Video: Obscure Engines – The Australian Ford Barra Inline Six

Here at EngineLabs, we try not to focus so hard on any one brand, configuration, or discipline, that we lose sight of the market as a whole. In that vein, we also like to broaden our horizons and look at engines which may not even be available in the US, commercially, but still play a part in the zeitgeist of automotive performance.

To that end, we bring you a look at Ford Australia’s “Barra 6” Engine. Available in a variety of configurations and outputs from the factory, all Barra inline six-cylinder engines have a 4.0 liter (244 cubic-inch) displacement from an undersquare 3.600-inch bore and 3.900-inch stroke. It is a dual overhead camshaft design, with four valves per cylinder, and true variable camshaft timing on both the intake and exhaust cams.

Barra History

Haltech’s Scott Hilzinger walks us through the Barra’s history and devolpment, which actually started back in the 1960s. “The Barra 6 was manufactured in Australia between 2002 and 2016 in Victoria, at the Geelong Engine Plant,” Hilzinger explains. The name “Barra” is actually the shortening of the name of a fish, much like “’Cuda” is. “It’s named after an Australian fish called ‘Barramundi’ not the Barracuda,” clarifies Hilzinger. While being named after a sea bass doesn’t immediately conjur up predatory images, in no way does that diminish the ferocity of this engine.

“The Barra can trace its roots back to the 2.4-liter (144 cubic inches) ‘Thriftpower 6’ from the North American 1959 Ford Falcon,” says Hilzinger. From there, the six-cylinder design was modified by Ford Australia, and evolved into the iron-headed Cross Flow engine of the 1970s, the aluminum-head Cross Flow engine of the 1980s, and then the single overhead cam I-6 that came on scene in the late ‘80s and carried through until 2002.

While discontinued in 2016, in its 14-year run, it was available in a number of configurations with a wide array of performance characteristics. “It was available in both naturally aspirated and turbocharged configurations,” Hilzinger says. “They ranged from 209 horsepower in the LPG (Liquefied Petrolium Gas) taxicab version, to 436 horsepower in the FGX XR6 Turbocharged Sprint edition. That even had an ‘overboost’ feature, which increased power to 496 horsepower for up to 10 seconds at a time.”

A thoroughly modern engine, the Barra features dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and true variable cam timing on both the intake and exhaust cams.

What Makes It So Great

Obviously, any engine making almost 500 horsepower from the factory, let alone one with only six-cylinders, has to be pretty awesome, right? Considering it’s one of the most popular engine swaps in Australia, we’re not alone in that opinion.

“It’s the robustness of the engine that makes it such a great candidate for making big power, especially when boost is brought into the equation,” Hilzinger explains. “The later models are ideal for a huge turbo upgrade. With basic supporting mods, 600 at the rear tires on a stock bottom end is achievable.” That was the number achieved during the Mighty Car Mods’ Toyota Cresta project, which resulted in 9.90-second quarter-mile ets.

Turbochargers make everything better. The engine’s ability to handle copious amounts of boost without coming apart is a large part of what makes the engine so popular in Australia.

Also, because of the undersquare design and large displacement, the engine makes respectable torque numbers with a very useful powerband. “They make torque from low-down in the rev range, creating as much as 425 lb-ft from 2,600 rpm,” says Hilzinger. “With a built motor, 1000 horsepower at the rear wheels isn’t too big of a task from the engine. The Dyno-Mite Performance Barra-powered drag car, makes over 2,000 horsepower and spins to over 10,000 rpm, and still uses the factory block and cylinder head.”

Getting away from Barra-specific benefits, and wandering into the land of general engine theory and design, the Barra also enjoys the benefits inherent to a straight-six platform. “The straight six itself is a very well balanced design,” says Hilzinger. “The pistons move in tandem with their mirror images on the other side of the block, causing the reciprocating forces to balance out nicely without the need for balance shafts or large counterweights.”

Dyno-Mite Performance’s Pro-class Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo is powered by a Turbocharged Barra engine that makes in excess of 2,000 horsepower and spins north of 10,000 rpm, all on the OEM block and cylinder head.

Nobody Is Perfect

With all these awesome attributes, you might be asking why you might not have heard about this engine before now. Well, the first, and potentially largest drawback, is that they were never offered for sale outside of Australia and New Zealand. While they are quite abundant in that locale, they are practically unheard in either direction across the ocean.

Because of that, it will never enjoy quite the support of the aftermarket like its main competitors, the Nissan RB series, and the Toyota 2JZ series, both of which were offered for sale in Australia, along with the US, in the case of the 2JZ. What Barra aftermarket does exist, is largely based in Australia, more or less clipping the engine’s wings and confining it to the continent.

Another drawback is the physical size of the engine itself. “It’s long, it’s tall, and it’s heavy,” Hilzinger says. However, in spite of those deficits, the Ford Barra Engine has become one of the most popular engines to swap into performance cars in the land down under, and for good reason.

One drawback to the Barra 6 is it’s physical size. It is long and tall, which can pose packaging concerns in swap applications, and it’s weight can mess with balance. However, in the grand scheme, they are minor downsides.

About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent fifteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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