V8 engines are the ultimate in production automobile engines. They have the power and the acceleration that can make a car really take off. For many years V8 engines and American cars were naturally associated. These days, however, V8 engines are limited to those who want high performance from their vehicles. They’ve become too expensive to run for most people with the increase in gasoline prices.
V8 engines were patented in France in 1902, but it was 1914 before the engine was first used in American vehicles, in the Cadillac. Ever since that time, V8 engines have virtually been the trademark of the Cadillac. Able to pull heavy loads and go fast, for several decades most American cars used V8 engines, and in the early days of the interstates, they were ideal for covering long distances at high speeds.
More recently they’ve been replaced by smaller engines with better fuel economy and lower emissions as other concerns have become more important. Advancing technology has also meant that smaller engines can pack as much power as V8 engines.
How It Works
V8 engines use two banks, each one containing 4 cylinders. This design means that the two banks are balanced, so the engine operates smoothly and with low vibrations. As a general rule, V8 engines will be at least 3 liters, as they produce plenty of power. The banks are usually set at 90 degrees to each other, although at times the angle will be more acute, depending on the particular design. The narrowest recorded angle is 14 degrees on a 1922 Lancia.
The greatest disadvantage to V8 engines is their fuel consumption. Compared with other engine sizes it’s outrageously high and hence quite inefficient. The sheer size of V8 engines means they can only power rear wheel drive vehicles as they need to be mounted longitudinally. The only exception is the compact V8 engine, which has been mounted transversely; these require special designs of both engine and car.
V8 engines weigh a great deal. This adds to the overall vehicle weight and its fuel consumption. These days V8 engines have become much more of a niche market, limited to those who want to haul large loads in pickup trucks, or want to be able to go fast.
The relatively straightforward design of V8 engines means that they’re fairly simple to understand, to use, and repair. Unlike the V6, there are fewer parts, so the possibility of breakdown is decreased. V8 engines pack a lot of power, with strong acceleration and top speed. With a V8 engine in a full size pickup truck, you can haul a great deal of weight.
These days you’re mostly going to find V8 engines at the sportier end of the market, where one of the attractions is power. On the road they’ll mostly be on vintage cars, where they were necessary to pull the much larger vehicles of the day. You’ll also find V8 engines in racing cars of all kinds, where they’re necessary in order to compete.