7 of Our Favorite Exhaust Systems

Jamey Price for Hagerty

When executed just right, a proper exhaust is the cherry on top of the perfect automotive sundae—it stands out in its own right, but it also completes the package. And it’s not just the sound, glorious though it may be. The visual—and sometimes the artistry—that a good set of pipes can add sometimes does more to define a car than any bit of thoughtfully penned bodywork.

We got to thinking about the sights and sounds that captivate us most, and this list was the result. We could have gone on for days, though, and we bet you have some favorites, too, so give our submissions a read, then tell us your favorite exhaust—for whatever reasons you choose—in the comments!

Ford GT40

I’m going to go with the Ford GT40’s “bundle of snakes” exhaust. When you stop to consider the precision with which such a system had to be fabricated, your mind kind of melts a bit. If you’ve never YouTubed one of these things at full honk, do yourself a favor and click play below. Nate Petroelje

Gurney Eagle

Dan Gurney Eagle-Weslake T1G Grand Prix Of Great Britain 1968
Dan Gurney, Eagle-Weslake T1G, Grand Prix of Great Britain, Silverstone, 20 July 1968.Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The first time I ever saw a Gurney Eagle was at Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction in 2013. The car was on display in the lobby area of the tent, and I remember being flabbergasted at the intricacies of the exhaust pipes coming out of that Gurney-Weslake V-12. I’d never seen anything like it, and all I could think of was spaghetti twirled up on a fork. Stefan Lombard

Outlaw Dirt Sprint Car

Outlaw Dirt Track Sprint Cars race action
Cameron Neveu

No question, there are some lovely-to-look-at exhausts here, but I’m more moved by the sound an engine makes through that exhaust, and that’s a tough call. On several occasions I’ve been lucky enough to be at a racetrack when vintage Ferrari Formula 1 cars were making an exhibition run, and the Ferrari 412 T2’s fabric-tearing sound from its 3.0-liter V-12 is just otherworldly. But I’m picking something far less sophisticated: An exhaust note made by simple unmuffled headers fed by a 410-cubic-inch V-8 engine in an outlaw dirt sprint car. One car is loud; 24 sprint cars, representing about 21,600 horsepower, is thunder. The biggest sanctioning body for sprint cars is the World of Outlaws, which runs about 90 races a year, in a season that, in 2024, starts on February 7 and ends on November 9.

Due to local zoning laws, the WoO requires mufflers for 22 of the races. Since my hearing is shot already (Kids! Don’t do drugs, but DO wear earplugs!), I’ll take the unmuffled races, and the unmistakable smell of methanol in the evening. Steven Cole Smith

Drag Headers

2021 Dream Cruise woodward ave action hot rod
Cameron Neveu

The best exhaust systems are the ones that end after the headers.

I couldn’t have said it much better than SCS. A 410 engine belching out of unmuffled Schoenfeld headers is tops.

But a close second are drag headers. Zoomies or fenderwell are my favorite on old drag cars. That cackle. That’s the noise I’d like to hear out of the trumpets as I approach heaven’s gate. Oh, and the visual appearance of four pipes directing exhaust up and over fat slicks, or peaking around the lip of a fender. Get outta here! — Cameron Neveu

Milan Nostalgia Drags Willys Truck Gasser
“The Haymaker” Willys gasser.Cameron Neveu

Mercedes SLR McLaren and 1987–93 Mustang LX

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren exhaust
Mercedes Benz

My favorite exhaust in terms of looks is the side exit exhaust of the 2003–10 Mercedes SLR McLaren, because of that insane amount of space between the front wheel and the cowl and the subtle little twin pipes peeking under that area. The flat belly pan likely made this a mandatory location, but that only adds to the appeal. But when it comes to looks and sounds, for me there’s nothing like a 1987-93 Mustang LX with its signature chrome double-barreled shotgun tailpipes, and that small block Ford rumble. I could look and listen to that exhaust all day. — Sajeev Mehta

1990 ford mustang LX exhaust
Ford

Shelby Mustang GT350

1966 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350
Ford

I grew up on V-8s in a GM family. That said, the first time I heard the idle and subsequent roar of a 289 in an early Shelby GT350, I knew Ford had done something right.

It wasn’t till I was older that I learned all about how firing order, crank design, and exhaust setup influenced the amazing sounds that come from our favorite engines. That 289 was what I remember as my earliest favorite so that’s what I picked for this response, but like Steven Cole Smith said, there are so many great sounds out there that it’s a really tough call. Eddy Eckart

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Comments

    When I saw the Story my first thought was for the Gurney V12. There is a color photo from back in the day showing from the rear at a race that makes it look magical.

    I have a set of headers from some years back from a Top Fuel Funny Car. I have them because they were made illegal. They were shaped to make more down force on the car. These things are very heavy and strong. They may be the heaviest headers used in racing.

    I was in his shop when he fired up the one he kept. Music to the ears and reverberated through your body like a whole body massage. On a side note, I remember when Gurney loaded up the Eagle in a transporter and dropped it off in San Clemente. He had another transporter waiting in Oceanside. He proceeded to blow a hero run down the freeway when the Highway Patrol was on break, loaded it on the enclosed transporter in Oceanside and was on his way back before the Highway Patrol figured out what had just transpired. Gurney had a wild hair up his rear end about a mile long.

    There has always been one thing I’ve wondered about V-engines, particularly those in rear engine applications, is why more builders haven’t run the exhaust out the valley and intake through the sides

    My favorite stock exhaust system is on my 2006 Lexus SC 430. Its quiet, smooth, and refined, like a Rolex watch. Unlike the ones that various knuckle-draggers roar past my house late at night with. They are clearly “short” in some other endowment….

    Bravo, Gort! Totally agree. I have a 2003 Corvette convertible. It goes 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, handles great and is a blast to drive in the Texas Hill Country. I never felt the need to puncture other people’s eardrums with a loud exhaust. I’d rather drive fast without people and state troopers getting tipped off from a loud exhaust!

    By chance, I just got back from the Gilmore Museum outside of Kalamazoo — and I noticed many of the early v- engines, especially the V-12s and V-16s — had the exhaust coming out the valley, with a separate intake and carb on the outside of each cylinder bank.

    Headers coming out of the “valley” between the banks of cylinders make the engine setup a “hot V”. The intakes are down low away from the heat. The exhaust is out the top, and is generally shorter/less complex/lighter than exhaust systems that have to come “up” before exiting out the back of the vehicle. Hot V engines are still being used and made today. The Mercedes AMG GT has a hot-V8 with the exhaust AND Turbos in the V. The McLaren Artura has a hot-V6. And there are other examples of limited production cars and a number of race cars over the years have gone with hot-V racing engines. The Mercedes AMG GT is especially notable because they managed to get the exhaust AND turbos in the V without having a gigantic hood bulge for clearance. In a mid-engine car, the “deck” above the engine can be raised a fair amount without negatively impacting the appearance of the vehicle to clear an exhaust and turbos.

    I had the pleasure of living near to the Foyt shop and also attended the Indy 500 while A.J. was close to the end of his racing career. I was absolutely amazed at the sound the old Offenhauser engines made a full throttle. Unfortunately A.J. wrecked in turn 3 in the race I attended. I actually took pictures as the wreck was happening. That was back when they let fans close to the track on the infield side.

    Piggy backing on the mentioning of Dan Gurney, AAR Cudas and TA Challengers. Most people don’t believe the side exit megaphone pipes are factory.

    Surprised to be left out…..the 1971? Pontiac GTO with the vacuum controlled mufflers. Loud and louder is just a dial away for a factory production street car. This should be number 1 but was left out by the author.

    I agree that was a great sounding system. The late model ZL1 Camaro(Mine is the 22)has a similar system. Its vacuum operated and it kicks in when you throttle up the supercharger -sound is amazing. I think this article is more slated towards classic stuff and race cars; to me the best sounding sporty car was Penske‘s 68 and 69 Chevy 302s(driven by Mark Donahue). Later, the can am Porsche 917. I watched that car up close and personal at Laguna Seca. Nice sound.

    Three of the cars already on the list ARE street cars, and none of those street cars have an exhaust system anywhere near as cool as the 1970 GTO’s VOE (Vacuum Operated Exhaust) system. Affectionately known as “The Humbler”, it was only available for a few months during 70 production, because it ran afoul of noise restrictions in many states. A very neat and creative option, it was basically a vacuum controlled exhaust cutout system that with a pull of a knob under the dash, the cutouts opened and bypassed the mufflers.

    Google “The Humbler” TV commercial to see one of the greatest TV car ads ever, and hear what a far cooler exhaust system it had compared to the Mercedes, Mustang or Shelby on the list.

    I also find it really hard to believe that neither the 64-67 Corvette or 69 Corvette side exhaust made the list, especially considering the Mustang and Shelby with their rather standard under car systems are on it??? The writer must be a big Ford fan?

    The article is simply titled “7 of our favorite exhaust systems”. It doesn’t say 7 of our favorite exotic, european, race car only, not any lowly streetcar exhaust systems”. I don’t see why they shouldn’t consider street cars or even trucks for that matter, since this is an auto club is it not? How about the debate over a non crossover versus a crossover dual exhaust system for three cars? How about an even further discussion of set exhaust system since the catalytic converter has been required?

    Matra MS670 Le Mans 1973 a V12 soundtrack that could be heard all the way round the 8 mile circuit – particularly so in the early hours of the morning. As you say in the U.S. Awesome!

    Yes! The Matra V12 shriek was fantastic. I recall sitting almost alone in the grandstand on a rainy practice day at Silverstone in 1968, listening to the Matra engine wailing it way through Clearways. Jean-Pierre Beltoise came through the corner absolutely flat out, snaking and weaving on the wet track. The resonance was enough to make the entire grandstand resonate too. Absolutely amazing.

    Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWmdIKXKh-g

    I first heard the Matra/Simca v12’s at the 71 Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport. As noted above, you could tell where either of the cars were on the track by the shriek. Any time I hear a Cosworth DFV at 11000 rpm I get chills up and down my back. As for more throaty roar, those big block Chev’s in the McLaren Can/Am cars or any of the 60’s and early 70’s Trans/Am cars. If you are close by you feel your pant legs and lungs moving. For street, early MGB’s with a tuned exhaust are embedded in my memory forever.

    Have to agree with Bruce, C2 Corvette 427 with side pipes will hold its own against any others out there ……..

    Corvette C2 factory OEM, probably sold on 100,000 production cars. I went to the local Chevy dealer in the 80s and had a new set installed.

    YES , I had one too. The chambered exhaust from the Z28 302 is magic to ears. Also OEM exhaust on 69 chevelles with a big block and chambered exhaust was awesome back in the day when they were on the street 👍

    Thank you! Very few of us here spend time on a race track. Chevy exhaust systems on those Z/28’s and C2’s back in the day were unequivocally the best. As production cars for the street, unmatched since.

    It’s hard to not love the sound of a C2 Corvette with a high winding small block and factory sidepipes!

    I still have my 66 Corvette with factory exhaust. I did get pulled late one night, surrounded by at least 6 police cars, I was going 120 plus on bias ply – and no ticket.

    You bet, what a combination, music to hear, I owned a 69 COPO for 42 years and never got tired of the sound.

    What about Chevrolet’s chambered exhaust system for 1969? So good (loud) they had to quit using it halfway through the model year because customers were getting tickets for a factory-exhaust system…

    My wife bought a 2020 Mustang EcoBoost ragtop (4 cyl/turbo) and loves it, but misses the Mustang rumble sound. Any suggestions to make a similar noise?

    I heard the Matra at Daytona 24 Hour all the way around that track!!! Mazda 787B might just be the very best sounding exhaust ever. I’ll also, vote for early 70’s Porsche RSR or any early 70″s Ferrari V12…

    That’s what I run in my 71 Vega wagon. Awesome sound out the back that a 350 can’t duplicate.

    Mid 60s GP, I noted the difference in the sounds of Honda V12 and Ferrari V12. But nothing can top the BRM H-16 at 14,000 rpm.

    Yes! I have the CD that came with the Nick Mason / Mark Hale book “Into the Red”. He employed then-state of the art audio technology to record a couple of laps of each of the most impressive cars in his collection, including the H-16 BRM. A Shell commercial a few years ago, featuring Ferrari F1 cars through history at full chat, is still available on Youtube. Spine-tingling!

    Chris,
    Slight correction for you, and oh god I was waiting for somebody to mention it, but it was not the H16 in “Intro the red, butt actually a bra v16, supercharged V16, and OMG what a sound.
    He also recorded one of the most iconic sounding engines – the v8 Ford Cosworth – what a wonderful sound – could listen to it all day.
    But the BRM V16 was the most extraordinary sound, that is when it ran with out a misfire, never forget thee mechanics in the background exposing their surprise with a simple “crikey” on hearing it !
    I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing its at Gooodwood when Nick still owned it – simply amazing wall of sound. Nick describes thee whole car as being “rather like the Victorians trying to design a space rocket”. Sterling Moss described it as one of the worst cars he drove”!
    Absolutely iconic.
    At Donington park there is a working model of the H16. On its is a sign saying ironically “out of order” ! I remember reading a description of the starting procedure for it – it took 4 people to start it – one on the air operated starter, one on the throttle, and two people, one each side armed with fire extinguishers – apparently it would frequently set itself alight during starting.
    Jacky Stewart described its a “simple horrible and grossly unreliable” 🙂
    Peter

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