Ten of the Greatest Supercharged Engines Ever Made
By Ronan Glon
July 25, 2014
Supercharging is a type of forced induction that has historically been used by automakers to raise an engine's power output. Bolted to the side or to the top of the engine, the supercharger creates a powerful combustion by blowing compressed air into the cylinders.
Unlike a turbocharger, a supercharger is driven by a belt (or in certain cases a chain) that is spun by the crankshaft. While this provides a much-appreciated instantaneous boost, it inevitably robs the engine of some of its power. A supercharger must spin considerably faster than an internal combustion engine in order to draw in a sufficient amount of air; some high-performance applications can reach speeds of up to 60,000 rpms.
There are three basic types of superchargers: Roots, centrifugal and twin-screw. Introduced in 1860 as a way to ventilate mine shafts, the Roots supercharger uses a pair of three- or four-lobe rotors to draw air into its chamber. The centrifugal supercharger performs the same task with a single impeller, and the twin-screw unit uses two long gears.
As air is drawn into the supercharger, it heats up and loses some of its density. To lower the temperature, all types of supercharger typically work in conjunction with either an air-to-air or a water-to-air intercooler that is made up of a radiator and a set of cooling pipes. Located between the supercharger and the engine's intake manifold, the pipes cool the exiting air and increase its density, which optimizes the combustion process. After it has entered in the combustion chamber, the air draw in by the supercharger is burned with the fuel and dispensed through the exhaust system.
Forced induction is making a comeback as strict emissions regulations are forcing car manufacturers to build smaller, more fuel-efficient engines. A number of companies are turning to turbochargers, but some are adopting superchargers and a few (notably Volvo) are even introducing engines equipped with both a turbocharger and a supercharger in order to get the best of both worlds.
We’ve compiled a list of ten great supercharged cars built over the last couple of decades. Let us know what your favorite supercharged car is in the comments section below.
The Cord 810 was a remarkable car by most means of measurement. Introduced at the 1935 edition of the New York Motor Show, the 810 featured front-wheel drive, aerodynamic recessed headlights and a long, coffin-like hood that helped it stand out from the competition. All told, the Cord 810 was one of the best-looking American cars of the 1930s.
Cord made several minor modifications to the 810 and re-christened it 812 in time for the 1937 model year. The 812 looked similar to the 810 and the two shared most components, but the 812’s 4.7-liter V8 engine could be fitted with an optional supercharger that raised power to 170 horsepower at 3,500 rpms – an increase of 45 ponies over the naturally-aspirated model.
Supercharged Cords stood out from their less-powerful counterparts thanks to chrome-plated exhaust pipes that stuck out from either side of the hood. Parent company Auburn Automobile built approximately 3,000 Cords before pulling the plug on the project, and Hemmings indicates
40-percent of 1937 models were equipped with forced-induction.
The Ford Motor Company Supercharger Program was created in late 1956 in order to develop a supercharged engine that could complete in NASCAR races across the country. Fifteen supercharged Thunderbirds were hand-built in early 1957 for homologation purposes, and the Blue Oval’s top brass decided to introduce a de-tuned variant of the car as a limited-edition model offered to the general public.
Starting with a 312-cubic inch V8, Ford added a McCulloch / Paxton supercharger, a four-barrel carburetor manufactured by Holley and a high-profile camshaft in order to squeeze out 300 horsepower. Only about 200 supercharged Thunderbirds were built in 1957, and the option was nixed the following year as the convertible transitioned from a Corvette-fighter to a plush luxury cruiser.
Studebaker offered the Avanti with a supercharged version of its 289-cubic inch V8 engine starting in 1962. Designed by Studebaker-owned components manufacturer Paxton, the supercharger bumped the stock Avanti’s power output to a healthy 290 horsepower. Avantis equipped with the supercharger could not be fitted with air conditioning because there wasn’t enough space left for the compressor in the engine bay.
The supercharger helped position the stunning-looking Avanti as a credible alternative to the Chevrolet Corvette (on paper, at least), and it allowed it to break several speed records on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Unfortunately, sales were not as high as expected and production screeched to a halt when Studebaker shut down on December 20th, 1963.
Interestingly, Studebaker also built at least two experimental Champ pickup trucks equipped with a supercharged engine. The trucks never made it past the prototype stage and their whereabouts are unknown today.
Shelby offered the Mustang-based GT350 with an optional supercharger in 1966 and 1967. Shelby claimed the Paxton-built supercharger increased the 289-cubic inch V8’s horsepower from 271 to 395, a 46-percent jump. Cars equipped with the supercharger also featured two additional gauges installed under the dash that provide the manifold and the vacuum pressure.
Records indicate the supercharger added $670 to the base price of a GT350, but very few GT350s were ordered with the Paxton supercharger and even fewer remain today. It should be noted that Shelby also offered the supercharger for sale as a standalone accessory, meaning it was possible to retrofit any V8-powered Mustang with a blower.
The first-generation Toyota MR2 (known as W10 internally) generated a positive response among both the press and the public, but buyers unanimously clamored for a more powerful version of the mid-engined sports cars. Toyota responded in 1987 by offering the MR2 with a supercharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at a healthy 145 horsepower and 140 lb-ft. of torque.
As a result, the lightweight MR2 was capable of reaching 62 mph from a stop in just 6.5 seconds when equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. The supercharger allowed the MR2 to outrun the Marcello Gandini-designed
Bertone X1/9 and the Pontiac Fiero, its closest competitors. Notably, the supercharged MR2 was even faster than the V6-powered Fiero.
The supercharged engine was axed at the same time as the W10 MR2. The W20, the W10’s successor, was offered with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Introduced across Europe in early 1990, the Volkswagen Golf GTI G60 was designed to test the limits of front-wheel drive cars. It was powered by a 1.8-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine equipped with a supercharger that featured G-shaped compression channels. The innovative design was also used on the Golf Rallye, the predecessor to today’s Golf R
, and several other members of the Volkswagen lineup including the Passat and the Polo.
The G-shaped turbocharger enabled the 1.8-liter to generate 160 horsepower and 165 lb-ft. of torque. Linked to a five-speed manual transmission, the four-banger propelled the GTI G60 from zero 62 mph from a stop in 8.3 seconds – 0.7 seconds faster than a stock 16-valve mk2 GTI – and on to a top speed of 134 mph.
In 2002, BMW’s MINI division introduced a factory-designed tuning kit for the Cooper S hatchback called John Cooper Works, a homage to the well-known Mini tuner. Initially offered exclusively as a dealer-installed accessory, the kit squeezed 200 horsepower out of the MINI’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine by adding a ported cylinder head, a remapped ECU, a sport exhaust system and a fast-spinning supercharger.
The supercharged Cooper S instantly became a major player on the competitive hot hatch scene thanks in part to its blend of zippy acceleration and go kart-like handling. MINI gave it a ten-horsepower boost in 2005, and the kit became available straight from the factory shortly after.
A more hardcore version of the MINI JCW was introduced as a limited-edition model in 2006 to send off the first-generation MINI Cooper. Billed as the fastest member of the MINI lineup, it gained a host of performance-focused upgrades like a retuned chassis, a model-specific suspension setup, a free-flowing exhaust and high-volume injector nozzles.
Audi has dabbled in forced-induction since it introduced the turbocharged 200T in 1979. The automaker’s current lineup includes a wide array of turbocharged gasoline- and diesel-burning engines, but one of its most interesting units is the supercharged 3.0-liter TFSI V6 engine that has won Ward’s prestigious Best Engine award for five consecutive years.
One of the most exhilarating applications of the TFSI mill is under the hood of the S5 coupe
, where it generates 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft. of torque. It is also offered in a wide array of other Audi products including the S4, the A6, the A7 and even the range-topping A8.
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport has been available with a supercharger since the first-generation model was introduced to the public in 2005. Currently, the range-topping Sport packs
a blown 5.0-liter V8 engine that makes 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft. of torque, enough to sprint from zero to 60 mph in five seconds flat.
If that’s not fast enough, Jaguar – Land Rover’s recently-introduced Special Vehicles Operations is currently developing a Nürburgring-honed evolution of the Sport that packs a 550-horsepower variant of the supercharged V8. Land Rover ambitiously promises the hot-rodded SUV will be the fastest and most agile street-legal model it has ever built.
Introduced in Detroit earlier this year, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06
is hailed as the most advanced car General Motors has ever produced, and the most extreme street-legal evolution of the seventh-gen ‘Vette to date. At the heart of the Z06 lies a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that produces 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft. of torque, propelling the Corvette to the supercar stratosphere.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via either an eight-speed automatic transmission or the General’s first-ever seven-speed manual unit. The cavalry under the hood is kept in check by large disc brakes on all four corners and Z-rated Michelin Pilot Sport tires.
For those who find the Z06 a little too tame, Chevrolet offers a package called Z07 that helps drivers exploit the supercharged mill’s full potential by adding carbon ceramic brakes and an adjustable rear spoiler that provides the ‘Vette with more downforce than any GM vehicle to date.