The six best V6 engines of all time – Axon's Automotive Anorak

25th June 2020
Gary Axon

Just over 70 years ago (10th May 1950 to be precise) one of motoring history’s most important and influential car makers – Lancia – introduced the world’s very first series production engine in a V6 configuration.


The new Aurelia’s game-changing 60-degree V6 engine was developed under the direction of gifted Italian engineer Vittorio Jano and his colleague Francesco de Virgilio between 1943 and 1948, created as a response to the occasional vibration problems Lancia had experienced with its smaller V4 unit.

With the 1950 debut of its advanced new Aurelia – initially in four-door Berlina guise only, but soon joined by the now-legendary Pininfarina GT Coupe and Spider – Lancia launched the first mass-produced V6 motor ever seen.

During the Aurelia’s eight-year production run, the capacity of its all-alloy pushrod V6 (with a hemispherical combustion chamber and inline valves) grew from its initial 76PS, 1.8-litre motor, through to a more torquey 113PS in its final 2.5-litre incarnation of 1957.

V6 motors remained a key part of Lancia’s engine option family for many decades to follow, with other performance car makers inevitably trailing Lancia’s lead and developing V6 motors and models of their own over the years. These have ranged from the long-forgotten Mazda MX-3 (Eunos Presso in Japan), a small early-1990s 1.5-litre coupe with the most compact V6 engine ever made, through to the Jaguar XJ220, which used a modified 3.5-litre V64V V6 turbo (in place of the prototype’s V12), originally developed by Rover for use in its MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally weapon.

Of the very many V6 engines built over the past 70 years, other units of note in this configuration have included the original (and current) Honda/Acura NSX motor, the 3.0-litre 24-valve engine shoe-horned into the middle of the wild Renault Clio V6, plus VAG’s VR6 engine, which was generally acclaimed, although not by CAR magazine when it famously condemned the VR6 as a useless and unreliable ‘lemon’, following its long-term ownership assessment of a temperamental VR6-powered Volkswagen Golf that it ran.

On a brighter note, here are six of the very best other V6 motors that have graced the tarmac over the past 70 years since Lancia first introduced the engine format.


Ferrari Dino V6

Inspired by the success of the Lancia Aurelia V6 engine in local Italian competition, in the mid-‘50s Enzo Ferrari’s son Alfredo (nicknamed Dino) suggested the development of an in-house V6 to his father for use in Formula 2 racing.

Dino tragically fell ill with muscular dystrophy shorty afterwards, but ahead of his untimely death in June 1956, aged just 24, he was able to discuss the technical aspects of a possible Ferrari V6 motor with engineer Vittorio Jano, the originator of the Lancia V6 engine.

Ferrari revealed in first ‘Dino’ V6, a 65-degree 1.5-litre unit, in April 1957 in the form of its Formula 2 Dino 156, which finished an impressive third in the Grand Prix of Naples. Following a trio of 60-degree Ferrari V6 motors in the 196 S/SP, 246 S and 260PS, 2.5-litre 286 S – all used in competition forms only between 1959-62 – the 65-degree Dino V6 engine continued to be run for racing through to the late-60s, with the motor also finding its way into production road car use in the Dino 206GT of 1967, with Enzo’s first ‘official’ mid-engined model (this following the earlier Fiat Dino V6 Coupe and Spider models of 1966; sharing the same engine and built to help satisfy contemporary competition homologation requirements).

The Dino 206’s 2.0-litre V6 bore and stroke were altered to become the 2.4-litre unit found in the later Dino 246GT/GTS (plus the 2.4 Fiat Dinos), with the aluminium engine block changed to cast iron. In this form, Ferrari’s Dino V6 saw extensive (and successful) rallying action in the dart-like Lancia Stratos. By the time of this Lancia’s 1973 debut, Ferrari was abandoning its V6 in favour of the Dino V8 engine found in its 308 GT4 and GTB/GTS mid-engined models.

Citroën Maserati V6

With the respected French ‘Grande Marques’ (Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, Talbot-Lago, Salmson, etc.) effectively killed-off by punitive local vehicle taxes post-war, France’s prestige motoring honours were briefly upheld by Facel-Vega, until this Parisian marque also succumbed to growing commercial pressures in the early-1960s.

Keen to uphold France’s once-proud position as a maker of truly prestigious cars, Citroën – that most French of vehicle makes – felt honour-bound to plug the gaping hole left by Facel-Vega and its predecessors with a revolutionary range-topping model positioned above its outstanding DS.

Using the advanced hydrolastic DS as its base, Citroën developed an ambitious and expensive ‘Projet S’ four-seater GT coupe to top its range, but lacked a suitable engine to power such a machine. Originally planned to use a triple-rotor Wankel engine, Citroën soon altered its Projet S to adopt a suitable V6 motor instead, something the French car maker lacked at the time.

To help resolve this situation, Citroën’s engineers tasked Italian exotic sports car maker Maserati with developing a new V6 for the SM (as Projet S became), the French firm taking over Maserati in the process. Maserati’s Chief Engineer, Ing. Giulio Alfieri, set about designing a fresh V6 motor from scratch, using the existing tooling of its Indy V8. To work with Citroën’s favoured front-wheel-drive layout, this new V6 needed to be compact and light.

Alfieri was given six months to come up with the first Indy V8-based V6 prototype, but he achieved the task in just three weeks. His target from Citroën was to produce an engine developing 152PS, yet his unconventional V6 was capable of delivering 203bhp, depending on camshaft profile.

Maserati turned its 4.1-litre V8 into a sub-2.7-litre V6 to fit into France’s 15CV puissance fiscal tax band by effectively sawing off two-cylinders from the existing Indy V8. This required a shorter-throw crankshaft and a reduction in stroke from 85 to 75mm, forcing the gearbox forward of the axle line, effectively turning the SM into a front mid-engined car.

The Avant Garde Citroën SM’s V6 was highly advanced, effectively being three-quarters of a supercar motor. It was all-aluminium, had quad camshafts and was exceptionally light at just at 140kg dry. Being based on a V8 left the SM with a 90-degree vee-angle; far from the ideal 60-degree that V6 motors favour.

The new V6 worked very effectively though, with Maserati eventually using this SM motor itself in its entry mid-engined Merak model as an affordable sibling to its exotic V8 Bora supercar. The Citroën SM’s remarkable 2.7-litre V6 also found a home in the middle of the sporting Ligier JS2 coupe.



Whilst arguably not as widely accomplished or acclaimed as some of the other V6 engines featured here, the PRV (Peugeot Renault Volvo) V6 was one of the more commercially successful and widespread of all six-cylinder motors in this configuration.

Jointly funded and developed by the Franco-Swedish trio, the V6 was manufactured by ‘Française de Mécanique’ for PRV in Douvrin, Northern France, with Volvo joining the Peugeot/Renault combo of 1969 a little later in 1971.

Sharing an uncommon 90-degree angle like the SM’s Maserati V8-derived V6 (Citroën being taken over by Peugeot in 1974, after the creation of the SM’s V6), the PRV motor first saw use in the autumn of 1974 in the new Volvo 264 saloon, plus the facelifted Pininfarina-built Peugeot 504 Coupe and Cabriolet 2.7-litre, 138PS, V6 models.

At the standout Geneva Motor Show of March 1975, the top-line Volvo and refreshed 504s were joined by a pair of important all-new PRV-powered executive models, the Peugeot 604 and Renault 30.

PRV use increased for 1976 with introduction of Renault’s Alpine A310 V6 – which replaced that model’s previous four-cylinder Renault 16 powerplant – plus the laughable chop-top Volvo 262C coupe.

More PRV powered models followed into the 1980s, making this engine one of the most widely used V6s in automotive history, since the introduction of the pioneering Lancia Aurelia in 1950.

Later use of the Douvrin PRV engine included the infamous gullwinged De Lorean DMC-12, as well as the Peugeot 505 and 605 V6 models, the Renault 25, Safrane and Espace, the A310-replacing Alpine GTA, the Talbot Tagora SX 2.6, the capable but forgotten sporting Venturi, the Volvo 760, 780 and 960, the American Dodge Monaco and Eagle Premier, plus the V6 Citroën XM, Lancia Thema and others, with production of the PRV V6 continuing for almost a quarter of a century, until 1998.


Alfa Romeo ‘Busso’ V6

Throughout its 110-years, Alfa Romeo has had a history of producing great motor cars, most powered by exceptional engines. These include its wonderous pre-war Jano-developed 6C and 8C in-line motors, the celebrated Twin Cam that enjoyed a 40-year production run from 1954, plus the lively Boxer units that first found fame in the game-changing Alfasud of 1971.

We had to wait until 1979 though for one of the greatest of all Alfa engines, the sonorous 60-degree V6, developed by engineer Giuseppe Busso. Although an outstanding engine with a 26-year production run, the ‘Busso’ V6 didn’t have the most auspicious home as its starting point, with the disappointing and out-classed range-topping Alfa 6 saloon being the first recipient of this fine motor. The glorious-sounding Busso V6 soon found a more fitting base in 1980 under the bonnet of the revised Alfetta GTV coupe to become the sporting 2.5-litre GTV6.

The engine was stretched to 3.0-litres for the South African-built GTV6, with an impressive roll call of subsequent 12V and 24V Alfa Romeo models also adopting the V6. These included the underrated Alfa 90, as well as the elegant 164, urgent 75, distinctive SZ/RZ, the Pininfarina-styled GTV/Spider, plus the sublime 147 GTA 3.2, the 156, 166 and GT coupe, ranging from 132PS, right up to 240PS. In addition, the Fiat Group slotted the Busso V6 into the prestigious Lancia Thema, Kappa and Thesis models, with the motor also used in a number of specialist niche cars, such as the Rayton Fissore Magnum 4x4, the Gillet Vertigo two-seater, the AC 3000 ME V6 prototype, the Ultima Can-AM kit car, plus many other applications.

Production of the Busso V6 came to an end in 2005 at the Alfa Romeo Arese plant when the 166 and GT coupe came to an end. Giuseppe Busso, the engine’s creator, passed away within couple of days of the last Alfa V6 engine being made. Today the coveted Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio models use a Ferrari-derived 60-degree V6.


Nissan GT-R V6

Six-cylinder engines (both in straight and vee configurations) have been a feature of Nissan’s passenger car line-up for decades, with notable past six-cylinder models including the Datsun 240Z of 1969 (with an in-line six), the plush Cedric/Gloria models, plus the legendary Skyline GT-R sporting derivatives.

Following an impressive lineage of high-performance Skyline GT-R saloons and coupes, in 2007 Nissan introduced the current R35-generation GT-R, a devastingly rapid machine. Employing a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 (designated VR38DETT), the initial R35 GT-Rs developed an adequate 486PS, this power output gradually growing to the whooping 570PS generated by the current Nissan model.

All of the GT-R’s V6 engines are hand built by just four dedicated mechanics, known as ‘Takumi Craftsmens’, based on a special assembly line at Nissan's Yokohama plant, with their names set into a badge and mounted on every GT-R V6 motor.

In its ultimate GT-R50 form, with revised coachwork by Ital Design, Nissan’s phenomenal V6 develops a massive 721PS, enabling this sizeable coupe to storm from 0-60mph (0-97km/h) in just 2.4 seconds, with a top speed exceeding 205mph (330km/h). Impressive stuff. Even way back in 2014, an earlier-specification 553PS R35 GT-R tackled the Hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, setting a quick time of 49.27 seconds, making it the fastest-ever road-legal production vehicle up the Goodwood hillclimb at the time.


Ford GT EcoBoost V6

Although it was Ford that popularised the V8 and made it affordable to the masses pre-war with its Model A, the American vehicle manufacturer has also enjoyed a long history of offering V6 engines in a number of its range-topping performance models across the globe.

In Europe, for example, during the 1960s-80s, Ford’s Cologne-based factory produced V6 motors for some of its more powerful German-built Capri, Sierra, Granada, Scorpio and Taunus 20M models. Closer to home in Dagenham, Ford UK also produced its own ‘Essex’ V6 for use in top-line Capri, Granada and Transit derivatives, with this engine also found in some specialist sporting British machinery like the TVR Tasmin/280i and S, the Reliant Scimitar GTE/GTC and the retro Panther Kallister.

Over in its ‘home’ American market, Ford has also offered V6 engines in iconic blue oval models such as the 1980s Mustang III and Bronco SUV. For the last decade, Ford has offered a fully-updated V6 as part of its state-of-the-art EcoBoost engine family, a range that also includes an 85PS, 1.0-litre three-cylinder motor and the popular in-line fours.

Ford’s six-cylinder EcoBoost (D35) is one of the finest V6 engines available today. The EcoBoost V6 is offered in 2.7-, 3.0- and 3.5-litre guises, with the latter used in the current Ford GT supercar, producing 669PS. This EcoBoost V6 has also been used in the performance Ford Taurus SHO, plus the F-150 Raptor twin-turbo pick-up truck, as well as the Ford Expedition and luxury Lincoln Navigator SUV models.

Lancia, Ferrari and Peugeot images courtesy of Bonhams, Ford GT photography by Jayson Fong.

  • Alfa Romeo

  • Lancia

  • Peugeot

  • Volvo

  • Ford

  • Nissan

  • Ferrari

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