The engine is at the core of any vehicle’s character and over the years we have seen some inspirational choices that enhance otherwise traditionally sombre cars. Conversely, a proven powerplant of humble origins has often formed the basis of something far more exhilarating. We’re not talking modern shared platforms and badge engineering, but proper imagination and a liberal approach to health and safety.
A thing of folklore and a common conversation starter on such topics is the Lancia Thema 8.32. You could argue that a Lancia is already an exotic without an 8-cylinder, 32-valve (hence the badge) engine with its roots in Ferrari, but that would be to ignore that the same platform brought us the Fiat Croma, Alfa Romeo 164 and Saab 9000. Detuned and featuring a conventional, cross-plane crankshaft in place of the Ferrari’s original, more race-inspired flat-plane, the 3-litre V8 still generated well over 200bhp in a front-wheel drive application in 1986 alongside a fittingly orchestral multi-cylinder symphony. It’s rightfully earned its Q-car reputation.
Although built for different reasons and to a less niche audience than the 8.32, the Lotus Cortina had a similar feeling of exotica when it was launched in 1963. Fitment of the 1.6-litre twin-cam was a masterstroke in terms of motorsport and showroom successes, and the British firm went on to repeat the trick with the 2.2-litre Lotus Sunbeam and, of course, the twin-turbo Lotus Carlton, providing a splash of excess to otherwise mainstream vehicles. Inclusion of the Cortina is slightly ironic given that the engine, which was based on a Ford block, was developed as a less costly alternative to the Coventry Climax, which itself evolved from use as static water pumps to elite motorsport, including Formula 1. Perhaps the most exotic of non-exotic powerplants?
Looking at it from the other side, Noble chose the 3-litre Ford Duratec, as seen in the Mondeo for example, to power its supercar-baiting M400, albeit heavily revised and boasting two turbos. The original Elise, too, came with the Rover K-Series. Both cars were lauded for their dynamics and style, which were in no way compromised by the humble origins of their engines.
However, we don’t only have collaborations to thank for some of the extreme creations we have seen. Sometimes, manufacturers get it just right all on their own. Arguably the original super-SUV, the Lamborghini LM002, for example, combined a Countach V12 with the body and drivetrain of something more akin to Desert Storm to create the ultimate expression of Italian flair, creativity and complete disdain for fuel economy.
Mercedes engineered the incredible 6-litre V12 for use in its W140 S600. Timelessly Teutonic, its exotic flavour has been sprinkled retrospectively by use of its engine design to power the lavish Pagani Zonda, to name but one. BMW’s E38 750 was powered by its V12 masterpiece, which could allegedly shut down a bank of six cylinders if it sensed running issues to still nudge 150mph. It would also be unfair to ignore the W8-engined Passat.
On a more accessible level but with no less flair, Renault also tried its hand at combining seemingly unnecessary power and cubic capacity with ultimate luxury. The 5 Monaco could be bought with a, for the time, massive 1.7-litre four-cylinder petrol that provided performance not dissimilar to its vaunted 1.4-litre GT Turbo, while offering opulent leather and even a zipped compartment under the parcel shelf in which to store your freshly laundered black-tie evening wear.
We couldn’t possibly conclude this topic without a special mention to the Mako P: a European-market Mk2 Granada that could be adapted by the German company to feature the bristling V8 from a Porsche 928, complete with transaxle.
Owned any of the above or even created your own exotic non-exotic? We’d love to hear from you.