But then I realised that of course, the DFV is the greatest racing engine of all time. You can argue until you’re blue in the face over who’s the greatest driver and which is the greatest car. But engine? No contest. It was, in retrospect, a rubbish idea for a column; so I scrapped it.
In the road car arena, it is much less clear-cut. Here are what I think are some of the possible candidates:
1. 1903 Mercedes 60hp. This 9.3-litre monster was perhaps the first engine to combine proper power with unquestionable reliability, and it did so less than 20 years after the first car was built. In 1903 it much have seemed like witchcraft.
2. 1929 Bentley 6.5-litre. This was Bentley’s best engine, a motor so exquisitely engineered that a strip down report after a 24 race read, in total: ‘Nothing to report.’ Combined smoothness, torque, power and reliability like no other engine of its era.
3. 1932 Alfa straight-eight. There is no engine sound more easily identified than that of a supercharged, straight eight Alfa. Rich, melodious, slightly offbeat and diamond sharp, every time I hear one, usually in a Goodwood paddock, I have to stop what I’m doing and go and listen to it.
4. 1948 Jaguar straight-six. Given how affordable were the cars that used it, this was the most important high-performance engine of the 1950s, a motor so good it served in sports cars limousines, hearses and racing cars that won Le Mans five times. And it survived for over 40 years.