So what is classic American muscle? Unapologetically tossed about by all different kinds of car people, the term is almost universally understood among today’s automotive enthusiasts.
But what does it mean? Is it simply a bunch of old guys who like to go fast? A generation unwilling to accept that fuel prices have skyrocketed since their heyday?
Maybe it’s the big flashy cars of yesteryear. Or is it something more? To some, it’s a concept, an idea, a way of life. However you define classic American muscle, one thing has always dominated the scene, the eight-cylinder internal combustion engine.
The V8 is an incredible machine. It’s been more than a century since the first one was brought into existence but the same basic design lives on. Two banks of four cylinders, in a “V” shape, forged together an angle of 90°. Due to the nature of this design, the engine is able to run very smoothly.
The combination of piston travel angles and rate of fire allows the engine to absorb its own vibration and redirect the energy into power output.
Another advantage is the number of cylinders involved compared to smaller, less complex engines. Hypothetically, let’s compare the classic V8 to a four cylinder engine of identical displacement. Obviously, this would be difficult in real life. This author knows of no four cylinder engines that rival the displacement of eight-cylinder engines. But bear with me.
Due to the number of cylinders, a four banger with displacement identical to that of a V8 would have to be twice as strong structurally to equal the faithful reliability of its relatively complex counterpart.
It’s simply a numbers game. The V8 has twice as many cylinders firing in a set time period at any given rpm. Because of this, the V8 creates less vibration and mechanical stress with each detonation, and due to the opposing cylinder banks each explosion helps to properly direct the energy of the last.
Of course, there are drawbacks to wielding this sort of mechanical advantage. The increased complexity and number of mechanical components escalates the potential that one of them may fail, rendering the entire contraption absolutely useless.
Even so, there is a large following of people who consider v8 engines to be extremely reliable. And truthfully, even old versions of the concept are known to run properly for many years with minimal maintenance required.
In both classic and modern times, the V8 engine finds itself at home in some of the most popular muscle cars available.
Some classic and contemporary vehicles that are best known for having V8’s are the Chevrolet Camaro, Corvette, Chevelle, Roadrunners, Mustangs, and more.
And it can almost be considered a tradition within the culture of American muscle to put V8 engines in cars that were never even sold with such a thing.
Do-it-yourselfers mastered the intricacies of this conversion many years ago. Will the v8 ever go by the wayside? Normally I would be compelled to say yes, but it seems this magnificent technology might never become outdated.