Is an American or Italian V8 Engine More Powerful?

While the automotive industry uses a variety of engines, an eight-cylinder engine, the V8, has become the most iconic. In addition to a reasonable fuel efficiency level, V8 engines offer a nice mix of high output and torque. Used in everything from pickup trucks to supercars, nothing beats the V8 in noise, presence, and character.

Some of America’s most famous and beloved muscle and sports cars, from Ford, General Motors, and Dodge, have had powerful V8 engines. Similarly, automakers worldwide have used V8s to give customers untameable levels of power. Brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati have been using V8 engines to power some of the most iconic creations in the Italian supercar game. 

The differences between American and Italian V8 engines

A 1969 Plymouth Road Runner with a V8 engine on display at Hot August Nights Custom Car Show in Reno, Nevada
1969 Plymouth Road Runner with a V8 engine | Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, which V8 engines are more powerful, American or Italian? They say there is more than one way to skin a cat, and the popular aphorism holds concerning engines. American and Italian automakers use two different approaches to build their V8s. The result is some general differences between the two engine builds, without one being necessarily more powerful than the other. 

Let’s break down these differences to determine if the American or Italian V8 engines are more powerful.

Size/Displacement

According to HotCars, American V8 engines are usually bigger than Italian V8 engines, though this is not always the case. Generally, the bigger the engine, the more fuel and air it can push through, hence more power. Still, the size doesn’t always mean more power, especially with turbochargers now commonplace in Italian V8s.

Torque 

Building on the previous point about the engine size, American V8s tend to have more torque than Italian V8s due to being bigger. However, this is not always true for any given pair of engines. We’ve seen turbocharged Ferrari engines with more torque than their American counterparts despite the latter being bigger.¬†

RPM 

Italian V8s generally rev higher than American V8s. American V8 engines are usually large, which provide gobs of power due to sheer size, but can’t rev as high as smaller engines usually due to the massive size of the rotating parts. For examples, see the most powerful American V8s, highlighted by Fox News

V8 engine crankshaft design

Most Italian V8 engines have flat-plane crankshafts, named so because, from the end, they look flat. They are basically two four-cylinder engines sharing the same engine bay. All the throws are on the same plane or 180 degrees from each other. Since each cylinder bank acts independently, the crankshaft doesn’t need balancing with heavy counterweights. The result is a lighter, quicker, and higher-revving engine.

On the other hand, traditional American V8s use a cross-plane crankshaft. When you look at it from the end, it looks like a cross or a +, hence the name. The crank has four pairs of two-cylinder cylinders each. The cross planes throw every 90 degrees apart and use a heavy counterweight to offset the rocking vibrations caused by plane imbalances, resulting in slower revving engines.

Sound 

Any car enthusiast will recognize the sound of an American V8, even at a distance. The design of the crankshaft is the main reason American and Italian V8 engines have distinctly different sounds. The cross-plane crankshaft design gives American V8s a deep rumble that makes for excellent torque. The flat-plane crankshafts on Italian V8s result in the telltale high rpm whine.

As you can see, there are quite a few differences between American V8 engines and their Italian counterparts. The philosophy of American automakers has been primarily to generate power through displacement, while the Italians seem to lean more toward higher RPM with higher flow rates. They are both great, and it’s hard to conclusively state which is more powerful.

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