Cutaways of 5 Fascinating American High Performance V8 Engines

Updated May 18, 2018

There’s nothing more American than a V8 engine. And we have a collection of cutaways of 5 of the most fascinating designs built by American car companies.

Before we even start, you’ll notice that we’ve not included the Ford SOHC “Cammer” engine or the Chevrolet big block. Why? Well, we’ve included the “Cammer” in several article recently, and when compared to the Ford Indy engine described here, it’s not nearly as interesting. And we cover the small block Chevy, so there’s not much different to talk about with the Big Block. Since you’re just scanning this article and not reading it anyway, I fully expect to see comments wondering why we didn’t include those two engines.


Ford “Flathead” V-8

In 1932, car buyers on a budget could really only choose from four- or six-cylinder models, as larger engines were reserved for premium brands. What really set the Ford V-8 apart was that it was the first V8 engine available to those customers. And apart from the price, what they were purchasing was a great deal of ingenuity. To cut down costs, the engine blocks were cast as a single piece, rather than several cat pieced joined together. Rather than an expensive forged crankshaft, the Ford V-8 was cast, then heat-treated in a new process to the same strength. The engine lived on with Hot Rodders as an excellent base for horsepower improvement. Trivia: When French manufacturer Simca bought Ford’s factory in France in 1955, they continued to build the 133 CID version of the Ford  V-8 with OHV heads for installation in their larger cars until 1963.



Chrysler 426 Hemi “Elephant Motor”

The Chrysler Hemi design was revived in 1964 as the NASCAR and Muscle cars wars were heating up. Despite their seeming ubiquity, there were only 11,000 Hemi engines installed in production cars in that era. The real purpose of the engine was to maximize performance under NASCAR rules, which limited engines to two valves per cylinder. The best breathing, especially at high engine speeds, is when the valve are across from each other (rather than next to each other) is a raised combustion chamber. In the cutaway you can follow the pushrods from the camshaft up to the rockers, each operating a separate valve. Check out how the exhaust rocker needed to be longer in order to accommodate the limited space within the engine for pushrods. And on the left side of the engine, you can clearly see the hemispherical (half a sphere) combustion chamber. Neato.



Small Block Chevrolet

There’s no denying it, the Small Block Chevy was a work of genius. As other manufacturers, even other divisions within GM, built larger and heavier engines, Ed Cole and his design team at GM deconstructed the pushrod V8 and developed a design of utter simplicity that was able to achieve multiple, and often conflicting, goals at the same time. It was light, but also strong. It was inexpensive to make, but extremely durable. Its displacement was easily adaptable, but required few part changes to do so. It replaced an engine that was introduced during the Great Depression. But the Small Block remained in production into the 21st century. It powered family sedans with ease. But it also won thousands of races in dozens of different categories on dirt, paved ovals, road courses, and drag strips.



Buick “Nailhead” V8

If you’ve been around cars for even a little while, especially Muscle Cars, you’ll have heard of the Buick “nailhead” motors. Developed in the 1950s when engine speed wasn’t an issue, the “nailhead” designer sought to develop as much torque as possible. The use of small intake and exhaust valves was part of their solution, so small that it’s where the engine earned its nickname – that the valves looked like nails (they didn’t really, but as always great nicknames tend to stick whether they’re correct or not). What really limited the “nailhead” was the geometry of its exhaust port (left side of the engine above). Look at the torturous route the spent gases have to flow and you can see the limited performance potential. However, look at the right side of the motor (intake) and if you squint a bit you can see what many claim was Buick’s original design concept – a Hemi type head with vales on opposite sides of the combustion chamber.



Ford “Quad Cam” Indianapolis 500 Engine

The Indianapolis 500 engine that debuted in 1964 is the adaption of Ford small-block into a full-on racing engine. It was designed to power the sleek new rear-engine Indy cars in the era before wings, where the emphasis was on low drag. This forced the placement of several of the engines components. The exhaust was moved up to the top of the engine, so a proper “bundle of snakes” exhaust could be fitted. (rather than upset the airflow by sticking out of the side of the car). That moved the intake to the side, but rather than placing it on the outside of the head, where it would be close to the track and suck up dirt and debris, the intake was placed between the camshafts.  This created a very wide valve angle, which has fallen out of favor with engine designer, but look at how straight the intake port is. The head was a pent roof design, and check out how the pistons match with the head to create a high compression ratio.





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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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