There are dozens of ways to build an internal combustion engine, each with advantages and disadvantages. One, however, has proven popular for over 100 years and it is the venerable V8. Here is a short history of this remarkable engine.
What a V8 is
A V8 engine is an eight-cylinder V configuration engine with the cylinders mounted on the crankcase in two banks of four. Most banks are set at a right angle (90°) to each other, some at 45°, 60°, and 72°.
In its simplest form, the V8 is basically two parallel inline-four engines sharing a common crankshaft. Since the 1920s, most V8s have used a crossplane crankshaft with counterweights to eliminate rotational vibrations. This results in an engine that is smoother than a V6, while being considerably less expensive than a V12.
The first V8s
The very first V8 was the Antoinette “8V,” an early French eight-cylinder, liquid-cooled, V engine, produced in 1904. It was a gasoline-fueled, spark plug ignition engine with an early fuel injection system. Rated at 50 hp, it was used on a number of early French aircraft and the Antoinette company’s own Antoinette VII automobile.
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Just a year after the Antoinette 8V engine came into the world, Rolls-Royce developed a 216 cu.in. V8 engine. Interestingly, only three cars were equipped with this eight-cylinder engine before Rolls reverted to a straight-6 design. Evidently, Akins Jeep Ram (Winder, GA) says the V8 engine was a fine design but the straight-6 engines were simpler and easier to build. This is one reason that Jeep stuck with their 4.0 liter inline six for so many years, they say.
The first mass produced V8
Cadillac was the first automaker to mass-produce the V8 engine in any sort of quantity. Called the Type 51 engine, Cadillac’s first V8 was introduced in 1914 and became engine for most 1915 Cadillac models. It was a 90° design with an L-head (sidevalve) configuration and generated an impressive 70 hp. The engine was refined for 1923 with a new split crankshaft that introduced the now standard 90° offset for each pair of cylinders.
The V8 in the 1950s
By the 1950s, the V8 became the most popular engine choice in the United States, with the height of their popularity being in the 1970s, right before the oil crisis came on the scene. To this day, motors with eight cylinders arranged in a V are the go-to configuration for most domestic automobiles.