We’re not sure if you have noticed it too, but there seems to be a V8 renaissance happening around the Hutt. Ever since the oil shock days of the 1970’s the V8 engine said everything the economists and environmentalists didn’t.
With crude oil prices predicted to remain above US50 per barrel and the kill-joys in the beehive unlikely to favour lower fuel taxes in the foreseeable future one might think the V8’s days may be numbered. The demise of the Australian vehicle manufacturing and assembly industry removed the ocker falcons and commodores muscle cars many of us owned and enjoyed. We were worried the hearty throb of a V8 might become only a fleeting memory and celebrated in the same way we celebrate a rare glimpses of a operating steam locomotive.
Thankfully the gap seems to have been filled by a selection of new American Ford Mustangs and the occasional Camaro. The Yanks are smart: these new cars sound like V8’s. Like many Americans they’re bold and brash and unashamedly shout their muscularity. These babies were born to be heard.
While the Ford side valve V8 engine introduced in 1932 was acknowledged as a major leap forward, Chevrolet actually beat Ford to the party. Chevy introduced a 4.7L V8 back in 1917 but it didn’t cut the mustard, especially sitting in the Chevrolet Series D, and sales failed to meet expectations. But the glory needs to go to French engineer Léon Levavasseur’s who invented a V8 engine way back in 1902 for use in luxury vehicles of the day. Over the years the big three of the American auto world produced a vast array of V8 engines that powered everything from jetboats to trucks. The added complexity of overhead valves (and camshafts) from the 1950’s onwards was more than compensated by improved performance and fuel efficiency.
Fast-forward to todays car market and some aspects of the modern V8 aren’t too different from 50 years ago. The electronics, combustion, weight and fuel efficiency are all vastly improved but the basic design remains the same. Due to Government-mandated fuel efficiency targets, it looks like the Yanks will manage to get somewhere close to 25 miles per gallon on the road (and remember American gallons are a bit like Donald Trumps hands… smaller than everyone else’s). But you’re never going to pick this engine design for fuel efficency.
As 95 Octane petrol here in NZ floats around $10 per gallon (it’s scary when you work it out in the old measures) the cost of powering a V8 seems to be a pleasure reserved for weekends and fine weather. That’s okay; like a fine wine, we reckon the reverberations of a bold V8 is something to be savoured.