Column: What Is Your Favorite Engine Sound?

Picture the sleepy hamlet of Amelia Island, Florida, early on a Sunday morning. Spanish moss drapes the trees. A cool blanket of dew covers the ground.

And here I am, driving to the judges’ breakfast for the day’s concours. I’m trailing a Ferrari F40–wing, scoops, the whole nine yards. 

While I’ve never really been an F40 guy, I have to admit that as the Ferrari ran through its gears, the symphony produced under that morning light was pretty damned intoxicating. I couldn’t think of a much better way to wake up.

Of course, that moment got me thinking of other engines whose notes we hold in such reverence. Take our newest project car, a 2001 Porsche Boxster S. While perhaps no Ferrari F40, that Boxster makes some pretty righteous noises in its own right–although I swear that, for some reason, a normal 986 Boxster sounds even better at full chat. 

When driving the Boxster, I get to hear the entire symphony–the exhaust note, yes, but also the mechanical whirring of the timing chains, gears and other rotating parts. Those who have pooh-pooed the Boxster need to spend some time with one. Its aural sensations must be experienced first-hand. 

A favorite from further back? I can’t discuss car noises without talking about my beloved Ford V8s. Just firing up my Sunbeam Tiger gets the ground shaking–credit the 331-cubic-inch, small-block Ford exhaling through its big Magnaflow mufflers. 

Once underway, it really screams–and, I admit, we have done some bad things together. The Tiger just sings when pressing through Montana for hours on end or carving up the next mountain pass. This one holds up well in any engine sound competition.

My Shelby Mustang rally car, this one also powered by a trusted small-block Ford, emits its own song–this one more guttural, more like a caged animal. And when unleashed, it’s quite a treat. 

The best Fords ever heard, though, have been inside Cobras. Several years ago, at Goodwood, I was lucky enough to witness an all-Cobra race. Take one great-sounding Ford and multiply it by a bunch and, well, you get the idea. 

But great exhaust notes aren’t only emitted by big-dollar cars. I don’t think I’m the only one who’d argue that a Triumph TR6, or even a Spitfire, has a lovely engine note that’s in its own class–a bit more mechanical, maybe, but once uncorked still a joy to hear. 

Those angry, snarling Miatas that we assembled for this month’s cover story sounded great, too, with the blow-off valves contributing to the music. How about a BMW M3? Pick a generation, as they all sound great. And can we get some love for a NASCAR stocker turning some 9000 rpm? Or the Formula 1 engines that were allowed to spin to 20,000 rpm? 

Know what drew a big crowd during the Amelia Island celebrations later that day? Firing up the dragsters on display. No burnouts, no full-pulls. Just the sound of those crackling monsters coming to life commanded a crowd.

I guess we need to discuss rotaries, too, an engine breed with both fans and detractors. Our rotary-powered Spitfire delivered an ear-splitting scream–music to some, punishment to others. While I wish that ours sounded more like a Porsche, Ferrari or Cobra, that note did remind me how such a small-capacity engine could punch above its weight. 

And some engines sound heavenly simply because they’re running at all. Hearing a long-dormant project come back to life is a memorable experience no matter who made the engine. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little four-cylinder or a mighty V8, that sound of success at last overshadows all else.

Everyone has their favorites, and I’d love to hear yours. Hayabusa-powered special? High-winding Honda S2000? Air-cooled Porsche 911? Something from my list? Drop me a note at tim@grassrootsmotorsports.com. There is no wrong answer here–well, maybe aside from one of those two-stroke-powered Formula 500 race cars. Okay, fine, convince me otherwise.

Like what you're reading? We rely on your financial support. For as little as $3, you can support Grassroots Motorsports by becoming a Patron today. 

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Exhaust, engine and Columns articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
TurnerX19
TurnerX19 SuperDork
10/19/20 9:18 a.m.

Well prepped straight pipe Honda S800 on the straight at Bridgehampton. The car in photo.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/19/20 10:12 a.m.

There's so many fantastic sounding engines.

I was starter at a Porsche Club autocross yesterday. They sure sound good when they get revved.

I love the sound of a small block Ford. A hot straight six sounds fantastic. V12 engines, of course.

I don't think anyone finds the sound of a Miata to be wonderful, but I love to drop into first and roll into the throttle coming through the tunnel at Daytona Speedway. The best time was when I had a Ferrari behind me do the same thing!

And then there's the time that my mostly deaf 90-year-old father shot out of his chair and went racing out the front door of my house before I even heard the radial engines coming over the house at treetop level. Four T-6 engines flying below 100 ft make quite a sound.

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
10/19/20 10:15 a.m.

All of them 

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
10/19/20 10:17 a.m.
2_3
2_3 New Reader
10/19/20 10:24 a.m.
Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
10/19/20 10:38 a.m.
L5wolvesf
L5wolvesf Reader
10/19/20 10:39 a.m.

Back in the 1980s we were camped out at Riverside between turn 6 & 7. It was dead quiet until we were awoken by the sound of a Jaguar IMSA Prototype (IIRC a V-12) making its way up the front section of the track. It was out on track alone for a couple laps. The sound was very close to perfection.

The only other notable engine was a P-51 simulating a strafing and very very low off the deck at a small airshow. The engine sound as it grew in volume was very distinct and amazing.  

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
10/19/20 10:49 a.m.

This is high on my list. 

 

 

bearmtnmartin
bearmtnmartin SuperDork
10/19/20 10:53 a.m.
frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
10/19/20 10:56 a.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

My Black Jack with Dual megaphones out the back has this really big deep bark on the overrun. Totally unmuffled. 

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Reader
10/19/20 11:01 a.m.

The howl of a 911 GT3.  My Cayman does a reasonble impersonation though.

oldeskewltoy
oldeskewltoy UberDork
10/19/20 11:37 a.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/19/20 11:45 a.m.
Mndsm
Mndsm MegaDork
10/19/20 12:15 p.m.

Anything with a big whiny blower. Terminator cobra, lsa caddy....

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
10/19/20 12:23 p.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

Chris Craft Cobra with a KBL engine. ( not Cadillac  or Chrysler Hemi. ) 

350z247
350z247 New Reader
10/19/20 2:10 p.m.

Really anything with a V10: Carrera GT, LFA, E60 M5, but the best were the F1 cars. Those Sauber BMW V10s were just incredible...

akylekoz
akylekoz SuperDork
10/19/20 2:20 p.m.

A whole fleet of Can Am cars coming up the front straight under the bridge.   Hemi, then Ferrari, Jaguar, SBF, BBC, What ever they were running, they were flat out and looked like they may take flight.  

Second is engines that are about to make their innards become their outards.  Not sure why I like this, maybe its the prospect of seeing what went wrong.

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
10/19/20 2:25 p.m.
Saron81
Saron81 HalfDork
10/19/20 2:54 p.m.

Any of the v10 F1 engines... 20k rpms is unreal. 

sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
10/19/20 3:00 p.m.

Liked all the answers but mine is when I go to start one of mine they start.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/19/20 3:02 p.m.

My buddy James' 458 Challenge car @ Road Atlanta

 

pirate
pirate HalfDork
10/19/20 3:13 p.m.

As someone who likes all car but is at heart an old hot rodder there is nothing like the sound of a old Hemi with a with a supercharger. When it's reved up you can hear the whine of the blower belt and deep throaty exhaust as well as feel it in your chest.

bigdaddylee82
bigdaddylee82 UberDork
10/19/20 3:43 p.m.
Olemiss540
Olemiss540 Reader
10/19/20 4:02 p.m.
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) said:

The howl of a 911 GT3.  My Cayman does a reasonble impersonation though.

Just got longtubes and muffler deletes put on my 3.6L GT3 and it SCREAMS. SCREAMS.

euro_fam
euro_fam New Reader
10/19/20 4:02 p.m.

I'm a big fan of the maserati exhaust note. I don't think i'd ever actually buy one of them given how many (arguably better) alternatives there are but something about their high-rev exhaust hits me good. 

solfly
solfly Dork
10/19/20 4:15 p.m.

Any of them running after a rebuild or swap

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
10/19/20 4:15 p.m.

It has to be a 4AGE with ITBs (though I think most engines sound better with ITBs):

 

wvumtnbkr
wvumtnbkr PowerDork
10/19/20 4:29 p.m.

Couple of points...

 

Alfa v6 is the best sounding engine ever.

 

4age, I list as one of the worst sounding engines on track.  They just drone and have this weird constructive and destructive interference with almost all other engines that makes a painful wah wah sound.

Streetwiseguy
Streetwiseguy MegaDork
10/19/20 4:57 p.m.

From my point of view, the best sounding engine is one that has an expensive sounding rattle, that is in a car valuable enough for the owner to pay me to fix it.

Or the supercharged 350 in my Camaro.

RobertElder
RobertElder New Reader
10/19/20 5:10 p.m.
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/19/20 7:06 p.m.

Hard to beat a cammed-up V8 with Borlas or Flowmasters.

Also hard to beat a Ferrari V12

But my hands-down, campy, fun favorite is this:

 

akylekoz
akylekoz SuperDork
10/19/20 7:08 p.m.

Honestly my 4.6 three valve Ford with long tubes, x pipe, 3” axle back and straight through “mufflers”,  If anything a bit rural pickup at low rpm but absolutely screamed from 4500-6500.   I have since added mufflers but it was awesome while it lasted.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
10/19/20 7:28 p.m.

In reply to Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) :

For air cooled I like the BSA 441 Victor sound. Followed by a knuckle head Harley. 

Toyman01 (Moderately Supportive Dude)
Toyman01 (Moderately Supportive Dude) MegaDork
10/19/20 7:36 p.m.

This. This thing shows up at CMP fairly regularly. It is lovely to listen to. Not to mention fast as stink. 

 

 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/19/20 8:07 p.m.

As someone who played DOOM way too much as a youf, and especially the chainsaw (doesn't suck), I got enamored of two-stroke sounding engines that skipped a lot at idle.

 

And then I saw this video about two decades ago.

 

 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/19/20 8:21 p.m.
Streetwiseguy said:

From my point of view, the best sounding engine is one that has an expensive sounding rattle, that is in a car valuable enough for the owner to pay me to fix it.

 

On that note, the noise that a triple-K K24-7400 turbo makes when it starts to spool up, and then seizes because the engine has no oil pressure, is the most heartbreaking sound ever.

drock25too
drock25too Reader
10/19/20 9:47 p.m.

I loved the sound of my Buick Nailhead 401 with the 36 inch glasspak mufflers.  

Anything I'm strapped into as I roll out on the track.

A field of 24 dirt late models coming to the green flag.

vwcorvette (Forum Supporter)
vwcorvette (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
10/19/20 9:53 p.m.

Small block chevy at full song on side pipes.

 

Anything not a rotary. Hate that sound.

gearheadE30
gearheadE30 Dork
10/19/20 10:08 p.m.

I'm not a ford guy, but man do their V8s sound good when they are uncorked. They seem to have a much mellower/deeper sound than other domestic V8s.

I'm a sucker for anything that revs, and I'm a sucker for inline sixes, but the best sounding engine I have ever owned is the LC8 in my KTM 950 Adventure. I know it isn't a car, but that 75 degree V twin just sounds incredible. It never gets old, and it's one of those engines that is happy all the way up to the 9800ish rpm limiter, all day long.

If it doesn't do it automatically, go to 7:45 when I'm riding across the lake bed to hear it wide open (and to ignore my monotonous voiceover voice...). Even through the crappy gopro mic it sounds good.

 

Justjim75
Justjim75 Dork
10/19/20 10:09 p.m.

Straight 6s with ITBs or side draft carbs.

Think stroked Datsun 240z or BMW "M" siexes

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/19/20 10:14 p.m.

I didn't think to mention that there's nothing like the sound of a top fuel engine. I won't say it's a favorite, it's just so berkeleying intense.

I was at the Gatornationals and saw the air visibly distort when someone blipped the throttle in a fuel dragster a half mile away. 1200 horsepower per cylinder.

Edit: in case it's not clear from the description, I could see the sound wave affect the air overhead before it arrived. That's loud.

300zxfreak
300zxfreak Reader
10/19/20 10:22 p.m.

Two come to mind, a Honda VFR750 at w.f.o., and the old Mazda GTP down the back straight at Mid Ohio, eeriest sound ever, made my brother and me exclaim “what the hell was that?”.

Brotus7
Brotus7 Dork
10/19/20 10:31 p.m.

This made me tingle the first time I heard one in person. 

 

Dieselboss15
Dieselboss15 Reader
10/19/20 11:04 p.m.

can we have planes? if so, a-10 warthog. if not, 12v Cummins at idle, than the smell of a good ford v8 /Cummins i6 diesel.

yupididit
yupididit PowerDork
10/19/20 11:22 p.m.

 

Wringing out the s85 bmw v10.

The fun starts around 40 seconds.... that 8k+ rpm pull from the 54 second mark...whew!

 

 

yupididit
yupididit PowerDork
10/19/20 11:24 p.m.
euro_fam said:

I'm a big fan of the maserati exhaust note. I don't think i'd ever actually buy one of them given how many (arguably better) alternatives there are but something about their high-rev exhaust hits me good. 

 

For about $15k you can find you one of these

 

lateapexer
lateapexer Reader
10/20/20 7:11 a.m.

Megaphone exhausts on 500 cc single cylinder motorcycles. Goldstars, Manx Nortons, Velocettes  and the like!

My Alfetta 2 litre. 

2_3
2_3 New Reader
10/20/20 7:15 a.m.

 

 

The video doesnt do it justice, that atv will hurt your ears if you are close to it, it hits you harder than a v8 with zoomie headers

jharry3
jharry3 HalfDork
10/20/20 7:31 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

 

And then there's the time that my mostly deaf 90-year-old father shot out of his chair and went racing out the front door of my house before I even heard the radial engines coming over the house at treetop level. Four T-6 engines flying below 100 ft make quite a sound.

I'm only 63 but I have done that!  Wife saying WTF?  

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
10/20/20 7:34 a.m.

This is old but it never ever gets old:

https://youtu.be/3_o8EKijL2g

you can hear them progressing up through the years.  It gives me goosebumps and I’m not even a big Ferrari fan.

 

 

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
10/20/20 7:37 a.m.
KyAllroad (Jeremy) (Forum Supporter)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
10/20/20 8:48 a.m.
stylngle2003
stylngle2003 Reader
10/20/20 9:59 a.m.

3-rotor RX8s battling 997 RSRs and C6Rs and BMW M6s on the high banks of Daytona while I'm lying in a tent in the infield is the best white noise I can imagine.  You wake up when the noise stops.  

Stefan (Forum Supporter)
Stefan (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/20/20 10:45 a.m.
Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/20/20 2:55 p.m.

The Montreal isn't very fast, but the small-bore v-8 is heavenly.

Used to work next to Van Nuys Airport. Occasionally the P-51 Mustang club would do a low-level pass or two. five of those suckers at full song is a religious experience.

 

 

bobzilla
bobzilla MegaDork
10/20/20 3:00 p.m.

In reply to Kreb (Forum Supporter) :

In the late 80's we were in Memphis for the Memphis Belle rededication thingy. There were 11 B-17's and 2 B24's there flying and at midday they all took off and formed up for several flyovers. Hearing 40+ R1820's at song was defintely a religious experience.

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
10/20/20 3:06 p.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

There's a guy in the pacific northwest who KLZE swapped a 944. I feel that'll be in your wheelhouse.

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
10/20/20 3:09 p.m.

Alfa V6 or LFA get my vote. 

dxman92
dxman92 Dork
10/20/20 3:13 p.m.

Any group B rally car. Check please! yes

bobzilla
bobzilla MegaDork
10/20/20 3:49 p.m.

If it's automotive I'd go Aston V12.

AxeHealey
AxeHealey Dork
10/20/20 3:52 p.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

A hot straight six sounds fantastic.

This.

All the various BMW M straight sixes.

Jag 3.8

Big Healey 6

Those Jeep sixes that the Argentinians build to the edge of their life

2JZ

RB

 

Straight 6 is where it's at. 

fidelity101 (Forum Supporter)
fidelity101 (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
10/20/20 4:05 p.m.

anything equal length header

buzzboy
buzzboy Dork
10/20/20 6:06 p.m.

I like American small blocks with non-crossed-over dual exhaust. My old 289 Comet with Flowmaster 40s, the smog era 350 swapped M715 brush truck with cherry bomb glasspacks, my friend's 4.6 4v Mach 1 with Spintechs. Those are my three favorite sounding vehicles ever. The 350 might just be the best though(outside the nostalgia). The cam is so mild that it will happily idle down to 400rpm. You can actually notice individual exhaust pulses. 

In reply to AxeHealey :

The only time I've heard my S52 at full chat from the outside was on a dyno so I also heard the echo out of the bay. Hearing the Vanos switchover at the top end was so deep and throaty and angry.

 

 

Daylan C (Forum Supporter)
Daylan C (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
10/20/20 6:16 p.m.
Munchen Fan
Munchen Fan New Reader
10/20/20 6:32 p.m.

No comparison to the BMW CSL going up the Nufenen Pass. All made possible by the carbon fiber airbox and euro spec headers unique to this model.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gshHGe3Zczw

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
10/20/20 6:38 p.m.

More Nissan stuff, sort of.  
 

 

Number1Gaza
Number1Gaza Reader
10/20/20 8:17 p.m.

The vtech engine note from a Honda B series gets my vote.  The K series is a better engine, and there are plenty of engines with far better exhaust sounds, but there's something about that B series pure intake sound that is unparalleled.  

R56fanatic (Forum Supporter)
R56fanatic (Forum Supporter) New Reader
10/21/20 1:39 a.m.

I always loved the IMSA GTP cars from the early 80s, seeing them going into a corner all nose to tail, Porsche 962s, Jaguar XJR10s, etc. with the flames coming out the exhausts under downshifting and braking and the snap-crackle-bam-bam-KaPow! sound they made.

Then there was the Alfa 8C I was following on the highway on the way to a track day at Laguna Seca, that sounded fabulous. Aat the track there was a guy in an F430 spider who by the last session of the day finally figured out what the car was capable of and I had to give him a point by on the main straight.  The sound of a Ferrari V8 going by you at full acceleration just a few feet away is heavenly.

 

 

 

 

P3PPY
P3PPY HalfDork
10/21/20 7:59 a.m.

Naturally there is a seat-of-the-pants feeling associated with it for me, but I find the supercharger whine of a Terminator Cobra absolutely addictive. MAN it's a motivating sound. I still get a rush, despite those cars being eclipsed in performance now. 
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AGqN5xLnYgc

The other day a GTP with a huge blower went by so I discovered that the whine has to be paired with a good exhaust note or it just sounds like your alternator is going bad. 

BTD
BTD Reader
10/21/20 2:06 p.m.

Hard to beat any small block Ford V8 with a cam in it: 

 

https://youtu.be/puLRJKT4uPQ

 

Nothing better, IMO. 

buzzboy
buzzboy Dork
10/21/20 3:26 p.m.
P3PPY said:

Naturally there is a seat-of-the-pants feeling associated with it for me, but I find the supercharger whine of a Terminator Cobra absolutely addictive. MAN it's a motivating sound. I still get a rush, despite those cars being eclipsed in performance now.

A college friend of mine drives a 700whp Termi. I'm almost positive it's louder from the front end. It's fun standing at the 1/8th and listening to the suck/whine as it comes at you then the exhaust note as it passes.

Sidewayze
Sidewayze New Reader
10/21/20 10:59 p.m.

Another vote for the Alpha V6.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://m.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DGPMXHqZeuEE&ved=2ahUKEwiUpNuDpsfsAhWOrp4KHfKHBNUQwqsBMAN6BAgTEBE&usg=AOvVaw1L2jgtGpgSnoYlzRMELaue

Although I really want to go to the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton Alberta for the Lancaster run up.  4 Merlins should sound pretty amazing.

ShawnG
ShawnG UltimaDork
10/21/20 11:47 p.m.

Moto Guzzi 850 LeMans with Dellorto pumpers and LaFranconi mufflers, I'm biased because I own one:

Aprilia RSV4 because: 

 

BoostedBrandon
BoostedBrandon SuperDork
10/22/20 8:14 a.m.

 

This will forever be my favorite sound. Especially in cold weather, and when it's a big chevrolet with a 4-7 swap cam. *Tim allen grunt noises*

noddaz
noddaz UltraDork
10/22/20 8:24 a.m.

My favorite engine sound?

When you fire up an engine for the first time after major work and it starts and runs as intended.

drock25too
drock25too Reader
10/22/20 1:48 p.m.
Brotus7 said:

This made me tingle the first time I heard one in person. 

 

Well since You went there,  how about the funky growl an A10 makes. 

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/22/20 10:14 p.m.

I often wonder how much is motor and how much is exhaust/intake? For instance, the Alfa Busso V6s are generally considered among the best sounding 6 cylinders ever, while it's popular to rag on the Nissan VQs. What's the real difference between them?

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/27/20 8:07 p.m.

 

 

High revving small five cylinders with giant turbos that surge most angry.

Our Preferred Partners
zOJYeXAaZlmrclBgRIAUv9bQfbGFONuaFgkW3x5DqbGcEQLqqoeb8yDD8K7dqgtE