2004 Engine Epic - Aussie Engines

We look at the modern 6-cylinder and V8 engines from Holden and Ford Australia...

By Michael Knowling

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Since our original 1999 Engine Epic, Australian car manufacturers have been very busy. The latest generation of engines continue the theme of large cubes, durability and plenty of torque - but now offer up-to-date-technology as well. Here are the details of the modern 6-cylinder and V8 engines from Holden and Ford Australia...

Holden Engines

The V8s

The US-sourced LS1 (aka Gen 3) 5.7-litre V8 continues to serve Holden performance enthusiasts, as it has since its introduction in the 1999 Series 2 VT Commodore. LS1s feature a one-piece composite intake manifold, all-aluminium construction, 10.0:1 compression and a highly complex engine management system. Early LS1s were rated at 220kW, but have since been upgraded to 225, 235 and 245kW in subsequent models. Peak torque has also risen from 446 to a maximum of 465Nm.

Holden's tuning division (HSV) has also been responsible for some impressive LS1 power-ups. Intake and exhaust changes are a key component achieving outputs of 250, 255, 260 and 285kW. And don't forget the awesome Callaway-tuned C4B that produces a massive 300kW. The C4B comes with a very low restriction exhaust, CNC ported heads, revised valves and cam, uprated valve springs and titanium retainers. A 78mm throttle body, large induction pipe and a MAP-based load sensing system were also introduced. Note that the C4B engine has recently been excluded from the HSV range.

Prior to the days of the LS1, go-fast Holdens employed the homegrown fuel-injected 5.0-litre V8. The mass-produced injected 5.0-litre was first seen in the VN-series Commodore, where it made 165kW in base trim. The compression ratio of these 165kW engines was relatively low, the camshaft was very mild, the single-throttle intake was restrictive and the heads left room for improvement.

More power was available as an option in the VP-series V8, thanks to some engineering developments that were handed down from HSV. Some basic breathing enhancements were primarily responsible for an increase to 180kW. This optional 180kW output was then bumped up to 185kW in the later VR-series. The base 5.0-litre 165kW output, meanwhile, had to wait until the VS Series 2 before it received a standard cold air intake that yielded an extra 3kW (bringing the total up to 168kW).

The Holden 5.0-litre's swan song was in the snout of the VT Series 1 Commodore, where it punched out 179kW. This was achieved running twin catalytic converters, roller rockers, improved heads, an optimised camshaft and revised sequential fuel injection.

HSV played a major part in the ongoing updating of the Holden 5.0. Improved headers, valves, intake, cam and pistons gave HSV vehicles an increase in power to 180kW or 200kW. These engines became available in the limited edition SV89, SV5000, Clubsport, Senator and SV LE. The HSV VR series was also lucky enough to receive a 5.7-litre stroker version that muscled out 215kW along with 507Nm. These thundering motors came fitted to the brazen GTS-R and the leather-lined Senator 5.7.

But there is no mistaking the most honoured Holden V8 of all time - the twin-throttle Group A engine.

The first injected Group A engine was released in the aero-kitted VL Walkinshaw. The VL Walky engine used a nodular crankshaft, just over 8.5:1 compression, high-flow cast-iron cylinder heads, roller rockers and a lightened flywheel. The twin throttle injection system was the crowning glory. The result was 180kW along with a torque peak of 380Nm at 4000 rpm - enough to accelerate the 4-door sedan down the quarter in the 14s.

The twin-throttle Group A engine was also continued through to the VN Group A. The VN version varied over the VL Group A by having revised heads, roller rockers, fatter pushrods, new cam, nodular crank, hi-po exhaust and new ECU mapping. Power? Try 215kW at 5250 rpm.

The Sixes

At the time of writing, Holden was still using the 3.8-litre V6 engine that was originally based on a Buick design.

The injected 3.8-litre V6 debuted locally in the 1988 VN Commodore, which was much larger than the VB - VL series. Still, the 3.8-litre six offered impressive throttle response and punch - all of a sudden even a base model Commodore was quick-ish. With 125kW and 292Nm, the VN V6 was quite rapid but it was also very poor in NVH.

The first tweaks to the V6 came just months into the VN's lifespan. A revised ignition system and various small tuning alterations helped remedy some of the NVH issues. The VP-series was reputedly further improved. But significant changes came when the VR model received a new 32k ECU, higher compression (9.0:1 up from 8.4:1) and some fine-tuning to give a peak power figure of 130kW.

The VS-range brought the ECOTEC (Emissions and Consumption Optimisation through TEChnology) version of the 3.8-litre V6 into production. The ECOTEC V6 included a new engine block, heads, manifolds, hot-wire airflow meter and sequential injector firing. As its name suggests, the ECOTEC V6 brought improved emissions and fuel consumption along with extra power - the base Holden V6 was now up to 147kW together with 304Nm.

When the heavier VT Commodore range appeared in the late '90s, Holden retained the services of the 147kW ECOTEC V6. This output continued until VX-series, where it was tickled to 152kW. The same tune continues today.

Interestingly, Holden released a supercharged version of the ECOTEC V6 late in the VS timeframe. Equipped with an Eaton M90 roots-type blower (but without an intercooler) the boosted 3.8-litre V6 came rated at 165kW. This climbed to 171kW (with 375Nm) in the VT-series. Amongst other mechanical changes, the compression ratio of the supercharged six was reduced slightly to allow forced induction with minimal fear of detonation. HSV also released an 180kW/380Nm version, which came fitted to the XU-6. The XU-6 was axed with the introduction of the VY-range.

And what about the ol' days before the 3.8-litre V6, you ask?

Well, the only real performance engines in the Holden 6-cylinder line-up were Nissan based. It was Nissan's smooth and reliable RB30E and RB30ET engines that came fitted to the VL series sixes. These 3.0-litre engines used a SOHC alloy head and multi-point injection to generate 114kW in atmo form and 150kW in optional turbo (non intercooled) form.

Before the RB-series sixes, Holden was struggling along with gutless and thirsty revamps of the leaded fuel 202ci (3.3-litre) straight six. The most advanced version of the 202 received analogue fuel injection to help generate an incredible 106kW...

What About the Global V6?

At the time of the compilation of this article, Holden's 'Global V6' had not yet been introduced as the replacement for the Buick-derived 3.8-litre V6. For full information on the Global V6, see Holden's All-New V6

Ford Engines...

The V8s

Boy, has Ford Australia lifted its engine line-up in the past couple of years?!

The first bent-eight engine we must tell you about is the all-alloy, DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder, 5.4-litre XR beast. In its ultimate 290kW guise (fitted to the BA GT and GT-P), the Boss 290 engine uses a balanced forged steel crank, revised rods and domed pistons to achieve a 10.5:1 compression ratio. Each of the quad-camshafts has a pretty aggressive profile and the intake arrangement is a beauty - tuned-length trumpets, a large cast alloy plenum, 75mm throttle body and a low restriction airbox. It's no wonder 290kW and 510Nm are on tap!

In detuned XR8 form, the BA's DOHC 5.4-litre bent-eight pumps out 260kW and 500Nm.

A less sophisticated 5.4-litre V8 is also on offer. Unlike the 260kW BA XR8, the base Ford V8 uses an iron block/alloy head configuration and 3-valves per cylinder. The valvetrain comprises a single overhead camshaft arrangement with variable cam timing (VCT). Interestingly, this engine is focussed on low rpm torque - and it delivers plenty. Four-seventy Newton Metres are available from 3250 - 4000 rpm and peak power (220kW) is found at just 4750 rpm. This is a great traditional style V8 slogger.

But prior to the BA-series, it's fair to say Ford Australia were struggling with their V8s...

The injected Windsor V8 established itself in Australia in the nose of the 1990 EB-series Falcon XR8/Fairmont. Not coincidentally, the base Windsor 5.0 (with conservative compression, intake and exhaust) equalled the output of base Holden 5.0 - the Ford made 165kW at 4500 rpm and 388Nm at 3000 rpm. Still, neither the Holden nor Ford offered startling performance. Ford stuck with the same 165kW output through to the V8 EL-range.

Keen to rekindle an old flame, Ford decided to blow the dust off the ol' GT badge and release the EA and EL Falcon GT (and, more recently, the BA Falcon GT and GT-P that we've already mentioned). The EB and EL GT's GT40-spec 5.0 use a compression ratio of around 9.0:1, EEC4 management and hydraulic lifters to assist them on the way to making 200kW and a generous 420Nm of torque. However the difference is that EB GT pushes this at 5250 and 4000 revs respectively, while the EL is barely ticking over at only 4700 and 3700 rpm. Needless to say, the EL GT engine was grunty but not very sporting.

Note there is one other performance Falcon V8 from this era. Shortly after the limited production EB GT was sold out, the EB XR8 Sprint was born. This used much of the same mechanicals as found in the EB GT and was factory rated at around 192kW. Thanks to a slightly lighter kerb weight, the EB XR8 Sprint was nearly on par with the performance of the fully decked out EB GT. Very low 15s down the quarter were easy for the XR8 Sprint.

The AU range brought an update to the Windsor that included, amongst other things, direct-fire ignition. This helped give an extra 10kW kick, making a total of 175kW at 4600 rpm. Torque was officially quoted at 395Nm at 3200 rpm. On the other hand, the Tickford tuned AU XR8 sang to the tune of 185kW and 412Nm (at 5000 and 3500 rpm respectively) thanks to its high-flow exhaust and intake. The further Tickford enhanced TE/TS/LT50 models cranked out 200kW and 420Nm. Oh, and a Tickford 5.6-litre stroker version was also released before the hi-tech 5.4s arrived on the scene. This engine used a one-off intake manifold and churned out 250kW and 500Nm in brutal fashion.

The Sixes

Again, Ford Australia's new six cylinder engines are monumentally better than they were just a few years ago.

Today's cooking model Falcon is equipped with a 4.0-litre, DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder, double variable cam timing (VCT) straight six with dual-stage variable induction. Sure, it uses old block architecture but the rest of it is very much cutting-edge tech - for example, the variable cam timing works over a 60-degree range and there's electronic throttle control. Outputs of 182kW and 380Nm are no surprise from the up-to-date big six.

The most significant 6-pot Ford engine is that of the BA XR6 Turbo the - Barra 240T. This giant killer features a Garrett GT40 roller-bearing turbocharger, front-mount air-to-air intercooler, lower 8.7:1 static compression ratio, revised exhaust valves and boost is set to around 6 psi. Power? Try 240kW at 5250 rpm with 450Nm of torque all the way from 2000 to 4500 rpm. (This is when running premium-unleaded fuel only.)

Before the latest DOHC sixes were unleashed, Ford had persisted with short-revving SOHC versions.

The ultimate incantation of the SOHC 4.0-litre can be found in the AU-series XR6 HP VCT. The SOHC variable cam timed XR six was pushed to crank out 172kW at 5000 rpm and 374Nm at 3500 rpm. A good effort considering the limitations of the engine design. The same SOHC VCT engine can also be found - though making 4kW less thanks to a more restrictive exhaust - in the Fairlane/Fairmont Ghia of the same era.

Stepping down from the SOHC VCT engine, the next best Ford sixes are from the EF - AU XR6 and the basic EL - AU Falcon. The EF - AU XR6 engine (with a performance cylinder head, cam and intake ports) makes 164kW at 5000 rpm and 366Nm. Interestingly, the base EL - AU Falcon six trails this by just 7kW and 9Nm.

Another Ford six to note is the EB-series XR6 engine featuring high-performance breathing and compression to make 161kW (just 4kW less than the contemporary 5.0-litre XR8 V8!). And don't forget about the everyday EF Falcon 4.0 with its two-stage variable intake, compression, improved head and various other updates from earlier models - this gives a creditable 148kW.

Forget about the rest of the Falcon sixes - the XE to EA Falcon injected motors were nothing special compared to the newer ones.

Holden and Ford Performance Motors at a Glance...



VN/VS Series 2 base 5.0 litre


VT base 5.0 litre


HSV enhanced 5.0s


VL Group A 5.0 litre


VN Group A 5.0 litre


HSV GTS-R/ Senator 5.7 litre stroker


VT - VY base LS1 5.7 litre


HSV enhanced LS1 5.7s



Injected 202ci


VL 3.0 litre


VN - VP/VR 3.8 litre V6


VS - VT ECOTEC 3.8 litre V6


VL 3.0 litre turbo


VX - VY ECOTEC 3.8 litre V6


Supercharged 3.8 litre V6


HSV enhanced supercharged V6




EB - EL base 5.0 litre


AU base 5.0 litre


AU XR8 5.0 litre


EB XR8 Sprint 5.0 litre


EB/EL GT 5.0 litre


AU TE/TS/LT50 5.0 litre


BA base 5.4 litre (SOHC)


AU 5.6 litre stroker


BA XR8 5.4 litre (DOHC)


BA GT 5.4 litre (DOHC)



EF base 4.0 litre (SOHC)


EL - AU base 4.0 litre (SOHC)


EB XR6 4.0 litre (SOHC)


EF - AU XR6 4.0 litre (SOHC)


Fairmont/Fairlane Ghia 4.0 litre VCT (SOHC)


AU XR6 4.0 litre VCT (SOHC)


BA base/XR6 4.0 litre (DOHC)


BA XR6 4.0 litre turbo (DOHC)


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