Spannerhead Dot

Ugly Engines, Part I

December 30, 2011 by Matt

I’m beginning this new series fully aware that I’ll be tipping a few of my sacred cows and taking aim at some of my all-time favorite powerplants. Even so, there are situations in which the engineers, although aesthetics certainly aren’t their primary concern, deserve to be called to task for their creations’ complete lack of visual appeal. There’s a saying in aviation circles: “If it looks right, it’ll fly right,” and that maxim could apply broadly to automotive engineering as well in the sense that an attractive, well thought-out engine and bay is usually echoed by the quality of the engine itself. It’s not true in every case, of course—ugly engines can be world-beaters and a lovely pair of cam covers can surmount a turd of a powerplant—but in most cases good looks and good performance are complementary. In any event, let’s dive in.

Jaguar V12 E-Type XKE Series III 3

The early Jaguar V12. So…when the contraption under the hood doesn’t actually look like an engine, you know you’ve got a problem. It’s surely ironic that an automaker renown for creating some of the loveliest shapes on the road also developed this hideous monstrosity, littered with all manner of heat shielding, vacuum lines, linkages and balance tubes. Amazingly, the example shown above (from a Series III E-Type) is one of the more attractive iterations; the engine actually got uglier through the ’70s, utterly buried in a snake pit of first-generation fuel injection vacuum lines and emissions controls. When it ran, the Jaguar V12 was a very good engine, with smooth, lusty power available throughout the rev range, but the messiness of the powerplant’s home hinted at the tacked-on, poorly thought-out nature of its components, and served as a kind of warning for those foolish enough to buy a Jaguar so-equipped.

Volvo 760 PRV V6 Engine

The PRV V6. The designed-by-committee Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 engine is a classic violation of one of the cardinal rules of attractive engine building: Do not mount your peripherals on top of the engine. The air-conditioning compressor on the left side of the bay becomes the focal point instead of the engine itself, which for its part is shoved down and back in the chassis, any potentially attractive aluminum topped by a helping of dashpots and vacuum lines. The engine itself is kind of a nasty brute as well, and powered a number of rather infamous cars, such as the DeLorean DMC-12, Volvo 760 and Dodge Monaco.

Mazda 12A RX-7 RX7 Rotary Wankel Engine Motor FB

The Mazda 12A. I love this engine. Love it. It’s smooth, reliable, light, easy to rebuild, sounds wonderful with the right exhaust system and is blessed with a beautifully linear powerband. That said, I’ll never claim it’s a looker. It commits the same sin as the PRV above in mounting the alternator up high, and sports an ugly round air cleaner as well as a rats nest of vacuum lines. I desperately wish I owned a car motivated by a 12A, but so help me, it’s a visual mess.

Click here to continue with Part II of my series on ugly engines.

Filed under: Aesthetics, Technical, Ugly Engines

1 Comment

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