Carburetor:<br /> The Greatest Auto Part Ever?
Mechanical Magic

A few weeks ago, when our editor Pedey told us that we were planning to run a special carburetor theme for the month of January, I was excited. And why shouldn’t I be? Carbs are awesome. But when he asked if we had any ideas for interesting carb-related stories during the theme I was a bit stumped. A technical story or history lesson might have worked, but I was looking for something a bit more wide reaching – a bit more human than that. I wanted to investigate the concept of why car enthusiasts love carburetors so much, even if they are the ‘old fashioned’ way to do things.


So I thought about it for a while, and eventually came to realize that the carburetor might just be the single greatest car part ever. Sure, a carb might not be he most reliable or most efficient way to make power and there’s a reason why cars haven’t used them for decades, but if anything that’s only made me appreciate them more.


The reason carbs are so great to me, is that they represent everything we love about automobiles. Think about it. Why do we love cars? We like the way they look. We like the way they sound. We like the power they make. We like their diversity. And most of all we like the way they make us feel.


All of those things can also be said about carburetors themselves, despite the fact they’re just one of the many components that make up an automobile. Carbs are everything we love (and sometimes hate) about cars, concentrated into one single device.


Let’s start with aesthetics. When you walk up to a car, the first thing you notice is the way it looks. Carburetors are no different. Is there anything better than glancing into an engine bay and seeing a gleaming line of velocity stacks popping up from a multi-carb setup?


There are any number of reasons why people decide to build and run carburetor setups in the modern era, and the visual excitement that some proper carbs bring to an engine bay cannot be overstated. It’s the polar opposite of today’s high-tech engines, in which all of the actual mechanical components are covered up with plastic covers. You definitely won’t see anyone out there trying to conceal their bitchin’ set of sidedrafts.


After you take in a car’s looks, the next thing you want do is hop in, turn the key and see what she sounds like. Carbs deliver in this department as well. Sure, the exhaust system does a lot of work in the audio department, but we all know the heavenly sound you can get a with a good set of carbs. Contrast this to the way that many modern performance cars need to have synthetic noise piped into the cabin to make them feel more ‘alive’.


Few things generate more aural pleasure than a set of high performance carburetors under hard throttle – even if there’s nothing particularly exotic about the motor they are affixed to. Once again, this unique sound is another one of the reasons people have stuck with carbs even when there are more efficient alternatives out there.


Once you have the car fired up, you put it into gear and see how it feels out on the road. You dip into the accelerator to see what the power is like – and this is another area where carburetors deliver their own unique character. Of course, I’m not trying to say that carburetors make more power than comparable fuel injection setups, but the way they deliver that power is much different.


If you’ve ever driven a car with a high performance carb setup, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s a layout that employs multiple small carburetors, or the large single carburetor that a lot of American V8s used, there’s a very distinct sensation that comes feeling the secondaries open up under hard acceleration. It’s much different from the straightforward power delivery you get with many modern engines.

Induction & Emotion

Another great thing about carburetors is that their application can be as diverse as cars themselves. It’s not like their following is limited to one corner of the world or one particular type of car. No matter what style of vehicle you enjoy, there’s a carb setup for you. It could be a line of Mikunis mounted on a Nissan straight six, or a set of Webers hanging off a twin cam Alfa Romeo mill.


If American V8s are your thing, there are many carb setups to lust after. Maybe it’s an old school set of Stromberg 97s atop a Ford flathead, a fat Holley double pumper on a big block Chevy or a twin four-barrel setup that came on engines like the legendary 426 Street HEMI.


Not to be left out is the world of air-cooled VWs and Porsches in which a properly dialed in set of Webers or Dellortos is the key to building a potent engine for the street or the race track.


But most of all, there’s something about carburetors that ties into our core love of the automobile. In a world where engine technology is advancing at a pace that’s impossible to keep up with, carbs represent a throw back to a simpler time. They serve as an analog alternative in an era when it’s hard to grasp of all the technology that comes in modern performance engines  – advanced turbo setups, direct injection, multiple fuel maps, variable valve timing and more.


Of course, carburetors have plenty of drawbacks and that’s the reason why you won’t find them on modern cars. They can be very temperamental and difficult to tune, they’ve long been made obsolete in terms of power and fuel efficiency, and you can’t just fire up you carburetor-equipped car and motor off on a cold winter morning. You have to love them and care for them – and that’s part of the appeal.


There’s also something inherently simple and enjoyable about working with carbs. Despite the fact that electronic fuel injection has been standard practice for decades, there are many people out there (including my dad) who still feel much more comfortable working on carbureted vehicles over anything that has a computer.


Even if the vast majority of us prefer to enjoy the performance and reliability of modern fuel injection, it’s for all the above reasons and more that car enthusiasts will never completely abandon the carburetor. Whether it’s about keeping history alive, staying period correct or just enjoying their visceral nature and mechanical simplicity – the cult of the carb is as strong as ever.


In the end I really think the idea of carburetors in the modern era raises a lot of parallels to the automotive hobby in general. None of us need to have cool or fun cars to get where we need to go. The most efficient way to get somewhere would be taking public transportation or driving a boring gas-sipping economy car, but how many of us would be happy doing that all of the time? The same ideas apply to carburetors.


I’m not suggesting we revert back to carbs either, but being a car enthusiast isn’t always about being practical and efficient. We spend more money on our cars than we need to, we make sacrifices to make them look cooler and go faster, we also think about them way too much. We wouldn’t have it any other way.


Call them old fashioned, call them inefficient – call them whatever you’d like. I can’t think of any other single automotive component that represents auto enthusiasm better than the good old carburetor. Long may it live.

Now that I’ve shared some of my thoughts on the subject, I’m curious to hear what you guys think. What is it about carburetors that you love? What is it that makes them so special?

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike

Cutting Room Floor


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I need another carb'd car in my life. I miss driving my '73 Bus with a Holley progressive two-barrel carb.


I've never owned a carbed motor other than my lawnmover but I love the mechanical esthetics of a nice row carbs. I have very little understanding of how they work so they're as much a mystery to me as a gearbox. Its just one of those black boxes that I will have to pay someone else to worry about. :)


wot is a carboreator and wot does it do?


how about itb's as a compromise?  the mechanical goodness of carb's, plus the less-temperamental nature of efi.


Side-drafted straight-6s with one barrel per cylinder.

The most elemental of all engines - after the jet turbine, of course.


Carbs atomize the fuel better, that's for sure.


anyone got a link to in an indepth explenatin of carberators? and how they work mechanically


I am a a motorcycle engineer. And those who are fans of motorcycles knows that in the motorcycle industry we where using carburetors in high performance application up until pretty much early 2,000 and in my personal opinion motorcycle carbs are way more advance than the carbs use in cars. And they are still use today by many motorcycle manufactures despite the Polar Bear and Eco friendly chaps lawmakers.
As per how they work its a little complicated due to all the parts but its principle is really simple.
So here is a 101 on carbs as simple as possible.
The carburetor works on Bernoulli's principle: the faster air moves, the lower its static pressure, and the higher its dynamic pressure. The throttle (accelerator) linkage does not directly control the flow of liquid fuel. Instead, it actuates carburetor mechanisms which meter the flow of air being pulled into the engine. The speed of this flow, and therefore its pressure, determines the amount of fuel drawn into the airstream.
When carburetors are used in aircraft with piston engines, special designs and featuresare needed to prevent fuel starvation during inverted flight. Later engines used an early form of fuel injection known as a pressure carburetor.
Most production carbureted, as opposed to fuel-injected, engines have a single carburetor and a matching intake manifold that divides and transports the air fuel mixture to the intake valves, though some engines (like motorcycle engines) use multiple carburetors on split heads. Multiple carburetor engines were also common enhancements for modifying engines in the USA from the 1950s to mid-1960s, as well as during the following decade of high-performance muscle cars fueling different chambers of the engine's intake manifold.
Older engines used updraft carburetors, where the air enters from below the carburetor and exits through the top. This had the advantage of never flooding the engine, as any liquid fuel droplets would fall out of the carburetor instead of into the intake manifold; it also lent itself to use of an oilbath air cleaner, where a pool of oil below a mesh element below the carburetor is sucked up into the mesh and the air is drawn through the oil-covered mesh; this was an effective system in a time when paper air filters did not exist.
The main disadvantage of basing a carburetor's operation on Bernoulli's Principleis that, being a fluid dynamic device, the pressure reduction in a Venturi tends to be proportional to the square of the intake air speed. The fuel jets are much smaller and limited mainly by viscosity, so that the fuel flow tends to be proportional to the pressure difference. So jets sized for full power tend to starve the engine at lower speed and part throttle. Most commonly this has been corrected by using multiple jets. In SU and other movable jet carburetors, it was corrected by varying the jet size. For cold starting, a different principle was used in multi-jet carburetors. A flow resisting valve called a choke, similar to the throttle valve, was placed upstream of the main jet to reduce the intake pressure and suck additional fuel out of the jets.


Like you said, they're temperamental, they're analog.  In a way they also breathe that a makes an engine seem alive.  Carbs can be tuned with simple tools and no computer; if you know what you're doing there's no need for a wideband O2 sensor or dyno.  There's a certain artistry about something being completed by hand, flaws and all.


SeanStott not true for most. you need a good venturi and a good intake runner to properly atomize the fuel. where as fuel injectors can spray/atomize it almost instantly from the tip.


@zer0sen ITBs can be carb or fuel injectors. ITB just mean individual throttle body. as in 1 butterfly per runner.


Despite popular believe carbs are a great way to extract power from a engine. Disadvantage are obvious when compare to EFI. For example you tune a carb to meet the enviroment conditons where you live or normally drive. I call it Static Tunning. They will work great in that area that's until you travel to a place that either has a higher altitude above sea level than your home or lower...and the carbs will star running like crap...because they simply are not able to compensate and adjust to the obvious differentnt environment conditions like Temp, is a hot day or cold, Altitute etc...Also is a pain in the ass to try to tune them under a wide rpm range like you do with EFI finding a happy medium is and Art. You either make it run good under normal behaving driving. Or you tune them to unleash hell at full throttle and high rpm. EFI because of a ecu and its sensor will always recalculate and compensate on the fly to suit the conditions because of its wide range programming. But still if don't right Carbs are Fun and AWESOME to have.


There is absolutely nothing like when the secondaries open up on a 4 barrel on a Murican V8. You sure as hell know it when you get lambasted in the face with a surge of torque and horsepower.


i own a Renault 5 GT Turbo, 1.4L blown carburettor, and the smell of gasoline and the occasional pops and cracks of the exhaust ..! 
Gotta love them for the sole fact that you'd probably need a few basic tools to fiddle with it, as opposed to EFI where you're going to need at least a computer and ODB software ..?


My daily driver is a 1975 Holden Kingswood wagon, 6 cylinder 202ci motor with a twin carb setup. Once i finished getting them tuned, it starts like a fuel injected car every day, fuel economy doesnt agree, though i wouldnt have it any other way!


Jaz_ej20 Nice! Getting them dialed in makes all the difference. Any photos of the car by chance?


PinteGuinness Always gotta love simplicity!


AngeloVoltura Indeed. I remember the feeling when I drove my dad's GTO for the first time after I got my license.


j_tso Totally agree!


Ice Age Also one of the coolest looking!


Mike Garrett Jaz_ej20 Certainly do!


How can you have an entire article on carbs and not even have one picture of an SU??


I enjoy the compromise of ITBs with 70mm open trumpets :) (Now on Dizi relocate however)


Great! Love it!


you miss his carbs....


sidedraught webers on the 265 of a chrysler valiant charger are the reason why I think carbs are so cool. I want to restore a valiant charger, but would only want sidedraught webers.


Mike Garrett Ice Age Yes, quite right.

Something about a row of intake pipes that are cool in a way I can't describe, and I'm glad that I can't.

If I could, the magic would evaporate.


What do I love about them? Induction Noise! :D


Ported rotary with the secondaries opening = carb heaven.


What about throttle response? I'm just wishing for a real throttle cable because screw this drive by wire garbage.


Carburetor, true old power! My Nissan Skyline R30 & Nissan OHC L28 & 3 OER (SK Racing) carburetor.


Carburators SUCK. They are ancient and outdated tech. They pollute more, wear out engines faster, are more difficult to tune, don't produce as much power, and waste fuel. The only argument, that they look better, can be fixed with EFI ITB's


Chri5 Duncan Boring! hahahaha, nah seriously, efi's is for mums driving to the shops. Cabs enrich the experience, they are part of an event, like playing a vinyl record instead of plugging in your ipod


No shots of Predator's or Flat-Slides ????


What are the webers in the 4th pic, chapter 2? And what is it in.


GregFentonHNHS Looks like a Ferrari 250 GTO engine, so maybe the carbs are DCNs.


Well put. I like the vinyl record analogy.


I love carbs.  My first car (still have it, of course) was a 1965 Mustang coupe with a little 289.   It was my daily driver and only car for 3 years.  I learned a whole hell of a lot on that car.  When I picked it up I did a rebuild and hopped it up with the basics, new intake manifold, cam, heads, long tubes/exhaust, and of course a 4v Holley 650.  It has never broken down and left me stranded anywhere... aside from blowing an old radiator hose to hell during a run once (but I had an extra in the trunk and was up and running in 15 minutes).   Now I have a 2007 GT500 that makes almost 700whp but my '65 coupe is my pride and joy.  Has undergone 3 rebuilds, getting meaner each time, and now I have the same 4v Holley 650 setup, a single plane Victor JR/Holley Ultra Street Avenger four barrel setup, am piecing together a glorious, quad Weber IDA48 setup, and most recently have been running an original (modified) tri-power 289 setup with 3 500cfm Holley 2vs.  There is just something about the raw mechanical aspect of man and machine that carb'd setups provide.  You said it, there is nothing like those secondaries comin' open when you kick it or feeling and hearing the other 2vs join in the fun when hitting it with the tri-power setup.  My '65 is getting pretty aggressive these days but I have always loved sticking with the carb and surprising EFI guys or whatever I run into on the street or track, kind of an "under-dog" thing and proving that carbs may be old but they aren't useless.  Excited for this carb only theme!


Love it! Hard to go wrong with a carb'd and fuel injected duo of cars in your garage.


Nothing wrong with those at all :)




One more reason to love them!


I forgot all about carb'd rotaries when writing this for some reason, but you are absolutely right.


That's a good question actually. I could have put a photo of the stock L24 in my old Z.


Nice! Quite an exotic to us Yanks :)


I grew up in a carbureted truck that had extensive work done. Since then I've been a carbed V8 guy. Wouldn't have it any other way. My buddies look at me like I'm nuts but hey, I'm a hot rodder.


ModGuy SUs are so forgotten about these days... Really just us British car people that still hang on to them.
I reckon they're the best choice for a daily driver though, so reliable.


M20B23 from BMW E21 mounted on my BMW E30, with a full porting, polished heads, AAC etc from France :) almost complete ;)  3 Webers in 40 mm :)


After finally reviving my Fiesta RST last year it was time to work on my Classic Mini Cooper and to it certainly feels like I'm having more fun than buggering about with the RS Turbo system.
It's probably one of the smaller Carbs you'll see on this thread, a sweet little HIF44 SU Carb that I had vapour blasted last week for £20!!!


All this talk of carbs is making me hungry...


It is interesting to consider that carburetors have almost taken a back seat to the modern era of fuel injection.  However, I also like how you mentioned that you can still find them around and if someone prefers carburetors, they can find them.   I would think that it might be something that only hard-core enthusiasts would try to find, but like you said, it probably comes down to personal preference.  I might need to read more into this topic of auto parts to see if there are any more parts that auto enthusiasts can find.


I just need something that will make my car go faster. I'm sure that there are certain carburetors that are better than others. However, I don't want to spend a fortune. Are their certain brands that work just as well after they are used?


Mike, I love what you said about the carburetor not being the most efficient or newfangled part, but people still love it. I've noticed that people are really drawn to authenticity, which is usually synonymous with old stuff. I love old auto parts like carburetors.


I've never thought about what is the most important car part. However, I can understand why the carburetor would be at the top of the list. My friend and I are fixing up a car I have and we've spent a lot of time on the carburetor. Things just don't work without it.


I am restoring my 72 Camaro and need a fuel injector.  My plan is to make everything under the hood run like new technology, but still have the old school Camaro look.  Would it be wise to get a fuel injector used?


There seems to be a fair amount of information when it comes to carburetors.  Sometimes people may not consider that all the parts in a car serve a specific purpose and if there is a problem with one part, then the whole system may not work.  That being said, there seem to be ways to get auto parts and supplies that would fit almost any car.


These carburetor set ups are really cool! I am in the process of building a car and I would like to put a carburetor system on my car. It would make the car look even more awesome! Does anyone know where I can get carburetor systems like the one's in the pictures?


I'll admit I had no idea what a carburetor was until I read this article. I now know that it is the thing that is usually spits out fire at drag races. I will admit it does look pretty intimidating.


It is really interesting that there are so many details involved with just this one auto part. I can't even imagine what it would be like to learn everything there is to know about all of the different auto parts. That would definitely be a time consuming task, however, it would be really useful. I really respect workers that know this much about cars. They are always able to help you get your car fixed. It is amazing how they always seem to know what the problem is.


These are some great looking pictures of carbs. It may very well be the single greatest auto part for care enthusiasts. My friend is looking for some classic chevy parts and the carb is what he is trying to get his hands on.


I'll have to look into this more.  I'm always wanting to make my car better and get new parts for it.  This might make my car run even better and last longer.


This is some really good information about auto parts. I really like that you include a lot of photos of these car parts. They all seem to be in really good condition and they still look really new. Are any of these second had car parts?


Thanks for posting in detail about these.  It sounds like a good carburetor can have a big impact on your car.  I didn't know that carburetor application can be diverse.  That's good to know.  I might end up getting a new carburetor for me to put in my car.


The pictures seem to do a good job of showing how the carburetor fits into the overall car.   When it comes to things like this, I can imagine that someone would probably want a vehicle with all the parts in working order.  Luckily, it seems like there are services out there that can help should issues arise with a specific part.


I've never thought about my favorite car part before, but I think the carburetor might be at the top of the list. You're right, it really does represent the power and beauty of the entire vehicle. There's a reason an exposed carburetor has been a trend in the past. It's where the raw horsepower comes from.


The car I own actually needs a new carburetor and I've been looking at used cars at my local car dump. There are quite a rare selection of carburetors and most don't even work! The ones you've shown here are quite nice, granted they are probably made just for performance. I need to just find a working one then I'll be set.


I didn't know that the carburetors were so important to the performance of the engine. I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to high performance, but this is really good info. I will be conscious of this when I start building my car.


I definitely agree that carburetors are one of the best parts of a car. They really do have everything in them that we love about vehicles. They have a lot of power and are a huge part of what makes this mode of transportation function. However, I have never really thought about it this way before.


I've never heard of a carburetor. Then again, I'm just now gaining experience in the world of vehicles. It is good to know more about vehicles so you can do repairs and things like that on your own. Where would you recommend finding a carburetor? It seems like a used one might work well, but I can also see how a new one would be useful.


My favorite Speedhunters thread ever! Perfect! Thanks very much for the great photos and perfect assortment of subject matter!


Loves the thread and the photos so much because i'm huge fan of carb setups. 
The way of carb dressing up an engine bay and the sound it makes when you hit the throttle, hmm.. that can't be wrong


I can definitely see how a carburetor could be the best auto part ever. It is such a crucial part to the car. I actually am trying to find a new carburetor for my car. However, they are really expensive. I might just sell my car to a recycling center and take the money that I get from selling it and get another car.


I can definitely see how a carburetor could be the best auto part ever. It is such a crucial part to the car. I actually am trying to find a new carburetor for my car. However, they are really expensive. I might just sell my car to a recycling center and take the money that I get from selling it and get another car.


My husband and I love to fix up old cars and there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of a great carburetor setup. We currently are working on a 1947 Mustang and it has been fun scouring used auto part sales for the parts that we need. It is always the best feeling when you find that part that you have been looking for for ages. I really enjoyed looking at all of these different setups, I know my husband will probably be drooling over them when I show him.


Carburetors are really awesome and I really enjoy working on them with my own car as well. It's funny to me that people actually think that fuel injection is always better. Granted, it is definitely better, but is it more fun and easy to work with? Not really in my opinion, but that's just me.


Carburetors are really awesome and I really enjoy working on them with my own car as well. It's funny to me that people actually think that fuel injection is always better. Granted, it is definitely better, but is it more fun and easy to work with? Not really in my opinion, but that's just me.


I got my carburettor from a wrecker on the Gold Coast in Australia, They did a great job with my Commodore and it now sounds amazing. I got a real performance cars thanks to my friends at Salvage Auto Sales. They specialise in Damaged Commodore HSV VE VF SSV SV6 Omega Gold Coast. Check


Carburettors are my favorite car part, It is at the top of my list. A car with a carburettor have adds power to the entire vehicle. I especially love exposed carburettors.


Carburettors are my favorite car part, It is at the top of my list. A car with a carburettor have adds power to the entire vehicle. I especially love exposed carburettors.


True question "The most efficient way to get somewhere would be taking public transportation or driving a boring gas-sipping economy car, but how many of us would be happy doing that all of the time? " i think none of us..