Henry Ford was backed into a corner.
It was late in the 1920s, and both Plymouth and Chevrolet had modern cars with new six-cylinder engines. Ford, however, was still plugging away with the long-in-the-tooth four-cylinder Model A. Chevy, in particular, was eating big chunks of Henry’s lunch. He knew he had to do something drastic.
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He charged his best engineers to design a low-priced V8 motor with a one-piece cylinder block. Previous V8 designs had two or more sections, making them very labour intensive to build, and consequently, expensive.
The resulting motor displaced 221 cubic inches (3.6-litres), made 65 hp, and debuted in the 1932 Ford I8 (soon to be known and loved as “The Deuce”).
Reliability didn’t come overnight, but when it did, so did V8 love on a large scale. The mass-produced V8 was on its way to becoming the bedrock of the American auto industry, and an American icon.
Fast forward to the 2011 model year, and we see that Ford has once again done some heavy thinking about the V8. The current and best-selling F-150 full-size pickup has flaunted its “all V8” powertrain choices for some time now, but 2011 sees it embrace a new vision — two new V6s, and two new V8s. It’s the most extensive powertrain overhaul in the truck’s 62-year history.
If you look at the numbers, it’s obvious the V6s can do the job and then some — and they promise “better-than-V8” fuel economy (though the new V8s also boast improved efficiency). This portends a “V6” sea change for the full-size pickup market, one of the last strongholds for V8 power.
But the inclusion of the new 5.0-litre V8, which also sees duty in the 2011 Mustang GT, speaks volumes about the continuing allure of the V8 engine. V8s will never be totally eclipsed by the “super” V6s, even in the certainty of more stringent CAFE fuel efficiency standards, which has already started to thin out the V8 herd.
In addition to Ford’s new V8 initiatives, GM is investing $839 million to upgrade a plant to build new all-aluminum V8s.
While turbo V6 engines do well on the EPA cycle, in the real world, some consumers can achieve equal fuel efficiency with their V8s, and prefer the V8’s smoother torque delivery.
And they just plain sound better… puck-a, puck-a, puck-a (or something like that).
Speaking of sounds good, some argue that the first rock and roll song ever is Rocket 88, which literally sings the praises of the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, with its new and powerful Rocket V8 engine. Would we even have rock and roll if Oldsmobile had instead introduced the Rocket 66?