Ford flathead V8
Ford’s Model T revolutionized the way American’s drove, and the Ford flathead V8 changed just how fast we were able to get there. Although the Ford “flatty” was not the first V8 or even the first mass-produced V8 it was the first one that was readily affordable to the general population. At last, an average family was able to afford a car that could go 60 mph! Model Ts were only able to do about 40 mph.
The Ford flathead got its name since the valves are seated in the block and the head is a perfectly flat “lid” that would simply bolt onto the deck. Ford’s flathead configuration gave up a lot by the way of valve efficiency but easily made up for it in its simple design and cost. Introduced in 1932, Ford kept it in production in the U.S. until 1953 and was found in German trucks until 1973.
Duesenberg straight eight
The Duesenberg J was probably the greatest American classic car ever manufactured. These regal, two-tone locomotives of lacquer and chrome were the pinnacle of the automotive world when new. Unfortunately, they were built at the beginning of the Great Depression and priced at $15,000, the cars were about 5 times what a doctor would make in a year.
The 6.9-liter engine was made in 3 versions from 1928 until 1937. The naturally aspirated model put out an impressive 265 hp. Duesenberg also made 36 supercharged cars that had a whopping 320 hp each and could reach speeds of over 125 mph. The SSJ was the ultimate version of the car and put out nearly 400 hp. Only two were ever made: one was for Gary Cooper, and the other for Clark Gable.
MoPar Street Hemi
The Hemi name is based on its hemispherical combustion chambers. The design was chosen by Chrysler because it allowed for fitting larger valves than normal but still adhere to NASCAR’s two-valve-per-cylinder mandate. These widely splayed valves sported equally wide valve covers that emphasized the true girth of the engine. The Hemi was MoPar’s largest, most hardcore, most powerful and most expensive engine of the time. Many called it the “elephant motor” due to its daunting physical size.
The Hemi had a short life in production cars lasting just five years between 1966 and 1971. In the end, tough emissions regulations and unleaded gasoline put an end to the Hemi, and it never returned in dual-quad form.
Although the Cummins 6BT was originally launched in 1984 it didn’t make it to the inside of a road-legal vehicle until 1989. That’s because the big 6BT was originally designed for farm equipment, with zero intent towards passenger vehicle implementation. Dodge made the decision that the 6BT would be the perfect engine to offer in its three-quarter and one-ton trucks starting in 1989. The 6BT displaces 5.9 liters and was boosted by a Holset turbocharger. The output ranged between 160 and 210 hp depending on the variant of the engine with torque between 400 and 440 lb.-ft. The Cummins was created to do the hardest work that an engine could handle. 6BT’s were designed to last 350,000 miles with only basic maintenance, and a few lasted even longer than that, making it one of the longest-lasting passenger vehicle motors ever made.
Chrysler Slant Six
Chrysler’s slant six, the leaning tower of power, was canted 30-degrees to one side to give designers a lower hood line. This allowed the cars to sport a sophisticated exterior but left the six looking rather odd under the hood. Nevertheless, the thrifty pushrod six soon gained a loyal following. The slant makes a very distinct sound while idling because it had a solid-lifter camshaft until 1983; about 20 years after others had completely abandoned the technology.
Chevrolet small-block V8
I saved my favorite for last. The small-block Chevrolet is what truly defines American V8s. Everyone knows someone that owns one. Maybe you even own one yourself; I own two. That’s because since it was first introduced back in 1955, GM and its subsidiaries have made over 100 million small-block V8 engines. The pushrod V8 is easy to work on and easily modified to give more power. Modern drag racers have been known to squeeze over 2,000 horsepower from GM’s design. The small-block Chevy has powered Le Mans class-winning race cars and is found in bread vans, compact cars, sedans, pickup trucks and everything in between. The small-block was eventually superseded by the LS V8 but enthusiast have kept a demand for the engine and you can still purchase a brand-new, small-block, crate-motor from GM today.