What inspired Ford to build the V8 engine?
In 1930, Henry Ford set out to refashion the automobile industry by revitalizing an older invention: the V8 engine. This was at the beginning of the Great Depression, when the economy of the United States was very poor and even the elites did not often endow themselves with new wheels. Not only were the times hard, but the mechanics of the engine Ford demanded from his engineers seemed downright impossible.
With all these odds stacked against him, only one thing fueled Mr. Ford’s resolve. He simply couldn’t stand losing to Chevrolet, the company that had cornered the market with their V6 model. The reasonable option would have been to follow suit and build a similar model, but Henry had proved time and time again that he was a leader, not a follower. It had to be a V8 or nothing. And not the normal fused V8s already in play; his had to have more character!
What edge did the Ford V8 have over older V8 models?
Those close to Ford understood his Edisonian methods of trial and error, as opposed to designing his products using logic and reason backed by the laws of physics. His engineers kept at it, and on March 31, 1931, they ushered in a new era in the automobile industry. The engineers had thumped life into Ford’s blueprint by crafting a V8 engine which was cast entirely in one piece, and at a price the general public could afford. This feat had earlier been deemed impossible by the very same engineers.
The Ford V8 engine was hardly the first 8 cylinder V configuration engine, but it beat the rest on cost and efficiency. Viking and Oakland had tried to create a similar monoblock V8 design, but it was no good. Cadillac had been selling V8 engines since 1915, but at a costly price. Leon Levavasseur had paved the way for this kind of technology in 1902 with his Antoinette series. At the time, they were only used in aircraft.
All the older V8 engines had one thing in common: they were made by assembling two or three blocks, then bolting them together. Essentially, this multiplied the resultant shaking rather than lessening it. The shaking produced vibrations that could result in engine breakdown and displacement. Another major drawback was the time the manufacturing ate up when all the parts had to be welded to become one. Critically speaking, the high cost was mainly attributed to the logistical nightmare of assembly rather than the cost incurred in sourcing materials.
Ford remedied this by not only improving on the design but also doubling down on mass production of the engines. They were faster, smoother, and more durable, and all this was at bargain prices! It was for these reasons that the Ford V8 was seen as pushing the borders of contemporary technology.
The birth of a new automobile era!
In the wake of this new innovation, the economy had started healing from the Great Depression. People were now open to buying a new car, and not sticking with the run-of-the-mill clunkers they’d been driving. They had to have the Ford Flathead V8 engine. Henry Ford had achieved the unattainable by putting Americans on a fast roadster at a bargain-basement price.
The fascination launched by these cars was incredible. These cars had an equalizing effect: everyone from a bank robber to an aristocrat had the same kind of wheels. John Dillinger, a bank robber, personally wrote a letter to Henry Ford thanking him for providing his fastest getaway car, while at the same time Ford received acclaim from the elites John stole from.
Cars were no longer seen as mere tools for transportation, though that was enchanting in its own right. The Ford V8 engine set in motion the first American motorsport races with original hot rods. One man with one idea had revolutionized the automobile industry.
What impact does the Ford V8 have in the motor industry today?
It would be far-fetched to claim that the modern motor industry was built on the back of Ford’s V8 engine, but there’s some truth to the idea. More than 80 years have gone by, and here we are, still marveling at his creation. Many parts makers, such as Edelbrock and Offenhauser, still make the original V8 parts. John Deere also uses them in trucks.
More recently, the Ford Flathead V8 has been part of a resurgence in high-end cars. It’s been incorporated into the Porsche 928, the E39 BMW M5, and the Jaguar XKR. These cars are high-powered, offering an exhilarating drive. The horsepower provided by the Ford V8 engine has allowed it to make its way into the most expensive sport utility motors. These are the kind of cars that have been known to make headlines on Top Gear and Formula One.
Unlike during the 1930s, where a V8 was readily available to the masses, not so many people can afford to purchase and run a V8-powered car today. The cheapest models retail for about $39,000. This is way above what most folks can afford. The cost of maintenance is also high, and the cars require a lot of fuel to run seamlessly.
The motor industry has about 150 V8 powered car models. Of these, most are exotic. They include the likes of Ferrari, Ford, Chrysler, Bentley, and an array of four-wheel drives. Despite the heavy price tags, the demand for these V8-powered cars seems to be increasing every year. They have set the standard for performance coupled with luxury in large cars.
With the world becoming more environmentally friendly, V8 cars are facing a challenge in this regard. The green credibility of electric cars gives a boost to that class of vehicles, while many bash V8-powered cars for being more polluting. Manufacturers are hoping to invest in more efficient V8 models that will reduce global pollution. It’s because of environmental concerns that most V10 and V12 models were discontinued.
Excessive gas usage has caused the demise of many vehicle models, and I predict a similar fate for V8 engines. This will not happen, however, for many years to come. The utterly primal feeling of owning an echoing, boisterous V8 is unlikely to fade away soon. Most love it for its high performance, but a few, like me, adore its rich history. Either way, the Ford V8 engine has dug deep roots into the automobile industry, and it will take more than a new, cutting-edge technology to undo this.