Germany has been producing engines from the dawn of motoring until the present day.
In nearly 140 years, the country's portfolio of engines has developed into something quite remarkable. It includes simple but effective motors for everyday transport, as well as gigantic units of awesome power, and almost everything in between.
Restricting this list to just 20 engines inevitably means that many worthy contenders have had to be left out, so our apologies in advance:
Audi R10 TDI
Audi developed a twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V12 diesel engine which made its debut in the R10 TDI sports racing car in 2006. The R10 was wildly successful, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Sebring 12 Hours and the LMP1 class in the American Le Mans Series that year. No diesel-powered car had ever done any of these things before.
Audi repeated its Le Mans and ALMS victories in 2007 and 2008 before the R10 was replaced by another diesel racer, the 5.5-litre V10 R15 TDI. This engine did much to demonstrate the prowess of the Volkswagen Group in producing diesel engines, but it proved to be a somewhat problematic legacy… It’s fair to say you’re unlikely to see the letters TDI emblazoned on any race cars ever again.
R5 was a family of five-cylinder engines used in many Audis and some Volkswagens. The most famous member was the 2.1-liter turbocharged unit fitted to the Audi Quattro from 1980 onwards, first with two valves per cylinder and later with four.
The engine helped Audi to dominate international rallying in the early 1980s, partly because it was very powerful. This did not cause traction problems on gravel roads because Audi was also the first manufacturer in the sport to take the idea of four-wheel drive seriously.
Auto Union V16
All of the frighteningly fast Grand Prix and record cars built by Mercedes and Auto Union from 1934 to 1939 had formidable engines, but the Auto Union V16 was perhaps the most glorious of them all. Designed by Porsche, it was not a high revver (no version was ever taken as far as 6000 RPM), but it produced thundering torque and correspondingly enormous power.
The ultimate version, built only for record-breaking, measured 6.3 liters and had a peak output of 545 hp. In 1938, a rule change obliged Auto Union to develop a 3.0-liter V12 for Grand Prix racing.
Benz Patent Motorwagen
On paper, the single-cylinder engine built by Karl Benz (1844-1929) in 1885 does not seem impressive from a 21st-century standpoint. Although it had a capacity of 954cc, similar to that of many small units found today, it was unable to produce as much as 1 hp.
However, it is one of the most significant engines ever made in Germany, or anywhere else, because it was fitted to Benz's Patent Motorwagen, widely regarded as the world's first car. For later versions, Benz designed and built stronger engines with power outputs of up to 2 hp – the power of two horses, with a heck of a lot less ‘maintenance’.
The Benz cars which finished second and third in the 1908 French Grand Prix were both fitted with four-cylinder engines of at least 12 liters. Free from the restrictions of Grand Prix rules, Benz then developed a monstrous 21.5-liter version for a car nicknamed the Blitzen ('thunder') Benz, of which six examples were built.
The 200km/h (124mph) target speed was beaten during a successful Land Speed Record attempt in 1909. A later 142mph run did not take place under LSR regulations, but driver Bob Burman (1884-1916) had unofficially reached the highest speed achieved to date by any vehicle, including aeroplanes.
BMW is renowned for its smooth-running straight-six engines. A classic example of the type is the M20, introduced to the 3 Series and 5 Series ranges in 1977 as a 2.0-liter. It subsequently appeared with capacities of up to 2.7 liters before being discontinued in the early 1990s.The M20 was mostly fitted to sedans, but also powered the radical BMW M1 roadster in 2.5-liter form. In 2.0-liter form, it was noticeably smoother than four-cylinder rivals, as this famous advert from the ‘80s emphasises.
The S14 was a high-revving four-cylinder engine used in the first-generation BMW M3. For road cars, it appeared first in 2.3-liter form and was later expanded to 2.5 liters. For motorsport, it was often reduced to 2.0 liters to meet championship regulations.
The scream of a tuned S14 made the M3 a very dramatic rally car, but it was even more successful in circuit racing, winning the Australian, British, German, Italian, European and World Touring Car Championships.
The N74 is a twin-turbo V12 which has been available in various capacities from 6.0 to 6.75 liters. Power outputs have ranged from nearly 547 hp to over 630 hp, but the engine is not intended for use in sporting cars.
The only BMWs fitted with it have been upscale members of the 7 Series family like the M760Li xDrive pictured. Since 2010, it has also been used in models produced by Rolls-Royce, which BMW currently owns.
Although Bugatti is a French brand, it is owned by Volkswagen, and uses a great deal of German technology. This includes a formidable quad-turbo 8.0-liter W16 engine, whose unique layout was created (more or less) by mounting two narrow-angle 4.0-liter V8s on a shared crankcase.
The engine had already appeared in the Audi Rosemeyer and Bentley Hunaudieresconcept cars before reaching production in the 2005 Bugatti Veyron (pictured). In most Veyrons, the W16 produced 1000 hp, but its output was raised to 1500 hp for the Bugatti Chiron, which replaced the Veyron in 2016.
The DB603 was one of the most remarkable engines developed in Germany or anywhere else for use in a car. The car in question was the Mercedes T80, which was designed for an attempt on the Land Speed Record. The 44.5-liter V12 produced around 3000 hp, which seemed like enough when the project began in the mid 1930s.
The Second World War diverted everyone's attention from record breaking. By the time Mercedes was in a position to think about it again, the record had been raised to 394mph. Since that was 21mph above the target speed for the T80, the project was abandoned.
By acquiring a patent for a system called loop scavenging, using it well and setting the lawyers on anyone who came close to it, DKW became the world's leading manufacturer of two-stroke cars and motorcycles. It was so successful that it could afford to buy Audi in 1928.
DKW finally developed the four-stroke F103 in the 1960s. Its then owner, Volkswagen, resurrected the by now long-dormant Audi name rather then persevere with one associated with noisy, smelly engines. Audi would therefore now be almost forgotten if it hadn’t been for the two-strokes which killed the brand that made them.
MAN B&W 11G95ME-C9.5
Although this article is mostly about cars, we can't write about German engines without mentioning the incredible marine unit produced by MAN (part of Volkswagen) and used in the gigantic 400-metre long, 19,000 container-carrying MSC Jade.
The 11-cylinder two-stroke produces around 103,000 hp at a positively relaxed 80rpm. Its 26,977-liter capacity is approximately 1677 liters greater than that of the Finnish Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C, which is often (but wrongly) described as the world's largest internal combustion engine.
The M139 is a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine fitted to the Mercedes-AMG A 45 hatchback, the CLA 45 fastback and the GLA 45 crossover. It's available with outputs of either 387 hp or 422 hp. In the latter form, it’s said to be the most powerful four-cylinder engine fitted to a production car.
In fact, Mitsubishi developed a 446 hp engine of similar size and layout for a version of the Evo X sold in the UK, but only 40 examples were ever built. Depending on your definition of a production car, the Evo might therefore not qualify, whereas the Mercedes models unquestionably do.
The M156 is historically significant because it was the first engine designed from scratch by Mercedes subsidiary AMG, rather than by Mercedes itself. Although the V8 unit measures almost exactly 6.2 liters, the various models fitted with it all had 63 in their titles, including the E 63 AMG (pictured) and, rather improbably, the high-performance version of the R-Class MPV.
The M156 was produced from 2006 to 2011, with outputs of up to 525 hp. The even more powerful M159 derivative was used in the Mercedes SLS AMGsports car.
Mercedes created the 2.5-liter straight-eight M196 engine for its W196Grand Prix car, and enlarged it to 2.9 liters for the 300 SLR sports racer. Technical highlights included direct fuel injection and desmodromic valves, which were pushed shut rather than allowed to return to their closed position by the release of a spring.
In the two years before Mercedes made one of its periodic withdrawals from motorsport, Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995) became F1 World Champion in both 1954 and 1955 driving the W196, while Stirling Moss (1929-2020, pictured at the wheel) famously won the 1955 Mille Miglia in the 300 SLR.
The Opel Cam In Head engine's name is derived from the fact that its camshaft was mounted in the cylinder head rather than the block, but between the valves rather than above them as in a conventional overhead-camshaft layout.
Remarkable for its longevity, the CIH was first used exclusively in Opel models, and later in equivalent vehicles sold by sister company Vauxhall. It made its debut in the Opel Rekord of 1965, and was still being used three decades later in the Isuzu off-roader sold in Europe as the Frontera.
Porsche designed air-cooled flat-four engines for the original Volkswagen, and for its own 356 and 912 models. For the 911, the company added two more cylinders to the design, and thereby created what is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest engines.
Although there were many detail changes - including turbocharging - over the years, the most significant development was the introduction of water cooling in 1997, over 30 years after the 911 first went on sale.
Although the EA827 is now regarded as a Volkswagen Group engine, it actually made its debut in the 1972 Audi 80. It was available for several decades in sizes ranging from 1.3 to 2.0 liters, and used in a great many VWs and Audis, and later SEATs and Skodas.
Most significantly, it powered the first-generation VW Golf GTI (pictured), regarded by some (probably wrongly) as the first hot hatch. Later developments included supercharging (for models wearing the G60 badge) and the fitment of a 16-valve cylinder head.
Volkswagen Type 1
The Type 1 was used for the entire life of the original Volkswagen (nicknamed, but never officially called, the Beetle) from 1938 to 2003, and is one of the world's longest-lived production engines. As well as the Beetle, it was fitted to the Type 2 commercial vehicles (including the Transporter), the Type 3 sedan, the Karmann Ghia sports car and a great many light aircraft.
In those models, its capacity ranged from 985cc to 1.6 liters. A larger derivative, ranging in size from 1.7 to 2.0 liters, was used in the Volkswagen 411 and 412 and the Porsche 914.
The W16 engine used by Bugatti is not the only example of a layout attempted by Volkswagen and no other company. The same applies to the 4.0-liter W8, which amounts to two narrow-angle 2.0-liter V4 engine sharing a single crankshaft.
Producing up to 275 hp, it was the only W8 engine ever to be fitted in a vehicle sold to the public. It made its debut in the Volkswagen Passat in 2001 and was discontinued three years later. There is still no sign of a successor.