claimed 600 bhp, alas it never happened. But the fact the regular car even exists makes us happy​.

Maloo VXR


Holden Special Vehicles is essentially the M Division of the southern hemisphere, only they ply their trade on distinctly Aussie muscle cars – the Maloo is a Ute. HSV crowbarred in the 6.2 litres of LSA V8 from the Corvette, then chucked on a supercharger to create the Ferrari baiting 576bhp GTS. 0-60 is dispatched in under four seconds, whilst a limited-slip differential, torque vectoring and planet-sized Brembo brakes mean the super Ute can still go around corners – unlike its spiritual predecessor, the El Camino.​


Lotus Seven derivatives always work best when fitted with a small, revvy four-cylinder or even a motorbike engine. Imagine then, the ferocity of one fitted with a Titanic Rover V8, sporting anything from 180bhp to 400bhp depending upon the depths of your pockets (or the sensitivity of your bullshit detector). All had sufficient power to break traction in 4th gear. But in order for the old-school V8 to fit, Westfield had to move the heavy lump forwards, destroying the handling balance, but 0-60 in a claimed 4.3 seconds was ample compensation.

BMW M5 (E60)

08. BMW M5 (E60)

The odd decision to fit a 5.0 litre V10 to the flagship M5 stems from BMW’s brief return to F1, and the marketing suits wanted to capitalise by connecting the race track with the road. M cars had seen high-revving, scalpel-sharp engines before, but not like this. One way or another an M lump could always trace its origins back to a production unit, but the S65 V10 was the first clean sheet design. Making just over 100 bhp/litre, the engine produced 507 bhp, redlined at 8,250rpm and if you removed the 155mph governor, the E60 will hit 207mph. Once again BMW had fitted an engine worthy of a supercar into an executive saloon.

Despite a reputation for fearsome running costs, the V10 M5 stands head & shoulders clear in a lineage of cars with truly exceptional powerplants, and with the next generation switching to a turbocharged V8, for many the E60 M5 represented the end of an era.​


Love or hate the supercharged pickup truck and what it represents, you cannot help but fall for its silliness eventually. Number one on every aspiring redneck's lottery garage, the Lightning is home to a 5.4 litre V8 – not unusual across the pond, but this one is aided by an Eaton supercharger and forged internals.

Nothing defines the US policy of ‘shock & awe’ better than a Lightning. The truck's obese 2.8-tonne kerb weight is easily overcome by the V8’s 380 bhp and 450 lb-ft, delivering 60mph from rest in just 5.3 seconds, despite the handicap of a live rear axle and leaf springs. The GMC Syclone might have been faster off the mark, but it’s the mad, bad Lightning that leaves the bigger impression. Yippi-ki-ay mother f**cker!

06. AC COBRA 427 ​

When Carroll Shelby moved to California in 1959 and tapped into the Hot Rodding scene he created two icons – the AC Cobra and himself. A Le Mans-winning veteran, Shelby longed to take the fight to the omnipotent Ferrari in GT racing. After some extensive wheeler-dealing and bluffing, AC agreed to modify the chassis of its Ace sports car to suit a Yankie V8, providing Shelby could secure a supplier. After a brief flirtation with Chevrolet, Ford stepped into the void, starting with the Series I 4.2 litre V8.

The Cobra would eventually evolve into the Series III in 1965, becoming the fastest accelerating car in the world thanks to its 7.0-litre engine – aka 427 cubic inches. Twenty years later, the Porsche 959 came along and finally out dragged it.​

mercedes AMG hammer


Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour? How about a 1980s luxury coupe that could show a clean pair of heels to a Ferrari Testarossa all the way to 186 mph, thanks to its 385 bhp V8? AMG started with the 5.0 V8 from the S-class and bored it out to 5.4 litres before Mercedes introduced their own 5.6-litre version in 1987. Not to be outdone, AMG worked their magic on the updated motor and returned with the 6.0 Hammer, and a legend was born.

With its flared arches, aggressive body kit and coming in any colour you want so long as it's black, the Hammer has an intimidation factor that could make any Russian Mafia enforcer blink. ​

Renault Clio V6 phase one


The Clio V6 might come over all shy and retiring against the others here with its measly 252 bhp output, but feed it a couple of shots of high octane and it’ll remember that TWR ended up redesigning the entire car to make it happen. Such were the changes required to convert the front-wheel drive production Clio into a mid-engine, rear-drive Frankenstein, the car had to be hand built by Renaultsport at its Dieppe HQ. Robots simply weren’t up to the complex tasks involved.

Unfortunately, the changes were so extensive the car ended up weighing 300kg more than a Clio 182 hot hatch, so it was barely any faster in a straight line. The weight distribution and short wheelbase also resulted in some questionable handling, but those who experience the 3.0 V6 Clio didn’t care – Renault had created a true exotic for a fraction of the price.​

Lancia thema 8.32

03. LANCIA THEMA 8.32​

I’d love to know what sort of Grappa the Lancia engineers must have been drinking when they came up with the concept of fitting the front-wheel drive Thema saloon with the V8 from a Ferrari 308. I’d also like to know how much of it they plied the management with before they signed it off for production.

Orchestrating a unique sound more suitable to a luxury sports gran tourer, Lancia’s team switched the firing order up and swapped the flat plane crank out for a more traditional cross-plane item, with the help of Ducati. The name 8.32 is a reference to the number of cylinders and valves – not the capacity, which is 2.9 litres. An E34 M5 might have run rings around the Lancia, but no super saloon has ever looked so effortlessly cool, or sounded so unassumingly tuneful – Maserati Quattroporte included.​



No self-respecting oppressive dictator was ever seen far from their Mercedes 600L “Grosser”, a car which was also considered for inclusion due to its 300 bhp 6.3L V8. However, its indirect successor upped the ante and then some. Production of the Mercedes limousine stopped in 1981, and with the cold war in full swing and power to the people the new agenda in politics, Mr Dictator needed a car with heightened security that was also capable of suppressing an uprising just by pulling up.

Enter Lamborghini – in a crazy detour from their core supercar business the Italians created a military division, and the LM002 was one of the fruits of its labours. Imagine a Humvee fitted with a 5.2-litre, 420 bhp V12 lifted straight out of a Countach, trimmed in opulent leather, endowed with the ability to withstand a lind mine and carry eight burly bodyguards. The Urus isn’t fit to lace its boots.​​

Lotus Carlton


It just had to be, didn’t it? Surely any car that upsets the nanny state enough for it to begin a witch-hunt against its existence is our worthy winner.​ Back in 1992 Vauxhall and continental twin Opel wanted a slice of the burgeoning super saloon market, but neither had the firepower or expertise to make an assault.

Instead, they called a certain Norfolk-based concern that’s already made an appearance on this list and gave them the keys to the GM treasure chest. Lotus took the already brisk 3.0L, 24v GSi as its base and bored the straight six out to 3.6 litres, before slapping on two turbochargers for good measure. ​The result was a colossal 377 bhp and 419 lb-ft. of torque, figures which made the 310 bhp and 265 lb-ft. M5 look puny. The resulting performance was staggering, the Lotus Carlton could accelerate to 100mph from a standstill in an astonishing 10.6 seconds and was good for a claimed 180 mph maximum.

The numbers were so strong, some people believed that early press cars were ‘massaged’, but whatever the truth the only production car that could outrun this comfortable executive saloon was a Lamborghini Diablo. Even the 911 Turbo didn’t launch as hard and a Ferrari Testarossa was easy pickings.​

In order to transfer such savage poke to the road Lotus raided the global GM parts bin, taking the heavy-duty six-speed gearbox from the Corvette ZR1 and the limited-slip differential from the V8 Holden Commodore. Thankfully the campaign by the outraged didn’t gain enough steam and the Lotus Carlton remained in production, even when Vauxhall resisted calls to restrict its M5 basher to the newly announced gentleman’s agreement of 155mph by German rivals.​

The Daily Mail newspaper – the epicentre of the angst – was given even more ammunition when an infamous stolen Carlton with the registration 40 RA began taunting and outrunning the police on a regular basis. The Fuzz berated the car’s performance by stating “We simply can’t get near the thing”. Sadly the car remained stolen and never recovered, but no British car has ever ruffled so many of the establishment's feathers, nor gained as much notoriety since.

Written by

Craig Toone


7 February 2021

Last Updated


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