Finding the right engine for a car isn’t always a case of choosing from your own parts bin.
There are plenty of cars that have sourced their motors from unusual and surprising origins.
Here’s our list of some of the best, and not so great, examples of borrowing an engine from an unexpected pedigree. The cars are listed in alphabetical order:
The Ariel Atom started life with the Rover K-Series engine, with anything from 120- to 190bhp depending on how much you wanted to distort your facial features. Yet, it’s the 2003 Atom 2 with Honda power that really grabbed the headlines and got buyers opening their wallets for this pared to the bone sports car.
Honda’s K20A engine with six-speed manual gearbox came with 160bhp and could be improved to 300bhp. Then the supercharged version arrived in 2007 with at least 245bhp, while 2018 saw a switch to the Civic Type R’s 320bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre. However, for the Nomad model, Ariel uses a 2.4-litre Honda motor with a mere 245bhp in the 670kg all-terrain machine.
Bentley Arnage (BMW V8)
In a complicated deal that saw Rolls-Royce eventually end up with BMW and Bentley landing with Volkswagen, there was a period that VW-owned Bentley produced cars with a BMW engine. This odd situation meant early Arnage models left the Crewe factory - now run by Volkswagen - with a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 and their Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph equivalent used a 5.4-litre BMW V12.
Volkswagen replaced the BMW motor with the venerable 6.75-litre V8 as used previously by Bentley. But whisper it, the BMW-powered cars drive better thanks to a lighter engine. Even so, the early Arnage models are slightly frowned upon now in Bentley circles, which is a shame as they have 350bhp and top out at 150mph.
Citroën SM (Maserati)
Even though Citroën acquired a 60% stake in Maserati in 1967, the SM of 1970 still came as quite a shock. Citroën had been planning a sporting coupé version of the DS since the early 1960s, but few thought it would come with a Maserati V6 engine.
To come in under France’s punitive tax threshold of 2.7-litres, the Italian V6 was reduced in capacity to 2670cc and that cut power to 170bhp. It was enough for the SM to feel brisk, but it was always more of a GT than a sports car, and had front-wheel drive. It was also expensive to buy and maintain and even the late introduction of a 3.0-litre V6 with automatic gearbox couldn’t save it from the chop in 1975 after just 12,920 had been built, not helped by the fact that sales in America – where it proved very popular – had to cease due to new federal regulations regarding ride-height.
De Lorean (Renault PRV6)
The sorry tale of the De Lorean DMC-2 stands as a warning to all considering building a low volume car, and that includes choosing the Douvrin V6 from the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo alliance. The 2849cc V6 came with 131bhp, which was fine for an executive saloon of the period but not ideal for a car with sporting notions.
De Lorean compounded its engine choice by slinging it out behind the rear axle, in the same configuration as a Porsche 911. Unlike the German, the Belfast-built DMC-2 was no handler and it quickly earned a reputation for tricky dynamics because of the engine’s position. Only its appearance in the Back to the Futurefilms saved the car from obscurity.
De Tomaso Pantera (Ford)
De Tomaso made no bones about sourcing its engines from Ford in the USA, starting with the Mangusta and continuing to great effect in the Pantera. It may have raised eyebrows in Italy, but this deal provided the fledgling supercar maker with cheap, reliable power and engines that met stringent US emissions laws.
Starting out with 330bhp in the Tom Tjaarda-penned Pantera, the 5.7-litre V8 offered strong performance and could see off 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds. Impressive stuff for 1971, but more impressive yet was the Pantera carried on for 20 years. Later cars were to GT5 S specification with 350bhp, but they were heavier so gave no performance advantage.
Land Rover Defender (Ford)
By 2007, the Land Rover Defender’s five-cylinder Td5 turbodiesel was unable to meet emissions laws, so a new powerplant was found in the form of the Ford Transit’s 2.4-litre common rail diesel. Known in Blue Oval circles as the Duratorq, Land Rover types refer to it as the Puma engine and was a big step on in technology and refinement for the ageing Defender.
With plenty of low-down torque, the Puma motor was perfect for off-roading and towing, while up to 30mpg was possible when the Defender was driven gently. It also came with a new six-speed manual gearbox. An updated 2.2-litre version of this engine replaced the 2.4 unit in 2012 and remained until the last Defender rolled off the line in 2016.
Lotus Elan (Isuzu)
The Lotus Elan M100 started its development life with a Toyota engine, but the company was bought by General Motors and that dictated a GM engine. Isuzu - part owned by GM at the time - stepped in with its 1588cc motor that Lotus worked on to suit its own needs. The result was a 132bhp normally aspirated entry-level unit and the turbocharged version with 162bhp.
Both versions of the new Elan were front-wheel drive with a five-speed manual gearbox. The Turbo could crack 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and reach 137mph, while handling was rated as the best ever for a front-drive car. This wasn’t enough to generate enough sales and the Isuzu-engined Elan ended with 4555 sold, though it then stumbled on as the Kia Elan but with another engine and compromised handling.
Lotus Elise (Rover)
As a low volume sports car maker, Lotus has long borrowed from other manufacturers for its engines and the original Elise was no different. What surprised some was Lotus chose the Rover K-Series engine, which was more usually found in humdrum hatches than lightweight roadsters. However, the aluminium K-Series proved ideal - even in base 118bhp form gave the car a 0-60mph time of just 5.5 seconds.
Lotus was quick to offer more potent versions of the K-Series in the Elise, and its Exige coupé sister, with outputs of 135-, 143-, 160- and even 190bhp. In every model, the motor’s lightweight was core to the Elise’s superb handling. Today, worries over the engine’s head gasket are easily assuaged by improved parts that cure this concern.
McLaren F1 (BMW)
McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray turned to a Formula 1 acquaintance for the engine for his definitive supercar and charged BMW with building a bespoke V12. The original specification asked for a 6.0-litre engine with 100bhp-per-litre. BMW didn’t quite hit that target but instead delivered a 6.1-litre, 48-valve V12 with 103bhp-per-litre. Job done.
What’s unusual about this is McLaren’s Formula 1 team was using Honda engines in its race cars of the period, so the BMW engine was a bold decision. It’s one that paid off, however, as the F1 went on to set benchmark performance figures that were not bettered until the Bugatti Veyron arrived more than a decade after the F1.
Given how much emphasis BMW places on the British character of the ‘new’ Mini, it’s ironic that its second generation models launched in 2006 came with Peugeot-derived motors. Christened the N14 and N18, depending on whether you chose the 1.4- or 1.6-litre unit, the motors were the same as those found in the Peugeot 208 and several other PSA models of the period.
BMW did regain some Brit cred by making the engines at its Hams Hall plant in the UK. A turbocharged version also made its way in to the Cooper S, while the BMW 116i and 118i models also made use of the French-designed motor from 2011.
Italian supercar makers have tended to choose either in-house engines or look to the USA for affordable big power. Not so Pagani. Instead, it turned to Germany and AMG to power is first car, the Zonda C12, and its partnership is still going strong two decades down the road.
The C12 was six years in development and Mercedes got on board with the project in 1994, so it was instrumental in the birth of the Zonda and Pagani as a serious supercar player. Using an AMG-tuned 6.0-litre V12 with 444bhp coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox, the C12 provided 0-60mph in 4.0 seconds and a 185mph top speed. Later Zondas with progressively larger engines improved on these numbers.
Range Rover P38A (BMW)
From its launch in 1970, the Range Rover was synonymous with its silky Rover V8 engine, but the second generation P38A needed a diesel that could cope with its heft. The previous Italian VM and then 200- and 300TDi diesels used in the Classic model weren’t up to the job, so Land Rover turned to BMW and its 2.5-litre six-cylinder from the 5 Series.
Taking the German route was a wise move as the straight six offered far greater refinement. It also proved to be a prescient move as BMW bought Land Rover in 1994, so engine supply was never in doubt for the P38A. BMW engines also went on to power the first versions of the third-generation L322 Range Rover.
Saab 99 (Triumph)
Saab had been developing its own engine in the 1960s for the upcoming 99 model but decided the cost was too much. British firm Ricardo had been working with Saab and also knew about Triumph’s new slant-four motor, which was canted at an angle to allow the engine to sit lower in the bay.
Ricardo put the two together and Saab got to use a 1.7-litre version of the engine first in the 99 that arrived in 1968. The engine had to be turned 180-degrees to work with Saab’s transaxle gearbox, which also necessitated mounting the water pump on top of the engine. In all, 588,643 99s were built plus 25,378 90s and a further 10,607 Turbo models.
SsangYong Musso (Mercedes-Benz)
The SsangYong Musso was never anything but a budget SUV compared to rivals from Land Rover and Jeep, but it had a secret weapon under its bonnet. This hidden something came in the shape of engines sourced from Mercedes, which gave the Musso more pep than its bargain price might have suggested.
The first Mercedes motor on offer was a 2.7-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel that had been powering Munich taxis in Merc’s own E-Class. It was slow and noisy in the Musso, but when the 3.2-litre straight-six petrol arrived from Mercedes it was a different story. Suddenly, the Musso was one of the nippiest big SUVs you could buy, covering 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds. Mercedes also provided a 2.3-litre petrol engine from 1997 until the Musso’s demise in 1999.
Toyota GT86 (Subaru)
The birth of the GT86 from Toyota, and its Subaru BRZ sister, took time and some careful negotiation. Toyota had bought a stake in Subaru, but Subaru’s engineers were initially sceptical of the sports car project. However, they were drawn in and helped develop the flat-four engine that they knew so well.
Called the FA20 by Subaru and 4U-GSE by Toyota, the 2.0-litre unit is normally aspirated rather than turbocharged as is normal for Subaru’s performance models. Still, it makes 197bhp and drives the rear wheels only to make it a fun steer. Given the engine’s close ties to Subaru’s heritage, it’s bitter-sweet for them that Toyota’s GT86 outsells the BRZ worldwide.
Volvo 360 (Renault)
Not one, not two, but three Renault engines found their ways into Volvo compact 300 Series saloon and hatch models. The smallest of the trio was a 1.4-litre petrol unit with a meagre 71bhp on tap. More appealing was the 1.7-litre petrol with its 82bhp, though Volvo offered a catalysed version of this engine in some markets with a wheezy 74bhp.
The 1.7-litre turbodiesel didn’t make an appearance in the 300 models until 1984, though it was never sold in the UK. It had a whopping 53bhp to wow with, so it was no surprise it left the line-up in 1989. By the end of its life, the 300 range had sold 1.1 million cars, most of them with Renault engines.