The inline six has always been one of my favourite engine configurations, both in its sound and performance characteristics. Inline sixes are inherently balanced motors which allows them to run very smooth and rev freely. Today, most six cylinder cars use a V configuration because it is much shorter and has a lower centre of gravity. It is also difficult to mount an inline six transversely thanks to its length. Since modern manufacturers like to use the same motors across their whole lineup of cars, packaging is a priority. Even though Nissan doesn't produce an inline six anymore, they have created many. Some of their legendary inline sixes include the RB and L series engines. Though the RB and L series engines have their own history and racing pedigree, the Nissan S20 is perhaps Nissan's most mythical creation.
The S20, created in 1968, is a 2.0L inline six pushing out 160 hp and 130 lb·ft or torque with a 7,000rpm redline. The S20 was double overhead cam and featured 4-valves per cylinder making it relatively sophisticated for its time. Earlier versions of the motor were equipped with triple side-draft Weber carbs, later being swapped out for mechanical fuel injection. Race-prepped motors could make up to 250hp and rev over 8,000rpm. With around 2,500 engines used in production vehicles it is an uncommon power plant used in equally legendary vehicles: the "Hakosuka" Skyline GT-R, the "Kenmeri" Skyline GT-R, and the Fairlady Z432.
Propelled by the S20 engine, the Hakosuka managed to win 49 consecutive races. This record solidified the S20's racing pedigree. The car was known by fans by its high pitched exhaust noise and boxy lines. This nickname Hakosuka was actually derived from its boxy appearance. "Hako" means box and "Suka" is short for skyline in Japanese. Around 2000 Hakosuka GT-R's were produced in two and four door variants. Recently, a Hakosuka GT-R sold at auction for $242,000. Because of the high price to own one of these, many modify non GT-R Skyline's into replicas, save for the engine. The S20 and Hakosuka GT-R were starting points for Nissan's legendary GT-R range, though currently utilizing a twin-turbo V6.
The Kenmeri GT-R is much rarer, with under 200 sold thanks to the energy crisis in the 70's. Though one race car was built, the Kenmeri was never entered in any races. Even so, the second generation GT-R looks muscular with its fastback roofline and bulging fender flares. The Kenmeri nickname was given to the car thanks to a highly successful advertising campaign featuring a young couple with the names Ken and Mary. Just like the Hakosuka, the Kenmeri has large following with many building replicas. If you're interested you can check out the Japanese advertisement below!
The Fairlady Z432 is also an extremely rare car with a production run of only 420. It was produced between 1969 and 1972. This special version of the Fairlady Z replaces the L series motor with the same S20 featured in the GT-Rs. The "432" in the name is representative of the four valve per cylinder, triple carbureted, double overhead cam motor. Though rare, this could be the cheapest way to get your S20 fix with a car selling for $101,000 in 2010. Even so, all cars with S20s seem to be rising in price, so if you want one, get one fast!
Regardless which car is your favourite, they all make a spectacular sound. The S20 is a relatively high revving screamer with a raspy, high-pitched exhaust note. Instead of reading about it, you can listen to it yourself. The first video is a quick exhaust sound video while the second is a longer video of a Hakosuka race car lapping Fuji Speedway in Japan. Enjoy!