Home Cars Bigger Isn’t Better: Massive Engines That Somehow Have Low Power

Bigger Isn’t Better: Massive Engines That Somehow Have Low Power

Vukasin Herbez March 23, 2023

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Chevrolet L83

The Chevrolet small-block V8 family of engines has been around since 1955. It is still a relevant powerplant used in numerous GM models. Of course, during the 1970s and ’80s, it was affected by tightening emissions regulations. The 5.7-liter produced terrible figures and not-so-convincing performance (via Old Car Memories).

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In 1984, Chevrolet was proud to show a brand new advanced Corvette C4. It was all-new apart from the engine, which was an anemic 5.7-liter V8 strangled by emissions regulations and delivering just 200 HP. Yes, it was amongst the fastest sports cars on the road in the mid-’80s, but its power is ridiculous nowadays.

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Bentley 8-Litre

The pre-war car industry was full of massive engines with relatively low power figures. Development limitations were the reason. But sometimes manufacturers deliberately made massive units with low power so they could have smooth driving dynamics thanks to enormous torque. One such example is Bentley’s 8-Litre unit (via Car and Driver).

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With almost 500 cubic inches of displacement, this was only a six-cylinder unit with pistons diameter of sewage drains. The power output was 220 HP, an astonishing number for its day but diminutive today. Interestingly, such a massive engine was bound to be heavy, but Bentley used modern and lightweight materials to keep it reasonably light. Only 100 cars left the factory in late ’30.

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Rolls Royce 6 ¾ -Liter V8

For the better part of the late 20th century, Rolls Royce models were powered by an in-house V8 engine designed to be smooth, quiet, and refined. In those days, Rolls Royce was notorious for deliberately not stating the engine’s power and torque figures and instead only mentioning that the power was “adequate.” In a world of spec sheets and customers wanting to know every detail, calling something “adequate” is not enough (via Which Car).

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That was because Rolls knew that their “six and three-quarters” V8 wasn’t exactly a powerhouse. With outdated construction, low compression, and conservative intake, this big V8 produced only about 215 to 240 HP depending on the model year. However, it was enough for cruising in style.

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Chevrolet LG4 V8

Chevrolet’s small-block V8 in Camaro or Corvette was always a recipe for a fun muscle car with enough power to keep you smiling for days. However, you may have an early ’80s C3 ‘Vette or F-Series Camaro. In that period, Chevrolet produced the 305 cid V8 with 180 HP, which had automatic transmission (via Corv Sport).

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Of course, those models didn’t perform very well, and GM was criticized for producing low-performance engines and putting them into cars that symbolized performance.

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GM Diesel V8

Oldsmobile was at the forefront of this new trend with the introduction of the diesel engine in passenger cars. In those days, American buyers were largely unaware that you could use diesel fuel for your vehicle. European customers already had a couple of diesel cars on the market, but in the US this was new. Oldsmobile introduced the 4.3-liter V8 diesel engine as an option for the Cutlass line. And very soon, this model was subject to an enormous amount of recalls and engine swaps. Simply, the 4.3-liter tended to explode and shatter during everyday driving. It had only about 85 HP (via Diesel World Mag).

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Passengers didn’t get hurt, but the car was unusable and suitable only for scrap. Oldsmobile later introduced a bigger 5.7-liter diesel. Which was somewhat better but the 4.3-liter is considered the worst diesel engine in history. The 5.7-liter was also very underpowered with only 122 HP on tap.

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AMC 4.2-Liter

The venerable AMC six-cylinder was in production for an unbelievable 50 years and has outlived its parent company. It started as an economic engine with smaller displacement and decent power and managed to be the best engine option in numerous AMC and Jeep models (via Jeep Tech).

Photo Credit: AMC

The 4.2-liter had outdated construction, but it was an insanely dependable motor. Overall, it required low maintenance and could run on low-octane fuel. During the ’70s, it was common on AMC models. But with low compression, it had only about 120 HP, which was a ridiculously underpowered figure.

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