Is the big displacement V8 engine doomed to be forgotten?
Put simply, yes.
But before you go, we should answer the all important question: Why?
It’s no secret miles per gallon has replaced horsepower and torque as the figure most quoted by salesmen and car advertisements, and there is a reason for this, a reason we are too afraid to admit that it’s real.
Let me ask you. When is the last time you actually went for a drive?
Not to work, school, or getting groceries. Just grabbing the keys and enjoying the spine tingling sensation of a spirited drive, or the soothing experience of cruising on a nice road.
When was the last time you had fun in your car?
Ask this to a gearhead and they will answer “last time I drove”, but ask anyone else, and the reply would go somewhere along the lines of “I don’t like driving” or “my commute is boring” or even the borderline nefarious “I wish I had a self driving car”.
And thus, performance is being neglected in favor of pursuing efficiency, sadly, the V eight engine is not an inherently efficient design, not for today’s standards and needs anyway.
Back in its golden years, the V8, specifically the OHV pushrod variant was the most efficient way of packaging power in a compact unit, and since the MPG craze in America wouldn’t start until the early to mid seventies, engine displacement became the name of the game, and manufacturers turned it into an epic battle of horsepower and quarter mile times, the Muscle car had arrived.
With the 70’s oil crisis, the whole paradigm was disrupted, and fast forwarding to the eighties, the American V8 had become a strangled and underpowered ghost of its former self, the once glorious, fire spitting powerhouses had now become inefficient lumps of pig iron, limited by catalytic converters and undersized carburetors in the quest for meeting emissions and fuel economy standards of the day.
All of this brings us to the seemingly dystopian car world of today, where inline four bangers under 2 liters seem to be the norm, and even though cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with its 4G63 turbocharged engine are capable of well over 500 horsepower, for some reason, some of us prefer our power to come from natural displacement and not a turbocharger.
This preference, accurately described by the “no replacement for displacement” rhyming adage, is deeply rooted in American car culture, and stems from the “go hard or go home” and “better have and not need it than need it and not have it” ideologies, both surefire and effective ways of solving problems, albeit both extremely inefficient. Getting the job done has always been the American way.
The V8 is heading towards oblivion, and there is little we can do about it.
Does that mean the end of performance vehicles?
No, it just means everything is downsizing, from the phone in your pocket that has the computing power of a 5 year old laptop, to a micro SD memory card holding 128 gigabytes, an amount of storage that required a hard drive ten years ago. The same goes for engines, while displacement is getting smaller, power and efficiency are increasing, and someday we will breach the 1000 horsepower per liter barrier, just as we did the 100 hp per liter one.
In the end, we will prefer what makes our cars faster, quicker, and more nimble. Whether that solution comes in the form on a 5.7 liter pushrod eight cylinder or a super high revving one liter 4 banger, each application demands something different, and the V8 will have a home in Drag racing after its public demise and mainstream abandon.