10 Of The Greatest Race Engines In History

In their relentless pursuit of power and performance, automotive engineers have created certain race engines that shaped the automotive industry’s evolution. Thanks to their revolutionary designs and exceptional outputs, these icons of high-speed engineering have left indelible marks on the world of motorsport. By pushing the boundaries of innovation and what is technically possible, they also influence the development of everyday cars. Race engines like the Offenhauser I4 and the Cosworth DFV dominated Indy and F1 racing for many years. The most powerful engines ever built are generally those found in ocean vessels and space rockets. However, the most powerful engine of all time in a car is arguably the 5.9-liter twin-turbo V8 in the SSC Tuatara Aggressor. Running on methanol, it lays down an insane 2,200 hp and 1,604 lb-ft of torque.



In addition to potency, performance, and reliability, the most sought-after engines generally have huge tuning potential. Typical examples include crate engines like the GM Performance E-ROD LS3 and Ford Gen 3 5.0-liter Coyote. Crate motors for sale offer enthusiasts the opportunity to take their game to higher levels of performance. In this article, we explore 10 legendary engines that rewrote car racing history. The list includes not only contemporary race engines but also engines from the pre-war era.


With information from
Bring A Trailer
and the manufacturers’ website where necessary, here are 10 of the greatest race engines in history.


10 BMW M12/13

BMW M12/13
DrGumlunatic: YouTube

Boasting a claimed output of around 1,400 hp, the BMW M12/13 is one of the most powerful engines in F1 history. But with turbocharging still in its infancy, the engine also had reliability issues. However, this did not stop it from leaving behind a worthy legacy. It made history in 1983 when it became the first turbocharged engine to win the World Drivers’ Championship. In its most potent form, the M12/13 also set the straight-line speed record for the 1986 F1 season.


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

BMW

Production Years

1982-1987

Configuration

I4

Displacement

1.5-liter

Power

640-1,400 hp

Torque

850-930 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

  • 1983 FIA Formula One Drivers’ Championship
  • Straight-line speed record by a turbocharged Formula One car in 1986

9 Offenhauser Racing Engine

Offehauser Racing DOHC Four
Hemmings


The 4-cylinder Offenhauser racing engine debuted in the 1934 Indianapolis 500 and won its first race in 1935. From then, it went ahead to win the Indy 500 a record 27 times. Aside from the Indy 500, Offy engines also dominated other forms of racing, such as midgets, sprint cars, and champ cars. It featured a single overhead camshaft and a monoblock design and had a reputation for durability, power, and adaptability. Being simple and inexpensive to maintain, it was one of the best car engines of its time.

Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Offenhauser

Configuration

I4

Displacement

1.5-4.4-liter

Power

420-1,000 hp

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

Won the Indianapolis 500 27 times

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8 Renault EF-Type Engine

Renault EF-Type Engine
Silodrome


Powering the Renault RS01, the 1.5-liter EF1 was the first turbocharged engine in Formula One history. Renault’s bold step finally yielded fruit with a win in the 1979 French Grand Prix. This was the first time a turbocharged engine would win a Formula One race. With further refinements, the EF-Type engine bagged more victories and challenged the dominance of naturally aspirated engines. It showed other F1 racing teams the potential of turbocharging. During its production run, the EF-Type powered not only Renault’s own works team but also Lotus, Ligier, and Tyrrell.

Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Renault Sport

Production Years

1977-1986

Configuration

V6

Displacement

1.5-liter

Power

510-1,320 hp

Torque

290-660 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

  • First turbo engine in Formula One
  • First turbo engine to win a Formula One race


7 Audi/Bentley Twin-Turbo V8

Bentley Speed 8 Engine
Design Corral

This legendary racing engine powered Audi race cars and the Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype from 1999 to 2005. Throughout its lifetime, it dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winning the race from 2000 to 2005, it established itself as one of the most successful engines in the history of endurance racing. The Audi/Bentley twin-turbo V8 remains a legend in motorsport as it demonstrated the reliability, performance, and efficiency of Volkswagen’s engineering. It is one of the best car engines to grace a racecourse.


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Audi/Bentley (Volkswagen Group)

Production Years

1999-2005

Configuration

V8

Displacement

3.6-4.0-liter

Power

520-860 hp

Torque

516 lb-ft

Fuel

Shell racing gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

24 Hours of Le Mans winner – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005

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6 Ford 427 SOHC “Cammer”

Ford 427 SOHC “Cammer”
Silodrome

Arriving as a real game changer, Ford’s 427 SOHC V8 never got the chance to prove itself in NASCAR racing. Based on the FE block, it featured hemispherical combustion chambers, large valves, and a 6-foot-long timing chain. With dual 4-barrel carburetors, it cranked out up to 657 hp. Fearing the engine would make the stock cars too fast and too dangerous, NASCAR banned the engine from racing. However, it made a name for itself as a drag racing engine. A 427 SOHC fetched $140,000 as a crate engine for sale on Bring a Trailer in February 2023.


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Ford

Configuration

V8

Displacement

7.0-liter

Power

616-657 hp

Torque

515-575 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

Triple Top Fuel drag racing honors in 1967

5 Mercedes-Benz M163

Mercedes-Benz M163
Revs Institute


The M163 was a development of the previous M154 engine and featured an increased displacement and compression ratio. Sporting a Roots-type supercharger that boosted the intake pressure, it fed the wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. In the pre-war motorsport world, the Mercedes-Benz M163 was one of the most advanced and powerful race engines. It motivated the W154 race car to dominate the 1939 Grand Prix against rivals like the Auto Union D-type and the Alfa Romeo 158.

Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Mercedes-Benz

Production Years

1939

Configuration

V12

Displacement

3.0-liter

Power

476 hp

Torque

254 lb-ft

Fuel

Mixture of alcohol, benzene, and gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

Winner at the 1939 German, Belgian, and Swiss Grand Prix

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4 Honda RA168E

Honda RA168E
Morio

Before the RA168E arrived for the 1988 F1 season, Honda had already built a reputation as an engine supplier. However, the RA168E/McLaren partnership in 1988 was the apex of Honda’s second era in Formula One. At the wheels of an RA168E-powered McLaren MP4/4, Ayrton Senna set a season record of eight Grand Prix wins. ​​​​​​​The Honda RA168E won 15 pole positions and 15 out of 16 races. In addition, it also took home both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. What a season for one of the most reliable engines.


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Honda

Production Years

1988

Configuration

V6

Displacement

1.5-liter

Power

685 hp

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

Winner of 1988 Brazilian and Australian Grand Prix

3 Ferrari Tipo 021

Ferrari Tipo 021
Morio

The first Tipo 021 version arrived in 1981 as a replacement for the 12-cylinder engine that powered the Ferrari 312T series. Featuring twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection, it churned out around 600 hp in qualifying trim. In the Ferrari 126C car, it won two races in 1981. ​​​​​​​After an overhaul for the 1982 season, the Tipo 021 won three Grand Prix races and its first manufacturers’ championship. In 1983, it put on a finer show with four wins and a second manufacturers’ championship.


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Ferrari

Production Years

1981-1983

Configuration

V6

Displacement

1.5-liter

Power

550-800 hp

Torque

246-332 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

  • Constructors’ championship in 1982 and 1983
  • Winner of 1982 German Grand Prix

2 Cosworth DFV

Cosworth DFV
Adrian Flux


Although it had some reliability problems, the legendary Cosworth DFV was a day-one hit when it arrived in 1967. Displacing 3.0 liters, the Ford-Cosworth creation evolved to become one of the greatest performance engines ever. In a show of Formula One dominance, it powered every World Championship winner in 1969 and 1973. ​​​​​​​Despite the arrival of turbo engines by Renault and Ferrari, the aging Cosworth still snagged one last F1 victory at the 1983 Detroit Grand Prix. Apart from Formula One, it was also successful in other racing categories.

Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Ford-Cosworth

Production Years

1967-1983

Configuration

V8

Displacement

3.0-liter

Power

400-530 hp

Torque

221-280 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

  • Won 12 Drivers’ championships
  • Won10 constructors’ championships,
  • Won two 24 Hours of Le Mans


1 Mazda R26B

Mazda R26B
Mazda

The R26B is a race motor that made history in 1991. This was the first and only time a non-piston engine would claim victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was also the first Le Mans victory for a Japanese manufacturer – the only one until 2018, when Toyota won the iconic race. Unlike the engines that powered Mazda’s previous attempts, the R26B featured three spark plugs per rotor. It also sported a telescopic intake manifold that adjusted the length of the intake runners depending on the engine speed


Engine Specs

Manufacturer

Mazda

Production Years

1990-1995

Configuration

4-rotor rotary engine

Displacement

2.6-liter

Power

700 hp

Torque

450 lb-ft

Fuel

Gasoline

Noteworthy Achievements

Winner of 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans

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