If your build is wanting for power and has to room for an upgrade (and sometimes even if it doesn’t), an LS V8 is usually the go-to. But what if you don’t want the obvious option? What if you need to stand out?
The answer comes in six-cylinder, easily turbocharged form from Ford Australia. The Barra straight-six.
Sort of like an Australian 2JZ, the Barra is a workhorse engine with enough simplicity to make it easy to work with, but enough capacity to turn it into a monster with the right accoutrements.
Reengineered from earlier sixes for the BA generation of the Falcon and used through the end of Australian Ford production in 2016, the engine is at once robust and thoroughly modern, new and wrenchers in Australia are already singing its praises as one of the best swaps out there. Now it’s time for you to get acquainted.
Displacing four litres in stock form, the Barra (short for Barramundi, not Barracuda or the CEO of GM) is a stout straight-six that went into the Ford Falcon and Territory. Sure, there were wheezy LPG versions for cabbies and sedate versions for station wagons and utes, but cars like the Falcon XR6 would get a lot of juice from them. More than 430 horsepower in the most puffed-up iteration, in fact. That’s serious power, especially if it’s going to go into something like a Fox-body mustang.
But the real draw of the Barra isn’t what it can do stock. It’s what bolts on. The durable block is capable of turbocharging to upwards of 600 horsepower when done right, even with the stock bottom end. Change that up and you can find yourself close to 1000 horsepower if you’re careful. Coming out of a smooth straight-six, that sounds like the perfect antidote to LS fatigue, right?
If you’re going to mod an engine, especially one from another market, it would be great to have some community support too. Luckily, there’s an active Facebook group that’s got advice and help with wiring harnesses, ECU flashes, and all sorts of other crucial stuff that might be a little beyond the reach of many wrenchers. The crew seems pretty nice, too, which is more than you can say about many communities out there on Zuckerberg’s farm.
Most of the Barra swaps I’ve seen online are into cars designed for the quarter-mile, and the results largely speak for themselves. Have a look at this XE Falcon sleeper, this F100 pickup, this Fox-body, or the Cresta build in the video above. The engine seems right at home on the drag strip and I think it would be an interesting challenger to bring to American competition by someone trying to come out of leftfield.
If the strip isn’t your goal, the Barra still could be a choice swap anyway. The dudes at Tuff Mounts who built the Fox-body linked above have a kit coming to make the motor basically slide right into those Mustangs (and likely any other Fox-body model), perfect for the street, autocross, or making a terrible mess leaving cars and coffee. And if a Fox-body isn’t your thing, check out this list of other swaps people have done. There are lots of options out there.
Of course, there are one or two drawbacks I can’t omit. The Barra isn’t small. It’s long and tall so some engine bays aren’t going to accept it without some architectural changes (oftentimes involving a shallower oil pan to keep things within clearance). Also, this was an Australia-and New Zealand-only motor, so while they’re plentiful down there, getting them (and the inevitable spares) up and out to America or Europe could be a pain.
Still, for someone looking for an alternative to the usual swaps, the Barra is a ringer. It’s smooth, it can take pretty much all the turbocharging you can throw at it, and it sounds excellent too. I’d love to see some more of them up here, and I think you’d probably agree.