Some of the world’s greatest cars use other people’s engines (OPE). The McLaren F1 famously used a 6.1-litre engine sourced from BMW, and arguments rage to this day as to what engine or engines from BMW’s standard range it was based on. The engines in modern McLarens have evolved beyond recognition but are still ultimately derived from an IndyCar engine developed for Nissan by Tom Walkinshaw Racing but never used. Even the W16 engine used in the Bugatti Chiron and Veyron can trace elements of their architecture back to the W8 engine that appeared briefly and somewhat implausibly under the bonnet of a Volkswagen Passat.
Aston Martin is not the only small manufacturer to abandon the idea of doing its own clean-sheet engine designs. Remember the Lotus Esprit V8, with its beautifully compact and pretty home-grown 3.5-litre twin-turbo engine? If ever there was an engine that was better on the drawing board than on the road, this was it.
It sounded terrible and had serious early reliability issues. Ever since, Lotus has sensibly relied on OPE.
It is quite remarkable what can be done with engines sourced from elsewhere. Drive a Lotus Evora 400 and you might struggle to associate the growling monster in the engine bay with a motor that started life in a Toyota Camry. If you were lucky enough to grab a ride in the Noble M600, you might find it even more fanciful that the 600bhp motor and its ability to apparently puncture time itself was more usually found under the bonnet of an old Volvo XC90 SUV. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Years back, a few of us spent a weekend building a Caterham Seven for a feature, powered by the well-known ‘red top’ 2.0-litre Vauxhall engine designed for Cavaliers and Calibras. But installed in a car weighing the same as a tube of toothpaste, with a pair of 45mm Weber carbs strapped to one side as close to a straight-through exhaust as was possible on the other, it turned into a rampaging maniac of a motor without the smallest modification required inside.
Of course, sometimes the OPE approach can go too far. In 1998, Jaguar showed the XJ220 supercar, powered by its own V12 engine topped by four-valve heads. People made wealthy by the hard-charging bull market of the era formed an orderly queue. Spool forward four years to 1992, when the production version arrived, and the world was in a far less rosy economic place. And the V12? It appeared to have halved in size. In fact, the new 3.5-litre V6 engine had been sourced from a Metro. Yes, it was quite a special Metro – the 6R4 rally car – and had already done great work powering Jaguar’s own Group C cars, but those looking to bail out of a commitment made in different times used the engine swap as an ideal excuse to do exactly that. Acrimony was to follow.