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Car infidelity: The good, the bad, the ugly list of engine swops

2017-04-12 08:23

Braam Peens

SWAPPING OUT: 'Even automakers occasionally indulge in some engine infidelity,' writes Braam peens as he lists some of the most powerful, purposeful and pathetic engine swops attempted by automakers in recent history. Image: iStock

Braam Peens lists some of the most powerful, purposeful and pathetic engine swops attempted by automakers in recent history.

Cape Town - Everybody has a friend of somebody’s postman, whose cat was once run over by an uncle who thought it would be a good idea to shoehorn a Toyota Cressida engine into a Tazz body.

And if you don’t, pour some battery acid to sip on and fix yourself a snack of Minora blades before enduring the torture called Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift.

In the subsequent 105 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back - its American producers allow a 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback to be brutally violated through the insertion of an RB26 engine from a previous-gen Nissan Skyline GT-R into its once-virgin bay.

The sensibility behind this cross-cultural mechanical miscarriage is as non-existent as the entire Fast & Furious franchise is a threat to the well-being of the collective subconscious of the human race. But engine swops - strictly when executed within the boundaries of the same brand - can actually be a good thing. Mostly.

It’s a simple recipe; often fuelled by itchy, overzealous engineers egged on by marketing departments demanding a halo model capable of outshining its competitors for maximum PR value: take one lesser model, stuff in a bigger and powerful engine; make cell phone companies happy. 

Occasionally, though, the brief sheet is completely blank. That’s when YouTube breaks.

Here, then - in no particular order - are some of the most powerful, purposeful and pathetic engine swops attempted by manufacturers in recent history. Lack of space prohibits us from adding any more, but the Porsche Carrera GT and the Lotus Carlton Omega each deserves an honourable mention.

1. Renault Espace F1

Because what would an engine transplant list be without an F1 entry?

The Renault was the must-have F1 engine of the nineties (winning eight championships), so in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Espace minivan in 1995, they took the 3.5-litre, 40-valve, 1993-championship-winning V10 engine and gearbox, tuned it to 588kW and fitted it to a carbon-fibre reinforced version of the seven-seat mom’s taxi. The non-F1 Espace’s engine resides over the front axle, but in the F1 it was mid-mounted to power the rear wheels instead.

It rocketed from 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds, 0-200km/h in 6.9sec and went on to a top speed of 312km/h. Today it sits in a museum as a reminder of a one-off science experiment done very right.

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2. Clio V6 Renaultsport

Clearly the French have a penchant for ramming obscenely oversized objects into impossibly petite cavities. Possibly one of the scariest cars ever made (owing to its ultra-short wheelbase and rear wheel-drive), the Clio V6 was gifted a three-litre Laguna engine which found its way to where the back seat should have been. The outgoing version developed 190kW but weighed 1400kg and was easily out-handled by its lighter Clio Renaultsport siblings.

Worse still, this flippant French fantasy was as practical as a glass shoe. The V6 had a bus-like 13m-diameter turning circle, practically zero luggage space and shocking fuel consumption. Neither was it exceptionally fast: 0-100km/h in 5.9sec and a top speed of 246km/h. A handful made it to South Africa; one now-defunct motoring publication managed to roll one during testing. It’s the ultimate oddball collectible you never want to have to drive.

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3. BMW 1M 

The motoring press often (and occasionally ignorantly) prattles on about the feel and purity of the driving experience. It can safely be said that 2011 was the last year that BMW delivered a car able to present such a distilled marriage between the interaction of chassis, suspension, tyres and tarmac to the driver.

The hot-rod manual-only E82 1M borrowed the E90 M3’s suspension, steering, brakes, rear axle, differential and wing mirrors, but more importantly relied on the twin-turbo N54B30TO 335i (boosted to 250kW and 500Nm) engine rather than a bespoke M engine, whose code is usually prefixed by an S. In any other M car the latter omission would be a punishable offence, but oddly in the 1M, it matters not one bit. The combination of a short wheelbase and early availability (1500rpm) of peak torque made for a somewhat un-M-like driving experience, and for that reason alone commanded all the more patience and respect. 

Although not considered as a limited edition by BMW, just over 6000 1M’s saw the light between 2011 and 2012, with 71 landing on local shores. Today they fetch prices way in excess of the R546 000 they cost when new. Get one before that price doubles.

4. BMW X5 Le Mans

Yes, there was a time when BMW competed at Le Mans. The BMW-powered McLaren F1 won overall in 1995 and again in 1999 with the V12 LMR “art car” in the premier prototype class of the world’s most famous endurance race.

Nervous about the potential reaction to the sacrilege committed by the introduction of the first BMW SUV in the early 2000s, the company took the race-winning 6.0-litre V12 and wedged it into an X5. It was brisk for its time (0-100km/h in 4.7sec and 278km/h, and a 7:50 Nürburgring lap time), although no longer exceptional by modern standards when today a Golf Clubsport S is faster by three seconds. Hmm.

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5. Nissan Juke-R

From the ridiculous to, uhm, the equally ridiculous. Strictly this conversion was done by their BTCC racing affiliate rather than Nissan themselves, but the project was nevertheless rubberstamped by Japan.

At the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed, former Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy proved why people who shave their legs, wear lycra and stupid hats are a threat to other road users when he piled his Nissan GT-R Nismo into some bales. The surviving engine found its way into the Juke. Initially only two were built, but if you have the required R4.8m to buy one, they’ll reluctantly comply. At 1700kg it’s not light, but manages to hang on to a real GT-R. The handling is however compromised by the higher centre of gravity than that of its donor car. Only one of them has a point.

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6. VW Golf GTI W12-650

Being an engineer within the VW Group grants you access to everything from weapons of mass destruction (as diesel engines are deemed in the US) to the nuclear power stations built by Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche. 

In this case, VW engineers swopped the failed Phaeton luxury car’s six-litre, twin-turbo W12 for the GTI’s rear seat (much like the Clio V6), effectively turning the Golf into two-seater, rear wheel-drive GTI. Then they ruined it with a tasteless body kit and 19-inch versions of its famous telephone dial rims. Power was rated at 650 Pferdestärke - German horsepower - or 478kW. Indeed, an inter-brand rivalry was born: With its 3.7sec 0-100km/h sprint time and 325km/h top speed, VW estimated that this one-off could keep up with a Porsche 911 Turbo. Power should never have limits, but good taste always should.

7. Ford Mustang 2.3 

It’s become harder to take candy from a baby than to take shots at Ford. But leaving aside the fireside chat for a moment, what cannot be denied is that everything about the Mustang 2.3 is wrong.

The Ford Mustang is a cornerstone of The American Dream. So is the V8 engine. A wheezy 2.3-litre four-cylinder is not, other than demonstrating its owner’s financial shortcomings and poor judgement, in a car that doesn’t really excel at anything, other than being an overpriced, underperforming image statement. 

Ultimate buyer’s remorse moment? Being asked to rev your 2.3 “Ecoboost” Mustang at the traffic lights.

8. Renault Clio 4 RS

From the mid-nineties, the Clio Renaultsport was considered hot-hatch royalty. With sublime handling, ultra-communicative steering, each successive iteration of the tripodding Clio delivered adrenaline with the same ferocity as an underpaid Scooter’s pizza delivery driver does in his mom’s car.

With its 7500rpm redline, the naturally aspirated Clio 3 RS even matched a Golf 5 GTI for kilowatts. Then it all changed with the Clio 4. Following the recession, cost-cutting Renault - who owns Nissan - took a development shortcut by lodging the turgid 1.6-litre turbo from the Juke in the latest RS. Matching it to the slowest dual-clutch transmission rejected even by China’s dodgiest carmaker, complete with a selectable engine sound track playable through the speakers, it is a match made in hell. 

9. BMW i8

Spaceship looks, perhaps not quite the Audi R8-nibbling performance it once promised, a satnav interface from 2007, scissor doors and a hybrid powertrain: what’s not to like? The answer lies in the 1.5-litre three-cylinder Mini petrol engine. For nearly R2m, that’s unforgiveable. You want the best - and you can have it - when all BMW needs to do is install the 441kW M5 Competition Pack engine, turning the i8 into the M8 we all so badly want.

10. Smart 63-AMG

Entirely a “what if” idea, but what could be more satanic than the old 464kW M159 6.2-litre V8 from the SLS-AMG wedged into a Smart? In Affalterbach we trust.

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