Feature: Great V8s!

Celebrating the great V8, Wheels looks at some of the most brilliant bent-eight engines to grace the automotive world.

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IT’S BEEN said on more than one occasion that Australia loves V8s but buys sixes. We take issue with that. As long as the vehicle is targeted at enthusiasts, we’re probably going to buy the eight-pot version. Why? Because there’s an inherent rightness about a V8. Even when there’s a V12 option available – think old BMW 8 Series or, latterly, the Bentley Continental GT - the eight cylinder car is usually the smarter buy.

Ford’s Mustang GT has demonstrated that there’s still a ready market here for bent-eight petrol-engined enthusiast cars, with 84 percent of all Mustang sales being mopped up by the five-litre GT over the four-pot Ecoboost. In 2018, the Mustang V8 was Ford Australia’s second biggest selling passenger car behind the Focus. Elsewhere, that split holds true. The fantastic Lexus LC V8 claims 87.5 percent of all LC sales with its identically-priced six-cylinder hybrid sibling claiming the remainder.

The V8 genuinely became part of the Australian automotive fabric fifty years ago. The Holden HT carried over the 2.6 and 3.0-litre sixes from the HK but in May 1969, it also debuted the Aussie-built 4.2-litre and 5.0-litre V8s, replacing the imported Chevy 5.0-litre eight-pot.

Since then, the V8 has endured some tough times. Fuel crises and the imposition of luxury car tax gradually drove the average Australian into ever smaller cars. The Falcon and Commodore were the best-selling cars in 1982, still there a decade later and occupied the top two spots in 2002. Fast forward to 2012 and the Falcon had dropped out of view and the Commodore had been usurped by the likes of the Mazda 3, the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota Hilux. Ford raised a ruckus when it ditched the V8 in the 1984 XF, and didn’t offer a V8 until the S XR8 version of the EB Falcon appeared in 1991. 

The reintroduction of the V8 came as a result of Ford realising that the sales gap which emerged between the Falcon and Commodore in the two years prior to the EB’s launch - about 12,400 cars in all – was entirely made up of Holden V8s. Australia truly did buy V8s.

These days? Not so much, but if you thought the V8 was a dinosaur and that only a handful were left on sale, think again. Alpina, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Brabham, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, HSV, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Maserati, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Morgan, Nissan, Porsche and Toyota all offer V8 powerplants. There’s life in the configuration yet.

To drive a good V8 is to understand why. Whether it’s an atmo V8 like the Lexus RC’s 5.0-litre Yamaha-developed unit or a twin-turbocharged screamer like that in the McLaren 600LT, there’s something definitive about the V8. It’s never the wrong choice. It’s compact and sounds great, whether you choose a cross-plane burbler or a flat-plane screecher. It’s tough, reliable and is always going to paint a big grin on your face. Honestly, there’s not a bad V8 on sale today.

Celebrating the very best is the sort of job we’ll gladly put our hands up for, so we put some of the very finest V8s through the wringer and examined history’s greatest engines. 

Over the coming week, Wheels will examine some of the most compelling bent-eights ever created and conclude with a contemporary V8 party, celebrating the best V8s from Chevrolet, McLaren, Jeep, Ford, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Tune in to www.whichcar.com.au/Wheels every day for more.

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