Celebrate the Sixes – Six Grand, Six Cars, Six Cylinders

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By Chris Pollitt

When it comes to engine configurations, there are plenty from which to choose. There is of course the ubiquitous four-cylinder that has found a home in millions of cars. There is the V6 and the mighty V8, and you can multiply those by two care of the V12 and V16. There are W engines, there are three and five-cylinder engines. No matter what your combustion configuration wont, there is something to satisfy. And every one of them has merits, be it power, refinement or economy. 

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For us though, there is one that stands above the rest, and that’s the straight-six. Almost as old as the car itself, the straight-six has been the trusty heart of many a motoring icon. And with that in mind, we have rounded up six examples, each of which can be had for £6,000 or under. See what we did there? 

W126 Mercedes-Benz

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Prices are on the up for the W126, so if you want one for under £6,000 you need to strike soon. And strike you should. The V8 cars get top money, but more fool those buyers. The straight six, either in 2.8 or 3.0 capacity, is an utter delight. Silky smooth, ample power and more economical than a V8, it’s the way to go. Plus, these engines found homes in the SL, the W123, the W124 and more, so parts availability is excellent. Plus, who doesn’t like the idea of saying they own an S Class? Very fancy. 

Pretty Much Any Classic BMW

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If there is one company with a back catalogue that celebrates the straight-six engine, it’s BMW. The M20, the M50, the S50, the S54, the M52 and many more were all lauded by owners. From a simple 2.0 through to a rip-snorting 3.2, BMW’s straight-six engines have powered legends. If it were our money, we’d be looking at an E28 5 Series as seen above, as they look to be a solid investment. Or maybe even an E38 7 Series with the 2.8i engine. Critics will tell you it’s too small for the big 7, but ignore them – it’s a delight and more than capable. 

Jaguar XJ

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If ever there was a car, no, a brand that has been an unwavering bastion for the straight-six, it’s Jaguar. The company created its own, the XK engine, and launched it in 1949. A straight-six with double overhead camshafts, it was a brave, futuristic take on the traditional. Powerful and refined, variations would go on to live in the XK models, the E Type, the D Type, the Mk1 and Mk2 and myriad others, including the XJ. Over the years, it would evolve into the XJ6. It’s this model that you want to buy, fitted to the XJ40 version of the XJ6. Though don’t be afraid of the AJ16 version fitted to later X300 models. £6,000 will get you a very good car indeed. 

Jeep Cherokee

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Now for something American, but something we also adopted en masse here in the UK. Yes, we are of course talking about the Jeep Cherokee, in particular the XJ version built from 1983 to 2001. This boxy, utilitarian machine seemed like something we would shun, but when bosses at Chrysler developed the Limited specification, laden with leather, diamond-cut alloy wheels and an incredibly refined 4.0 straight-six, we jumped at it. It didn’t sell as well as the Land Rover Discovery launched at the same time, but it did well enough to become a motoring mainstay on these shores. Early models are now sought after, and as such, prices are on the rise. Get one while you can. 

Rover SD1

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When it comes to big Rovers, the mind naturally wanders to the Buick-derived V8 engine. It was after all the heart of icons such as the P5B, the P6 3500 and of course, the SD1 Vitesse. But when it comes to that last car, the SD1, don’t think the last word lies with the V8. The straight-six fitted to lesser models was a decent powerplant. The PE166 engine, as it was known internally, was an evolution of the straight-six fitted to some Triumph models. This time though, the cooling was better and while not Rolls-Royce quality, so too was the build quality. Parts availability is pretty good, and if they’re serviced and maintained well, they should go on forever. Plus, you get to drive a Midlands Ferrari Daytona, which is pretty cool. 

Ford Zephyr

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Okay, we’ll caveat this by saying you’re going to be looking for something that’s a bit of a project, but don’t be put off. This comes from experience, as we have owned and loved one (well, a Zodiac, but it’s the same engine) and can happily confirm it’s well worth the work. The 2.6 straight-six fitted to these cars was a lovely old lump. Not fast, but it was reliable and was full of charm. We used to regularly drive ours from Kent to Bristol and back and it was absolutely fine with it. A trusty, charming old engine. Plus, the Mk2 Zephyr and the Mk3 are fabulous-looking cars that always turn heads. Chrome and fins will do that.

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