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.


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