You may be aware that we live in a fast-changing world. This is especially true for cars these days. Automotive innovation is all about alternative energies, software platforms keeping up with your smartphone and artificial intelligence for autonomous driving. Don’t get me wrong – I like innovation, I fancy progress and I care for our environment!
Still, it doesn’t stand in way of progress to make a halt and reflect on how quickly the change is happening. Right now, it is about time to realize that our ole’ friend, the naturally aspirated V8 engine, has already disappeared from automotive manufacturing lines almost entirely!
Time to say good bye to an ole’ friend: The naturally aspirated V8 engine has disappeared almost entirely from new car showrooms around the globe!
Back in 2000, the premium car market was still fundamentally different
Think about this: You need to go back only 20 years in time – to the year 2000, that is – and the automotive world was still FULL of naturally aspirated V8 engines! Just look at typical luxury cars back in the year 2000:
Mercedes offered the E-Class, S-Class, the CL and the SL with naturally aspirated V8 engines, for example in the Mercedes-Benz S430, S500 and S55 AMG.
BMW’s engine choices were very comparable. Think of the BMW 530i, 535i, 540i, 735i, 740i/iL, 840i: All of them naturally aspirated V8 engines.
Then there was the Jaguar XJ8, which offered two choices of naturally aspirated V8 engines: The XJ8 3.2 and the XJ8 4.0 liter. (In fact, this engine was Jaguar’s first V8 ever and it had only been introduced in 1996!)
The luxurious yet sporty Audi A8 also came with a choice of two V8 engines, a 3.7 and a 4.2 liter motor, both naturally aspirated, of course.
And also Cadillac’s flagship of the days, the Cadillac Seville, came with a naturally aspirated 4.6 liter V8 engine.
And a last example in this row of typical luxury cars: The Japanese flagship sedan Lexus LS430, just presented in the year 2000, came with a 4.3 liter naturally aspirated V8 engine.
The above list certainly isn’t complete by any means but I’ll stop counting. You get the point. A classic luxury sedan came with a naturally aspirated V8 engine. This is how it’s been in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s and still in 2000.
By the way: This was the first V8 I ever owned, a 1983 Pontiac Parisienne Station Wagon with a 5 liter V8. It didn’t have too much power (165 hp) but I still loved the concept of the car.
What made the naturally aspirated V8 special and why was it so popular?
The concept of a naturally aspirated V8 came with a number of benefits for a premium car. Just from a technical point-of-view, these are the reasons why this engine concept was so common over many decades (and I’ll make sure to keep it brief):
- Good balance of power, torque and economics: Eight cylinders allow for large engines with large combustion chambers, generating plenty of torque if desired. At the same time, it was much lighter than a V10 or V12 engine. It was sort of the “golden middle” for premium cars.
- Low vibrations: The number of cylinders combined with the V-shape allow power strokes to occur closer together and minimize vibration. Especially with the (rather large) 90° angle, the V8 has a really good engine balance.
- Relatively space saving: Compared to more traditional “in-line” arrangements of cylinders, it was a compact way to build a big engine. A V8 block only has four cylinders in a row, while e.g. an inline six cylinder has, well, six in a row.
- High conceptual flexibility: It could be quite small or rather large, depending on the application. The range of typical displacements in passenger cars varied from 3.0 liters (e.g. BMW 730i with V8) up to over 7.0 liters (e.g. AMG 7.3) – quite a range! (By the way, the 1975 Ferrari 208 GT4 had an even smaller V8 at 2 liters of displacement, making it the smallest production V8 in a passenger car.)
- Robustness: Compared to engine size, the naturally aspirated V8 engines often had a lower power output per liter of displacement than other engine concepts. In consequence, such engines were often very robust and long living.
And another point, not so technical, but most likely just as relevant: A V8 engine just has a very special sound to it. It’s an instantly recognizable rumble that petrolheads know and love! It may be hard to capture the real-life emotion on video, but here is a video in which you can listen to the sound of two Mercedes 500 SL (both with a 5.0 liter V8) and a 600 SL (6.0 liter V12).
Last man standing: The last production cars with naturally aspirated V8 engines
The naturally aspirated 8 has disappeared almost completely from production. It went so fast you may not even have noticed.
Actually, after some research I could only come up with three engines in the world that are still naturally aspirated V8. And all of them are legacy cars which are about to disappear soon, too. They are:
- The Chevrolet 6.2 liter V8 called LT2 engine, used across the range in the Corvette, the Camaro and others. They are (quite rightly) so proud of it they put it behind a glass door in the Corvette!
- Ford Mustang 5.0 liter V8 with 460 hp (but announced to disappear in the soon future)
- Lexus RCF V8 with 464 hp
That’s it. Period. As of today, there are (to the best of my knowledge) no more cars produced with naturally aspirated V8 engines!
Where do we go from here?
While we all don’t have a crystal ball, the following statements seem to be fairly safe from my perspective:
- Increasingly strict CO2 emission legislations in Europe and around the world threaten to burden the automotive industry with billions in penalty payments. The only way for automotive manufacturers to survive: Shift the product portfolio from conventional to electric and hybrid vehicles as quickly as possible (and later also hydrogen etc.).
- Therefore, naturally aspirated V8 engines won’t come back (and neither will the naturally aspirated V12, for that matter). We will instead see new, technologically more sophisticated engine concepts. A good example is the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz S500 which comes with a 3 liter six cylinder with 435 hp, supported by all kind of smart electronic stuff.
- While the world is changing rapidly, driving premium cars will still be lots of fun in future. I am aware that some of us have their doubts in this department. However, I am absolutely certain that the generations to come will still enjoy driving hybrid, electric, hydrogen or whatever future type of engine cars. After all, the above mentioned Mercedes S500 may have the “smallest” engine of all S500 Mercedes’ in the last 40 years, but it is also the fastest one AND at the same time the most economic one. Gives you something to think about…
For the sake of completeness, I support the need to change mobility concepts in order to stop pollution and global warming. If we want to keep the masses of people mobilized, we need alternative solutions soon. However, this needn’t prevent us petrolheads from maintaining a few classic V8 cars to still enjoy them in future. While we all embrace the need for change, they give us a chance to sort of sneak back to the good old times every now and then 🙂
In this sense, maintain yourself one (or more) of tomorrow’s classic cars with a good, solid V8 engine and keep enjoying it!