Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

PER­HAPS THE BEST day I’ve ever had at Wheels is one I’ve never writ­ten about. It was at Sandown, years ago, and through some bizarre fluke of cir­cum­stance, I found my­self with an empty cir­cuit and two cars at my dis­posal – an elec­tric blue Lexus LFA and a red Mercedes-amg C63 507 wagon.

I’ve been think­ing about that af­ter­noon a lot this month, try­ing to un­der­stand why those few hours – spent mostly at 9000rpm in the Lexus and on the lock-stops in the de­ranged Benz – were so sem­i­nal. It was the en­gines, of course. For all the LFA’S and the AMG’S dy­namic tal­ent, it’s not the steer­ing feel or the han­dling poise that comes back. It’s how they be­haved un­der full load, how each donk dic­tated the char­ac­ter of the car and, most no­tably, their soundtrack­s – the fizzy, ef­fer­ves­cent shriek of the LFA’S highly strung V10, com­pli­mented by the AMG’S deep, lazy bari­tone.

It’s th­ese mo­ments, th­ese fleet­ing sen­sa­tions, th­ese flashes of ana­logue con­nec­tion, that Wheels is cel­e­brat­ing this month with our cover story, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on the en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion that, ar­guably, is the great­est of them all: the V8.

Is there an­other ar­range­ment of cylin­ders that res­onates so strongly with en­thu­si­asts? Or one with such a flex­i­ble blue­print and such a wide personalit­y? Big, wet and lazy; cammy and throbby, they can also be tiny-ca­pac­ity, high-revving scream­ers. I once stood in the tun­nel at Monaco dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for the GP and ex­pe­ri­enced such a bar­rage of noise and vi­bra­tion and fre­quency from the 2.4-litre V8s that it felt as though I’d been punched in the ster­num. And don’t get me started on my ears; I’m fairly sure they’re still re­cov­er­ing.

There are more ex­otic en­gines, of course. In the game of cylin­der top trumps, the V10 and V12 have the hum­ble V8 licked, and they have rar­ity on their side, too. Un­less you own one, part of the al­lure of driv­ing an LFA or an Aven­ta­dor or an 812 Su­per­fast is the un­der­ly­ing un­der­stand­ing that you might never get an­other chance to do so.

But where th­ese cars are re­served only for the rich and the very lucky, the V8 is the every­man’s per­for­mance en­gine. It’s found all over the globe, in pick-up trucks, sedans, coupes, utes, in rac­ing cars and in high­per­for­mance ha­los. And in al­most ev­ery in­stal­la­tion, it will feel un­burstable. There’s some­thing in­her­ently sat­is­fy­ing about a V8’s abil­ity to marry big-ca­pac­ity low-end torque with gen­uine topend mus­cle. And let’s not for­get about the noise. For all the LFA’S den­tist-drill in­ten­sity, my mem­ory of the C63’s deeper sound­track, as it boomed through the cabin, is just as pow­er­ful.

It’s dif­fi­cult to ex­plain why ex­actly, but there’s some­thing about a V8 sound­track that ap­peals to our base instincts in a way no other con­fig­u­ra­tion seems to. Add more cylin­ders and the sound starts to blend to­gether. Take cylin­ders away and the thrash­ing of the pis­tons is more ob­vi­ous, more rau­cous, and less pleas­ing to the ear. Even at idle a V8 is dra­matic, its unique con­fig­u­ra­tion de­liv­er­ing that gen­tle, and strangely com­fort­ing, side-to-side mo­tion.

There is, per­haps, an­other rea­son I’ve been pon­der­ing that day at Sandown. As for­mer ed­i­tor Stephen Corby mused only a few months ago, one can’t help but feel that the glory era of the V8 as we know it is wan­ing.

In this tran­sient age of EVS and au­ton­omy, it seems we can’t dis­cuss any piece of proven tech­nol­ogy with­out ques­tion­ing its fu­ture, though re­as­sur­ingly, the news from the peo­ple who make the de­ci­sions about th­ese things is bullish. To­bias Mo­ers, who heads up AMG and is equal parts fuel-gur­gling bo­gan and per­for­mance-car ge­nius, is un­equiv­o­cal that the V8 is here to stay. What’s likely to change is how it’s de­ployed. You only need to read our news piece on Fer­rari’s new 736kw su­per­car to re­alise the V8’s fu­ture is likely to in­volve elec­tric­ity in some way or an­other. But for now, it’s still pos­si­ble to revel in the way things were, to ap­pre­ci­ate the de­bauched un­couth­ness and bravado that’s so cen­tral to an old­school V8’s ap­peal. And that’s ex­actly what you should do, by turn­ing to page 60.

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