Who Invented the V8 Engine?

by Rob Wagner
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Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation

Frenchman Leon Levavasseur was a 39-year-old inventor in 1902 when he took out a patent for the first V-8 engine he called the Antoinette. The V8 since then has become the most reliable and efficient internal combustion engine to power automobiles and to see extensive use in power boats and early aircraft.


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The Antoinette, so named after the daughter of Levavasseur's financial backer, enjoyed a brief run between 1903 and 1912 powering monoplanes, racing boats and early passenger cars using lightweight 25- or 50-horsepower V8s. Levavasseur witnessed his invention become the most popular engine in automotive history, but died in 1922 before seeing the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler perfect it.


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The V8 engine today is the standard powerplant for most rear-wheel-drive luxury cars, pickup trucks and sports cars, and also led to the creation of the more economical V6.


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The V8 is an eight-cylinder engine with twin banks of four cylinders mounted on the crankcase at a 90-degree angle and driven by a single crankshaft.


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The powerplant was originally designed for aviation and marine vehicles, but was quickly applied to the automobile and for large industrial uses.


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Perhaps the most important improvement of Levavasseur's invention is Henry Ford's one-piece version with a down draft carburetor application. It remained unchanged for nearly 20 years until Chrysler developed the hemispherical "Hemi" V8 and experimentation began on fuel-injected motors.


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Under the hood the V-shaped angle of the eight cylinders identifies the V8, while from the outside the 1932 Ford and the 1952-59 De Soto coupe were always V8-powered.


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With some rare exceptions, the V8 does not fall below the 2.7-liter displacement size, with the smallest European import BMW series 501, 502 and 503 coupes and sedans at 2.7 and 3 liters, and the largest 1965-79 M100 Mercedes-Benz sporting 6.3- and 6.9-liter engines.

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