Old School Mechanical Fuel Injection Juices These Cars’ Values

Chevrolet

As the new enthusiast vehicle market moves increasingly towards hybrid systems, dual-clutch transmissions, turbochargers, and all manner of computer systems managing the power going to the ground, enthusiasts are seeking out vintage vehicles with none of those things. Vehicles with drivetrains featuring naturally aspirated engines and manual transmissions have enjoyed renewed popularity. But there is one piece of technology, often discarded when it was new, that is shared by some of today’s most collectible vehicles, and yet it doesn’t get talked about much.

For a period in the middle of the 20th century, before electronic fuel injection became the solution to performance and emission considerations, automakers added nth-degree performance to their best models via mechanical fuel injection (MFI). The excellent throttle response and additional horsepower made them ideal for enthusiasts, but the complexity of mechanical fuel injection made them expensive and difficult to repair, so owners commonly swapped them out for familiar carburetors. Today, though, despite MFI systems being a dead-end in the evolution of the automobile, they are better understood and are often more valuable than the carb versions. Indeed, they’re a feature of some of the most collectible cars ever produced.

Many manufacturers embraced mechanical fuel injection, including Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lancia, Maserati, Pontiac and Volkswagen, but below are arguably the most famous MFI classics, with pronounced premiums in value.

Mercedes-Benz 300SL

1955_Mercedes-Benz_300SL Gullwing
Sandon Voelker

Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a system in their automobiles when they used a Bosch system designed for airplane engines in their new 1950s supercar, the W198-series 300SL. Mercedes-Benz was constrained by using the 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine from the contemporary W186 sedan, but they sought to maximize the performance of all the other components. The frame was a lightweight spaceframe (hence the Gullwing doors), the bodywork was aerodynamic, and the engine was leaned over at 50 degrees and given a dry sump. After experimenting with supercharging and Solex carbs in the racing cars, the W198 was given the Bosch a (direct) mechanical fuel-injection system, which bumped performance from an unreliable 230hp in Solex-supercharged form (the M197 engine) to a reliable and drivable 240hp in production form (M198). Today, the 300SL is one of the few cars built in the thousands that routinely sells for over $1M. The current condition #1 (“concours”) value for a 1955 steel-bodied Gullwing coupe is $2,250,000. The high prices relative to its production number are down to the 300SL’s famous style, cultural impact and world-class performance, the latter in part made possible by adopting fuel injection technology decades before it became ubiquitous.

Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7

1973 Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 Homologation
STUDIO PHILIPP KLEMM

The 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 wasn’t the first car Porsche equipped with a mechanical fuel-injection system (that was the 1969 911 S), but it is one of the most collectible if not the most collectible road-going Porsche. And although fuel injection wasn’t as exotic in the early 1970s as it was in the ’50s, it was still far from commonplace. As the company pivoted away from racing prototypes like the 917 and 908/3 due to rule changes, the nearly 10-year-old 911 became the chosen platform for racing. Pushing the displacement out from a stated 2.4 to 2.7 liters was possible by using a cylinder liner specially developed by Mahle (for the 917) called Nikasil, and with the MFI system, the new model had 210 HP (an increase of 20 HP over the contemporary 911 S 2.4). In heavier “Touring” spec, the 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 isn’t quite as valuable as the 300 SL (current condition #1 value of $999,000), but the Lightweight (only 200 out of the 1580 built), has a current condition #1 value of $2.1M

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Top 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal Jay Leno Garage front three quarter
Jay Leno's Garage/YouTube

The Italians embraced mechanical fuel injection, too. The International and Universal Exposition, aka Expo 67, aka the world’s fair for 1967, took place in Montreal, Canada. With a theme of Man and His World, Alfa Romeo was invited to display a vehicle representing the ultimate evolution of the automobile. Alfa brought a concept, designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, and appropriately named it the Montreal. Despite its 4-cylinder Giulia Sprint GT base, Gandini gave it some mid-engine styling touches and the car impressed showgoers so much that Alfa Romeo decided to offer a production version. Bringing the Montreal to market took longer than expected, and by its launch in 1970, the intended competition was cars like the Porsche 911 described above. Consequently, Alfa got more ambitious with the engine and used a 2.6-liter V-8 inspired by its Tipo 33 racing car and equipped it with SPICA (Società Pompe Iniezione Cassani & Affinimechanical) fuel injection good for 200hp. With nearly 4000 produced, the car isn’t as rare as some of the MFI-fed classics on this list, but demand remains consistent, and the condition #1 value is currently $158,000

BMW 2002tii

BMW 2002tii Sam Smith Weissrat Hagerty 2002
Sam Smith

BMW had a hit on its hands with its Neue Klasse small sedans. Launched in 1961 as the 1500, it was intended to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle. Despite that humble target, sporty versions followed with models such as the 4-door 1800ti in 1965 and then the 2-door 1600ti. The ti suffix stood for Touring International, and indicated the model featured twin carbs. When that 1600ti version couldn’t meet emissions regulations in the U.S., the single-carb 2.0-liter 2002 was introduced. A two-carb 2002ti was also offered, but BMW went even sportier in 1972 with the 2002tii. Featuring a mechanical fuel-injection system by Kuglefischer, the tii (Touring International Injection) model gained 16hp over the carb 2002 for a total of 130. While all versions of the 2002 have become collectible in the past several years, and the 1972 model has a condition #1 value of $84,600 at present, the 1972 2002tii is worth significantly more and has a condition #1 value of $129,000

1957 Chevrolet

In 1950s America, the Big Three were in a horsepower race. Bragging rights went to engines that could achieve one horsepower (gross, not net) per cubic inch (cid) of displacement. Further, GM was known for its technical innovations in the 1950s, and fuel injection seemed like the right way to give the recently launched (1955) Chevrolet small-block V-8 an edge. The result was the Rochester Products Division Ramjet mechanical (port) fuel-injection system launched for the 1957 model year cars. The 283 cubic inch Chevrolet V-8 with the Ramjet system produced 283hp, meaning it reached that magical one hp per cube threshold. Nicknamed Fuelies, the Corvettes and Bel Airs equipped with the system won the numbers race for years. They won on the racetrack, but it was also the highest-performance version of the Corvette through the 1965 model year when the 327cid V-8 Fuelie made 375hp. For the 1957 Corvette, the current condition #1 value for a Fuelie is $185,000 compared to $144,000 for the 270hp dual-quad 283 Corvette built the same year. For a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Sedan, a 283 Fuelie has a condition #1 value of $125,000 compared to $109,000 for that same 270hp dual-quad setup. 

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Comments

    A buddy and I took on the job of replacing the Rochester FI on a ’64 Corvette in about 1967. The owner (not sure, but I kind of remember that he was a doctor) was smart enough to know to take the injection unit home after we put dual AFBs on it for him, but not even sure he thought about the “Fuel Injection” fender emblems that we removed – or at least he didn’t miss them. One for each of us as souvenirs – mine adorns a tool cabinet door along with some other emblems and tags that have meaning to me.

    Twenty years ago, I had a 1977 Alfa Romeo Spider with the 2 liter DOHC with SPICA. It ran faster than my prior and since after Bosch FI Spiders.

    Around 1970 a buddy of mine put a 327 fuelie motor without the fuel injection in a 1962 Nova 4 door that had 30k miles on it. It was a 6 cylinder powerglide car. We put in a 4 speed and a 4:11 rear. It was pretty quick. He paid $650 for the motor. Those were the days.

    Ford’s first mechanical injected production car was the Ford Capri RS2600, 1970-73, with the 2600cc V6. Racing versions were pumped up to 2.9L.

    Besides the Montreal, Alfa equipped one of their 6C 2500 SS cars with mechanical fuel injection back in 1940 to compete in the Mille Miglia. This had been developed primarily because at the time in Italy ‘substitute fuels’ were frequently being used in nonmilitary applications and causing problems with carbureted engines ( sound familiar ) . The Capri RS, as Norm points out, used a Kugelfischer system like the BMW 2002tti mentioned but more so because it was going head to head with the 2800CS in European sedan racing.

    Would have been nice to see a photo of a ‘57 Corvette fuel injected car. The one shown next to the ‘57 Bel Air is a ‘63 and later Corvette. Also there is no mention of the fact that Corvettes had optional fuel injection through the ‘65 model year. That was a big deal back then, but I see the article was all about imports and kinda poo-pooed the Chevrolets. As usual.

    You must have done like I do and skipped over some of the article. It mentioned “it was also the highest-performance version of the Corvette through the 1965 model year when the 327cid V-8 Fuelie made 375hp. ”
    🙂

    I’d disagree. There’s a healthy amount of info on GM’s entry here.

    As a person who has both Bosch Jetronic injection rigs in his life, and owns a Rochester mechanical system, they’re both intelligently designed systems. Some differences, but more similar than you might think.

    Both systems have roots in aviation, and copied the Mercedes-Benz developed FI for the Messerschmidt BF-109s. Of course; process improvements, but they’re both based on the design and operation principles M/B figured out in the beginning years of the 40s.

    One thing they didn’t touch one, was GM had mechanical and electrical-pintle style injection. They test-muled both, but technology limitations stopped the “modern” electromechanical systems from rolling out in the 1950s. The injectors were huge, unreliable, could freeze up, and the control systems were not robust. I also tend to think it suffered from GM’s infamous NIH (Not Invented Here) bias. GM developed the electromagnetic system in conjunction with Bendix; who later started those systems a decade later in Chryslers and Caddies. With equally mixed success.

    Honestly, the first passes of each were equally problematic. GM just walked away, Bosch kept working on it. The K-Jet got to be a great system. Those European cars you chide above are the grandfathers to the GM system, and ended up evolving into modern fuel injection (K-Jet Lambda was about 90% as good as modern FI.)

    As a guy who collects a lot of American and Import iron, you can’t please anyone. You do an import article, the American guys scream. Do an American article, Import owners say “Another Corvette/Mustang/Truck article!”

    I enjoy the coverage of everything… Breathe in. It’s just a car magazine.

    I owned 2 2002tiis-the fuel injection was a nightmare- I would have it tuned when I took it to the best shop around and within 200 miles it would stutter- not a good thing.

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