Throw a bunch of car nuts and cool cars together and it won’t be long before one asks another to lift his or her hood so everyone can have a look at the hardware between the wheelhousings.
Even if you’re not mechanically minded enough to know what all that stuff is down there, you still can’t help but admire a great looking engine. Along with exhaust and induction sound, that’s something else we’ll lose with the electric revolution. And supposing you were inclined to look at your buddy’s Tesla’s washing machine drum-shaped motors, it’s not the work of a moment to uncover them.
That said, most standard four-cylinder ICE engines aren’t designed to look pretty. Like modern electric motors, they’re purely functional. And even performance motors like the S63 twin-turbo V8 in the BMW M8 Gran Coupe I ran for six months last year often have large cosmetic covers over the hardware to deaden noise and cover up the multitude of wires, clips, hoses and connectors that you’ll find on modern cars.
Throw some money at the aftermarket though, and it’s easy to improve the visual appeal of almost any engine by fitting silicone hoses and high-flow intake systems. But some engines are just born beautiful, and left the factory in standard form looking so good it was almost a crime to leave them hidden under a big flat sheet of steel or aluminum.
Take Alfa Romeo’s Busso V6, as fitted to cars like the 164 and 156 sedans, and the GTV coupes in the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s, with its chromed intake runners. Even scruffy ones like this 3.2 fitted to a 147 GTA hot hatch still manage to look special.
Or the BMW S14 inline four from the original M3 and M88 straight-six from the M5 of the same era, each with the “BMW M Power” legend emblazoned on the crackle-finish cam covers and an individual throttle body handling the fueling duties for every cylinder.
And if you’re a fan of composites, the carbon airbox on the E46 M3 CSL looks as good as it sounds.
The transparent rear deck of the F8 Tributo and SF90 proves Ferrari understands how much visual drama it can create by allowing you to see the engine without lifting the lid.
While not every classic American muscle car was a paragon of style under the hood, most of the really hot ones were worth looking at, especially cars with multi-carb set-ups like the Tri-Power Pontiac GTO.
And let’s not forget the current senior league super- and hypercars, machines like the Pagani Huyara and Bugatti Chiron, whose hyper-focused design teams ensure that what’s happening below the hood looks every bit as what’s above it.
What’s your pick for the best looking street engine of all time? Leave a comment and let us know.