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Choosing the Right V6 Engine For Your Street Rod

Good Gas Mileage, Street Rod, V6

If you love your street rod, gas prices have probably got you a little nervous. With prices quickly edging closer to four dollars per gallon, chances are you’re not going to take out that big-block every day. The most overlooked and underappreciated engine available to drop into your rod that will save you some bucks is the V6. As long as you’ve got the electronics for the newer sixes, and aren’t afraid to dig around for some of the older carbureted ones, you can pull some great stuff out of your friendly neighborhood junkyard that’ll save you some serious cash not only on gas, but on overall cost, as well. What follows are the five best V6 engines that might make for a good home in a hot rod. While you’re giving up the panache of a V8, oftentimes the tradeoff isn’t quite as high as you might expect.

Number five is the 1996-1998 Ford Mustang GT 3.8L V6. Prices for a complete engine on Ebay generally start at around $650, but chances are you can get the whole drivetrain for as much at your local pull-apart or junkyard. There are supercharging kits available as well as complete rebuild kits in case the engine has been really put through its paces in life. As these are a rear-wheel drive engine configuration that bolts up into the same place as would fit the 5.0L or 4.6L engine. The right aftermarket parts can bring up the horsepower rating, as well, so you won’t miss the off the line surge just because you’ve got two less cylinders.

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1996-2000 Chevrolet Camaro 3.8L long block. Rather than using Chevrolet’s 5.7L LS series engines, as thirsty as they are, the V6 engines out of the Camaros and Firebirds need only the original wiring harness which should be available with the junked car. A smaller street rod such as a T-bucket or ’26-’34 Ford will happily use the two hundred available horses to roast the back tires if you wish.

The 1992-2001 Dodge Dakota engines, a 3.9L Magnum may not have the visual or perceived impact of a HEMI, but they’ll get you around, and never leave you with an expensive parts bill. While the newer HEMI engines guzzle gas at a nearly incalculable rate, the Dakotas get fairly good gas mileage while delivering good power that can be fitted to any application where a V8 might be otherwise used.

Chevrolet’s S-10 has had a V6 engine for years, and that V6 has been the 4.3 for about twenty years now. One of the longest running production engines in existence, Chevrolet’s 4.3L engine has no shortage of replacement parts around local junkyards as well as a good following of replacement parts at the local parts store. One thing about the 4.3 that some don’t know is that all the parts from a Chevy 350, including pistons, rings, lifters, rods, and rockers. If you happen to scrounge up some high-performance parts to use from an 8 cylinder, they’ll fit on the 6.

The number one engine to consider for your hot rod is the mid 80’s Buick 3.8 that could be found in the Grand National. While original GN’s aren’t likely to be found lying around junkyards, their counterparts from Oldsmobile, and even the Buick Regal are plentiful at worst. Aftermarket companies make the turbo systems to give you the 300+ horsepower found in the GN, and like the Ford 3.8, they bolt into the same spot where the Chevrolet 302 and 350 fit.

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It’ll be only a few short years before V8 engines become far too expensive to drive on a daily basis, particularly those large displacement engines whose fuel economy ranges to the single digits. Powerful six cylinder engines will make street rods drivable again, even if the price of gas goes as high as five or more dollars per gallon.