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10 Weirdest Engines Used By Mainstream Carmakers

HotCars 1/28/2023 Jason Garbutt
© Provided by HotCars

Whatever engine configuration takes your fancy, gas-powered cars are on the way out. But, before carmakers make the switch to greener options, how many of these weird engines do you know about?


Common across every manufacturer, cylinder layouts tend to be either inline or V's. Ask any gearheads to name the best engine, and the chance is American V8s will come out on top. Outside these accepted standards, oddball engines are more common than you think. In the early days of Mazda's sports cars, rotary power barely made a dent in global sales. Yet, comparing cubic inches, you won't find a higher power output.

In more recent times smaller engines have found their way into bigger cars. And we're not just talking about cubic inches. Popular among smaller cars, three-cylinder engines are all the rage with turbochargers picking up the slack.

Where carmakers go from here is anyone's guess. But with EVs set to take over, how long will car designers think up new and quirky engines?

Toyota G16E-GTS (Yaris GR)

Smaller cars don't always need massive engines to produce tarmac-shredding thrills. Adding a turbocharger to the Yaris GR is all that it took to power the diminutive hot hatch to sixty in 5.2 seconds.

Under the hood, the little Toyota makes do with a 1.6-liter GT16E-GTS motor dishing out an incredible 257 hp. But, it's the odd choice of three cylinders that makes the G16E motor unique. Sitting between two and four-cylinder engines on grounds of performance and weight.

Chrysler A-831 (Chrysler Turbine Car)

Enter Chrysler one of the oldest and most popular US carmakers. Since its foundation in 1925, the motor manufacturer has dozens of cars and engines to its credit. From the V10 Dodge Viper to the HEMI V8, Chrysler has championed the combustion engine.

That's not to say Chrysler hasn't taken a few steps outside the box. In 1963 a brief trial with a different engine configuration resulted in the Turbine Car. As the name suggests, Chrysler produced its A-831 turbine. Despite the promising performance, production ended at 55 cars.

RELATED: 10 Things We Bet You Didn't Know About The Chrysler Turbine Car

Volkswagen W8 (Volkswagen Passat)

Volkswagens Passat is a fine alternative to Mercedes, BMW, and even Audis line-up. Yet, despite its unassuming looks VW has a hard time convincing buyers it can live up to its premium rivals.

The answer lies under the hood. VW has on more than one occasion attempted to take the Passat upmarket with an unusual engine line-up. In place of conventional in-line and Vee engines, VW took a different path. Opt for the range-topping W8 or W12, and you get more cylinders arranged in a W format. For the short-lived Passat W8 VW joined two WR4 blocks together on a common crankshaft.

Mazda 13B-REW (Mazda RX-7 FD3S)

From the first gasoline-powered combustion engine, pistons and cylinders have been the norm. There are a few notable exceptions based on Wankel's rotary design. Using rotors in place of pistons saves space and delivers more power for less space.

Rotary engines found widespread use in the 1970s. Yet, it was Mazda who championed the design with their Cosmo and RX-7 sports cars. By the end of RX-7 production in 2002, the 13B-REW cranked out as much as 276 hp. Further, validating the benefits of rotors over pistons, Mazda's 787B Le Man's won Le Man's in 1991.

Saab Two-Stroke (Saab 96)

Externally you'd never guess the Saab 96 had a hidden secret. Launched in 1958 this Swede proved a successful rally car with some quirky ideas. Chief among which, was the first production car to ship with seat belts as standard.

Elsewhere, "standard" was misleading. Pop the hood in a Saab 96 from 1958-1960, and you will find a three-cylinder 750/850 cc engine cranking out 57 hp. But take a closer look and the absence of an oil filler cap gives a clue to the Saab's two-stroke engine design. In 1961, Saab moved to in-line four engines.

RELATED: These Are The 10 Sickest Two-Stroke Engines Ever Made

Fiat TwinAir (Fiat 500)

Resurrecting the iconic Fiat 500 for the 2000s required a greener approach. Fiat's answer was to reduce the number of cylinders making up losses with a turbo. The TwinAir won several awards and has since powered other cars.

We're not going to pretend the tiny 875cc motor emits the best engine sounds. Nor will two cylinders win you much street cred. But, the performance numbers might surprise you. With 85 hp on tap, whizzing around busy cities is effortless and cheap.

Audi V12 TDi CCGA (Audi Q7)

Premium brands often cram their range-topping models with bigger engines. It's a concept that goes back decades when the more cylinders and cubic inches you had was just better. Nowhere more so than in Audi's Q7. A full seven-seater luxury SUV with an emphasis on effortless cruising.

With 6 liters and 12 cylinders moving the 5900-lb Q7 you'd expect big power figures. Here the Q7 doesn't disappoint dishing up 493 hp and 738 ft-lbs of torque. Yet it's the torque figure that grabs the headlines. Unlike other luxury V12 cars, Audi opted for a diesel engine based on fewer carbon emissions.

Citroën H2 (Citroën 2CV Sahara)

Citroën's 2CV mobilized post-war France's population with cheap sales and running costs. At the heart of this icon was the humble H2 twin-cylinder engine. Depending on the model year, displacements ranged from 375 to 600 cc.

While two cylinders are fine for pottering around the farm or local village, Citroën had other ideas. In 1960 came the Sahara boasting four cylinders and around 24 hp. But, the gains are not what you might expect. Citroën's idea was to use two engines. One at each end of a strengthened chassis connected by a central transmission.

RELATED: Here's What We Love About The Citroën 2CV

Turbo-Air 6 (Chevrolet Corvair Monza)

Chevrolet pulled the wool over the buyer's eyes with their Turbo-Air 6 engines. Slung out the back of the mid-sized Corvair coupe gearheads got a 2.3-liter flat-six pumping out 80 hp. Yet, Corvair gained infamy for other corner-cutting traits.

With no turbocharger in sight, the Turbo-Air might seem like a case of miss-selling. But read into the finer details, and the "Air" tag refers to the cooling system. In place of space-hogging radiators, the Corvair instead uses an air-cooled engine. Great for space-saving, but at the expense of cooling efficiency.

Bladen Jets (Jaguar C-X75)

More vaporware from Jaguar. After the XJ220 engine debacle, the C-X75 should have been a game changer for Jaguar.

Between the development mule and the handful of production cars, Jaguar pulled a switcheroo akin to the XJ220's vanishing V12. Ditching twin Bladen diesel-fueled turbines in favor of a small internal combustion engine. Aside from a brief James Bond outing the C-X75 never saw further development.

Sources: Jaguar Cars, Hemmings, Lane Motor Museum, Britannica, How Stuff Works


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