The V8 Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is a magnificent piece of engineering and is probably the engine with the most character. But before we get into that, a brief history:
The first known V8 engine was built in 1904 and was called the Antoinette
. It was built by Frenchman Léon Levevasseur for use in speedboats and airplanes. It weighed 86kg and had a whopping 37KW (50HP). In the same year, the V8 was put into small-scale production by Buchet and Renault for use in their airplanes and racing cars respectively.
In 1905, the first V8 used in a motorcar was a 3.5L in the Rolls Royce V-8 however, they built three cars before reverting back to straight-sixes. Officially, the 1910 De Dion-Bouton was the first car to use the V8 in large quantities and the 1914 Cadillac ‘L-head’ V8 was considered to be the first mass-produced V8 engine. This engine was assisted by Cadillac’s pioneering use of the electric starter motor.
Since then, the V8 engine flourished in popularity in a range of different sizes and outputs. In the USA, V8s were abundant and aided to the creation of various motorsports – the biggest being NASCAR (which pretty-much only Americans watch). Australia decided to throw their hat into the ring with Holden stuffing V8s into many of their cars, resulting in the popular V8 Supercars racing competition.
The V8 became so popular that people started putting them into cars that really shouldn’t have them. Ford did this a lot. In South Africa, a company did it with the Mustang’s Windsor V8 in the Capri and called it the Capri Perana. Another one of these swaps was with the Sierra XR8 – an incredibly boring hatchback-sedan-type thing with one of the best noises I have ever heard. It’s absolutely glorious!
Europe – not wanting to be left out – produced some of the best V8s in the world, with my absolute favourite being the M156 which was the first in-house engine from AMG. The glorious grumbly noise from the naturally-aspirated engine is just awesome! The same goes for the slightly tuned M159 in the SLS AMG (my all-time favourite car). BMW also have a good history with their V8s, with the most popular versions being in the E90 M3 and the M5 from the E39 generation onwards (excluding the E60 because of the impostor V10).
Jaguar was behind a little bit, but eventually they caughtb the train with their AJ V8 engines which were even used by Ford. Morgan simply decided to ask for engines and thus got a contract with BMW for their 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines. Finally, Aston Martin used the Jaguar engines for its Vantage up until 2018 when they got AMG’s 4.0L for the new model. For the 2020 model year, one can order a V8 Vantage with a manual, making it the only manual application of the AMG M177. Awesome!
Ferrari had their go with the V8 and it worked out brilliantly. From the 308 GTB to the new SF90 Stradale, the V8 engine (along with the symphonic V12) is the exploding heart of the Prancing Horse. Their naturally aspirated V8s are some of the highest revving road-car engines and everyone was suspicious when Ferrari announced they were going turbo-charged. It worked however, and it worked so well that people who drive the cars fitted with these engines say they feel no turbo-lag. The new SF90 has recently set the fastest lap of the Top Gear Test Track, beating the time set by a 488 Pista by 1.4 seconds. Granted, it has the same engine and power-output, but it comes with three extra electric motors, boosting it to 735KW (986HP), around 200KW more than the Pista.
Maserati has also had its history with the V8, harking back to 1964 in the 5000GT. The best of the lot though is the Tipo F136 engine which was a Maserati/Ferrari collaboration. It was used in almost all Maserati’s between 2001 and 2019 – from the Coupe, Spyder and GranTurismo, to the Quattroporte. It was even put in the GranTurismo-based Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione and gorgeous Disco Volante limited production car. Ferrari used it in the F430, California and heavily altered in the 458. The best sounding applications of the engine however, are in the GranTurismo S and the Quattroporte S, where it is 4.7 litres of harmonious glory. I make a point of it to own a GranTurismo in whichever racing game it is featured in just to listen to the noise.
As we all know, Volkswagen owns many, MANY different automakers – particularly Audi, Porsche and Bentley – which uses the same 4.0l Twin-Turbo V8 in their cars, albeit in different states of tune. The coolest applications being in the Audi RS6 Avant, RS7 and new Bentley Continental. Porsche boosts their version of the engine with additional electric motors in the e-hybrid trims for the Panamera and Cayenne, reaching an awe-inspiring 500KW out of it. My question thus is, why not put those versions in the larger Audi RS models? Imagine an RS6, RS7, S8 or even a new R8 with that much power.
The USA is probably the V8 capital of the world with both the crappiest V8s ever made and the most powerful by far. The go-to engine for hot-rodding pretty-much anything is the Chevy LS3 6.2 N/A V8. It is hugely popular and really reliable with its straight-forward and simple design. However, the most popular V8 currently for sale is the Hellcat. A 6.2L Hemi with a HUGE supercharger sticking out the top producing a ridiculous stock power output of 526KW(707HP) and 850NM. Ask a tuning company nicely (and with money) and they’ll put an even bigger supercharger on bumping a 1000HP (750KW). Shocked emoticon. Luckily, we get the Hellcat here in South Africa, but only in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which is awesome, but costs a lot of money.
To think, in the late 70s (during the oil crisis) you could get a 5.0L big-block with an ‘atmospheric’ 112KW. My 1.6L Turbo has more power than that. Even the 4.9L Turbo Trans Am used in the filming of Smokey and the Bandit II needed nitrous oxide boosting to get the desired power out of it. How sad it that?!
Here in South Africa, we have a surprising amount of V8s to choose from – AMGs, Ms, RSs, Rs, SVs, SSs, GTs and VXs. A few years ago, you could even buy the coolest bakkie (pick-up truck), the awesome Aussie Chevrolet Lumina SSV Ute. It had a 5.7L and later a 6.0L with 270KW in stock form. However, if you look for one online now, many of them are supercharged and pushing 400KW (according to the seller that is). Now the only V8 bakkie you can get, is Toyota’s incredibly generic and vastly outdated Land Cruiser 70 with the 4.5L turbo Diesel V8 – producing a pithy 150KW and 430NM – for the astronomical price of almost a million Rand. My dad’s Hyundai Santa Fé produces approximately the same power from its 2.2L Inline-4 Turbodiesel and didn’t even cost a quarter of that!
I’d like to someday soon own a V8, preferably one with 300 plus KW. I have looked around and one could get away with it for under R400K. In that budget, you could get something like a Chrysler 300C SRT, a BMW E90 M3, a Mercedes C63 AMG W204, an Audi RS4 B6, a Chevy Lumina SSV, a Jaguar XFR and even a Maserati Quattroporte (with a lot extra money for maintenance). For a little more than the budget, you could get a Ford Mustang, which would be awesome, as the Coyote V8 grumbles like an American V8 should.
V8s should make you feel special. They should excite your inner petrolhead and make you permanently go BWAHHHH! For me, when I drive behind a car that has a V8 and the person driving leaves his/her right foot on the accelerator just a bit longer than socially acceptable, I get all giddy. The other day, I was walking in town when a Mustang GT and a Jaguar XKR had an impromptu sound-off when they each pulled away from the traffic light. It was marvellous! The low bellowing of the Mustang’s V8 reverberating off the building’s windows and the XKR’s raspy V8 a few pitches higher was absolutely magnificent. Those 40 or 50 seconds of unadulterated noise made my day. I drove back home in the best of moods. I can only imagine my mood the day I actually get to drive something like that.
All this being said, the V8 is fast becoming an extinct species. Governments and environmental institutions are hammering automakers to cut down on their emissions and thus those automakers downsize their engines. This has been happening for the past decade and it is terrible. The beloved Audi RS4 now comes with a Twin-Turbo V6. Big American barges like the Ford F150 Raptor and Lincoln Navigator are fitted with EcoBoost V6s. Performance cars are mutating into shadows of themselves with smaller engines. An excellent example is the new Mercedes C63 AMG. A test mule has been spotted going around the ‘Ring, but no one knows what drivetrain it’s got. The most likely is a 4-cylinder. I’d be really surprised if it retains its V8.
This whole situation is saddening. Yes, I know it’s all to save the planet and I’m all for saving said planet, but ease up a bit on the sports cars. Pretty soon, we’ll all be driving around in electric toasters with grumpy faces, because it doesn’t make a noise or is very exciting to drive.
The only good thing about all this is that we will still be allowed to drive old cars that make stupid noises and burns petrol in glorious explosions whilst we laugh maniacally at the sheer awesomeness that is the internal combustion engine. I know it will be around for a little while longer, but we petrolheads will miss it. Like you’d miss an old loyal dog from your childhood.
So in an effort to not sound too much like Jeremy Clarkson in his review of the V12 Vantage, I’m going to end with this; whilst the magnificence that is the ICE is still around, let’s burn as much fuel making stupid noises as we can, shall we?
©2020 Michael De Kock
Michael de Kock is a recently graduated job-seeking petrolhead nerd, fascinated with avocados and generally quite tall.