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Ford 'Barra' engine: Everything you need to know

Ford's Barra engine can trace it's roots all the way back to the first in-line six used in the Falcon.
Iain Kelly
Contributing Journalist

2 Apr 2019 • 4 min read

Japan was long seen as the home of high-performance turbo six-cylinder engines, while companies like BMW made building in-line sixes an art form. But Ford of Australia blew everyone away on July 1, 2002, when they unleashed the Barra 4.0-litre in-line six on the world.

The Ford Barra engine has become a hot topic on the Internet today as 'Barra' has become a byword for serious power and performance. Barra is short for Barramundi, a fierce Aussie fish and perfect codename the Aussie engineers used when developing the engines for the all-new BA-series Ford Falcon, including the 5.4-litre three-valve V8s.

  • After the disaster that was the AU, the BA Falcon was a breath of fresh air. After the disaster that was the AU, the BA Falcon was a breath of fresh air.
  • The XR6 Turbo quickly became Ford's top dog in terms of performance. The XR6 Turbo quickly became Ford's top dog in terms of performance.

But the famous Barras are the in-line six cylinders. Representing the culmination of 43 years of development of the straight six, Ford Australia’s new-age six brought the BA-series Fords into the 21st Century with a bang. And had local rival Holden on the run, trouncing even its imported Chevy LS1 V8s!

Sporting twin overhead camshafts in an alloy head, with four valves per-cylinder and variable cam timing, sitting on a 4.0-litre bottom-end, even the base Barra produced 182kW. Gas-only (LPG) motors initially produced 156kW, upgraded in 2011 to 198kW, which made it more powerful than even the last naturally aspirated 195kW 4.0L petrol engines.

The twin-cam engines made the BA-BF-series Falcons, Fairlanes, and Territory SUVs smoother, more efficient, better sounding, and much nicer to drive. But the hot news in 2002 was an all-new turbocharged, intercooled high-performance Barra making 240kW on introduction, but eventually producing 325kW in the final high-performance six-cylinder Aussie Falcon, the 2016 FG-X XR6 Sprint.

  • Only a total of 550 XR6 Sprints were built. Only a total of 550 XR6 Sprints were built.
  • In Sprint trim, the Barra turbo will go down in history as the most powerful six cylinder engine built in Australia. In Sprint trim, the Barra turbo will go down in history as the most powerful six cylinder engine built in Australia.

Both turbo and NA Barra-sixes sport a 3984cc displacement, running a sturdy iron block that makes the Barra engine very boost-friendly. It doesn’t help with engine weight and that is one key problem of the platform– Barra engine weight.

Common Ford Barra engine problems also include oil pump gears and valve springs failing, but they are generally considered to be exceptionally robust motors which is one reason they’re beloved for engine swap jobs. There are Barra motors now fitted to classic Aussie Fords, Mustang muscle cars, or Patrol and LandCruiser 4x4s.

Companies like South Australia’s Tuff Mounts, or Victoria’s Castlemaine Rod Shop, or Sydney’s RRS all offer ways to fit the mighty Barra into cars which were never fitted with them from the factory, including Holdens and even the legendary Chevy Camaro muscle car from America!

There are numerous reconditioned Barra turbo six engines producing more than 1000hp (745kW) as their blocks are super-strong and the general engine design very efficient. Added to this there are a lot of Barra conversion kits available to put them into other cars, and although you can’t find Ford Barra crate engines as easily as some V8s, they are incredibly cheap to buy second-hand – some motors can be had for under $100!

In the FG Falcon, the Barra turbo came from the factory with 270kW/533Nm. In the FG Falcon, the Barra turbo came from the factory with 270kW/533Nm.

Don’t think these cheap engines are junk. Finding a Barra engine for sale under $100 and ready to have a turbocharger fitted is a common way to make an ordinary cheap Falcon seriously fast. One issue can be fitting the huge motor into cars it was never offered in as the Ford Barra engine dimensions are much longer, wider, and taller than other, smaller, turbo six engines from Japan.

Early turbo Barras feature a compression ratio of 8.7:1, although some high-performance models used 8.8:1 (8.47:1 in the Barra 310T), while non-turbo motors ranged from 9.7:1 up to 10.3:1. These specs are important as the lower numbers help engines handle boost-pressure from turbos, saving the need to buy a more expensive turbo engine.

The last word surely has to go to Gordon Barfield, the engineer in charge of turbocharging the Barra six. “I named the [turbo motor] ‘Gull’, as in ‘Seagull’, because we knew it was going to [crap] on everything.”

Do you think the Barra is greatest Aussie-built engine? Let us know in the comments.