Of course, we don’t think about V8s that way at all. When we think about V8s, we think about one thing above all others: that noise. We all know it when we hear it. There are actually some quite august treatises published in erudite engineering journals that seek to explain exactly what it is about that burble that we find so appealing. They talk about pulses, tones and phases, irregular firing intervals and so on. There doesn’t seem to be much they can agree on, though.
The only common thread apparently linking them all is that, ultimately, no one really seems to know. Or maybe I just don’t know how to read and interpret such lofty literature, and maybe I don’t need to: I have absolutely no idea why the sausages I buy from my local butcher taste better than sausages I buy anywhere else. I just know they do, and that, surely, is enough.
It certainly was earlier today as I was threading my way across rural Wales in the newly revised Ford Mustang, its 444bhp 5.0-litre V8 thrumbling away happily to itself. There is very little I don’t love about this car, but what strikes you most is how the entire car is configured as a support system to that engine.
Other cars aren’t like this: drive an Alpine A110 and you’ll realise within yards that its engine exists as a tool, an enabler you use to make the most of its exquisite chassis. The Mustang is the reverse because, although Ford offers a four-cylinder engine for those poor souls who merely want the image of driving a Mustang, it realised from the day the pony car was invented in 1964 that the V8 has been the key to its character. To drive one without a V8 is to defeat its point as completely as drinking alcohol-free beer or decaffeinated coffee.
And now the V8 is dying. You may look at all those V8-powered Audis, Bentleys, BMWs, Ferraris, Jaguars, Land Rovers, Maseratis, McLarens, Mercedes and Porsches and wonder what I think I’m talking about. And I guess what I mean when I say the V8 is dying, I mean the V8 in its natural and naturally aspirated state. Fitted to cars on sale in the UK, Ford has this one, Lexus has another, Maserati has a third – but only while its ancient Gran Turismo remains in production – and, of course, Chevrolet still uses V8s in the Corvette and Camaro. But that’s it. Time was when every single manufacturer named above (save McLaren, which didn’t exist) had normally aspirated V8s in volume production. They’ve all gone in the interest of the lower on-paper emissions, higher specific outputs and instant-gratification torque curves that turbocharged motors provide. By comparison, that noise is not much of a priority to most, any more than is the samurai-sword-sharp throttle response. You can have the power, torque and noise with supercharging, of course, and Jaguar Land Rover does, but not for very much longer.