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Lack of engine power can be traced as a direct cause to poor quality of life, and even the most beautiful of bodylines can’t always be guaranteed to help. No, there must always be plenty of maintenance-free horsepower on offer from the engine bay. It’s the only way to avoid soul-destroying suffering and instead find eternal salvation.

At least it seems to work for some. For a certain fraction of our classic car scene, an engine swap is simply the only way forward when they take on another project, while for others it’s one of the most horrible things imaginable. A kind of Frankenstein’s attempt of inserting his wife’s brain into the head of his young daughter, or putting black-glazed roof tiles on a modest villa in a simple suburban neighbourhood. There is of course also a third group, but they remain indifferent to this form of surgery and therefore occupy no real position on today’s subject.

There may be several reasons for an engine replacement other than having ambitions towards become a master of boulevard racing. One could perhaps be the owner of a very rare car where the engine is not salvageable and another type simply must take its place to make the car drivable again. I just struggle to think of any such examples other than the Bugatti Atlantic replica which the Danish classic car dealer Daytona had for sale years ago. The otherwise fairly accurate replica body was equipped with a Jaguar XK engine, as a Bugatti engine proved impossible or at least too expensive to acquire. Not that a Jaguar XK engine is a bad engine by any stretch of the imagination, but a Bugatti engine it is not, and many enthusiasts at the time raised an eyebrow over the combination.

The more trivial causes for engine replacements are perhaps the most interesting. Those which perhaps could tempt any one of us: Either seeking a surplus of raw power, better sound or easier maintenance.

MGA with a Mazda MX-5 twincam engine. Modern technology which gifts the old lady with a low maintenance power boost.

Saab 96 with a Ford V6 engine.

Lancia MonteCarlo (Scorpion in the US) with Alfa Romeo’s wonderful V6 Busso engine.

This 1956 Nash Metropolitan has got a Toyota engine. We all know that they are bullet-proof.

The Jaguar V12 engine has been replaced by a Ford V8 engine.

The Subaru STI engine fits quite well in a VW Beetle. I imagine the resulting performance would be exhilarating!

What about a reliable Mini? Here with a force-fed 3-cylinder twincam engine from Daihatsu.

However, some engine swaps require quite a significant change to the car’s structure or design, but gradually a large number of conversion kits are available from the trade for some of the most obvious engine swaps. That no doubt makes this black magic much more accessible. Again, the skeptics will watch from the sidelines and probably comment vigorously on do-it-yourself silicone implants for women and syringes full of Botox for over-the-counter sales in your local Seven Eleven.

A complete kit for installing a Honda K20 engine into an unsuspecting Fiat X-1/9.

Party time! Fresh power from a more potent Honda engine in the small Fiat X-1/9.

Even in the Alfa Romeo scene, engine swaps have become fairly common. The lovely and iconic Nord engine in eg an Alfa Romeo GTV can easily be replaced with a more modern Twinspark engine. And there are several providers of these conversion kits too.

What is your hottest dream of an engine swap? And why? Is it the soundtrack, horsepower or easier maintenance you are after? Here within the borders of quiet little Denmark, engine swaps are complicated affairs due to our governing regulations concerning modifications on cars in general, further regulations focused on registering your classic car as a historic vehicle and not least the challenges of achieving a Danish MOT pass with a non-standard engine tucked away under the bonnet. Still, there are examples of these engine swaps on Danish soil too, and we can certainly still talk about this controversial phenomenon even if it is more common beyond our borders.


6 Responses

  1. Michael Madirazza

    I have a Ford Escort Mk2 that has been fitted with a Zetec engine. I use it for hill climbs and race in the power/weight class. I also have a Escort mk1 with a lotus TC engine…

    A standard Zetec with ITB produces some 150-160 hp, and then you need to tune your TC engine to obtain the same result… And hopefully a standard engine have a longer life than a tuned one.

    Should I be unlucky, a new Zetec can be bought for a bit more than 1.000 £, than will not get you far in the world of Lotus TC engines :-)

    So my reason is money…

  2. Andrew Boggis

    It is a great idea to do this type of change. Here is France, itwould also involve a trip to the “DRIRE” so that they can approve the modification. [Translation: this is not really encouraged by the authorities!]

    Assuming the DRIRE approve, I would buy a late Volvo 245 (the estate 244) and fit a B844S Volvo – Yamaha V8 engine. I would a slightly more recent suspension and brakes, but would keep the interior standard (other than fitting “kiddie caging”).

    This would give very roughly 300 bhp per ton…and enough ooomph to tow a race car trailer.

  3. AlfaHahn

    Most of your examples are horrible. With respect to the first picture with a fresh 2L Alfa Romeo Nord engine, properly tuned to about 180 HK, think that’s more like it – if you put it in a suitable classic Alfa Romeo that is :-)
    I have made this upgrade a couple of times with great result i.e. fun!
    However, the little 1300 ccm Alfa Romeo engine with half the power is also doing very well in a Giulietta Spider or GT Junior – you just have to adjust your driving style a little bit.

    If it’s the power that matter for you buy a Corvette or similar.

  4. Dave Leadbetter

    A friend has recently made the decision to swap his BMW 2002 Tii M10 engine for a (barely modern) M44 from an E36. He agonised over the change but came to the conclusion that his current engine needed a rebuild and the M44 swop would give him the same result at half the cost, but with better running and flexibility. He’ll keep the original engine should he ever want to change back. It’s a no-brainer really and ultimately means he’ll use the car more often.

    At home, we’re looking at adding significant horsepower to one of our fleet. We’ve all got limited time left so unless you own something properly rare and original, just do whatever makes you happy.

  5. Anders Bilidt

    Now I’m not here to judge other enthusiasts. I very much subscribe to the “If it’s your car, you can do with it as you please” mentality. Well, with in reason at least – if someone were to be so misguided as to chop off the roof of their authentic Ferrari 250 GTO, I suspect I might raise an eyebrow (or two!). But with more mass-produced classics, the owner is of course entitled to do with their classic whatever puts a smile on their face.

    But in my own personal case, I adhere to keeping the factory correct engine in my classics. The way I see it, if I install a more modern engine, then where does it stop?? Next up, I’ll want a technically more advanced suspension set-up. With that comes more efficient and modern brakes. How about one of those fancy electrical power steerings? And now that we’re into the more comfort orientated modifications, I obviously need a retro-fit air-con too. Well, before you know it, the only thing left classic about my old car is the design. The whole driving experience will suddenly have become modern. And I personally don’t buy classics as some sort of misguided image-booster, where I require to be seen in a classic while I couldn’t be bothered with the inconvenience of actually driving and maintaining one. Nope, that’s not me. If I want modern technology, then I’ll buy a modern car. Simple. But when I buy and drive a classic car, it is because I actually want to travel back in time and have the full-blown experience of driving an older piece of machinery. For me, that’s where all the fun is to be found!

    Take my ’73 BMW 2002 for instance. Not only does it have a factory-correct 2-litre M10 engine with a single downdraught Solex carburettor, but I’ve also retained the stock 4-speed transmission while practically every one of my 02-enthusiast mates have modified there cars with a 5-speed from the first 3-series. But the way I see it, if the 4-speed was good enough for the first owner back in 1973, then it’s good enough for me in 2019. Heh… it even still runs good old-fashioned points and condenser. I’ve enjoyed the car in factory correct spec for 27 years now, and have no plans of ever changing that.

    But each to their own of course… ;-)

  6. yrhmblhst

    Well, this is a question with no absolute answer, EXCEPT, never EVER put a japanese/chinese/korean engine in a real car. Never.
    Otherwise, i can see things like a ZeTech in place of a Kent or even a Twink if yours is blown up and you cant afford the 10k for a really good rebuild. The Twinspark in an earlier Alfa is doable – just dont hack and screw things up to where its hard to put it back right is all that I ask. But, as the metaphorical heart of the automobile, isnt the original / original type of engine at the centre of the vintage/classic experience? Personally, I think it is, hence I have never done a transplant with anything too different than the original lump, but thats just me. Im sure some significant improvementss are avilable such as the later BMW engines mentioned, and even the Alfa shown, and I ‘get’ why you would do it ; keep everything classic looking and feeling but with more power and reliability. Fine. But really, arent those examples just ‘evolutions’ of the original in many ways? So I’m ok with it personally, which, of course, is the arbiter of all questions…
    OH! the one exception? You can put a small block Chevrolet in most anything!


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