The magic of a V8.

The magic of a V8. There is nothing as evocative of fast cars than the throb of a big V8 motor.


Casting my eye over the latest incarnation of the Editorial NAS 90 lookalike at the LRW Show, it occurred to me that it is more the evocative noise of the V8 than it’s actual power that is so desirable. In truth, a Tdi engine with a bigger intercooler is as fast and uses half the fuel, but does not make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up! There is nothing quite like that low purposeful, bass drum like burble which, when revved, becomes an aggressive growl. Grown men can be heard imitating it by flicking their tongue up and down over their top lip in a loose cheeked mouth, whilst letting out a guttural groan! That distinctive noise comes directly from the engine’s design. The Rover V8, born of Buick in 1961, has a cross plane crank. If you were to look at the crank from one end it’s big end journals are at 90º to each other and would form a cross. This design is naturally well balanced and the firing order creates the distinctive beat. The other design of V8, favoured by Grand Prix and supercar engine designers has a flat plane crank, with journals at 180º. Harder to balance, but able to rev far higher, giving a ‘wap, wap’ noise that sounds fast even at tickover. 


As a car mad lad itching to get my license back in 1969, any V8 was exotic, when the height of tuning was fitting a pair of twin SU’s to your Morris 1000. After watching the film, American Graffiti, my pal John and I just had to have a V8 and found a rusty Daimler 250 V8 to ‘do up’. Daimler made two versions of this beautiful, hemi headed, engine. The 4.5 litre, fitted to the Majestic Major saloon and the 2.5 litre fitted to the SP 250 (Dart) and the 250 V8. With it’s cross plane crank design this one made all the right noises through it’s blowing exhaust.  My next acquaintance with Daimler engines was at a club trial sometime in the mid seventies, when an 80 inch competed with considerable success using this light, but powerful 2.5 Daimler V8. The Rover V8 then being beyond the reach of most.



The first Rover V8 engine I saw tucked under the bonnet of an 80 inch was built by Keith Kennington and pitched up at a Peak & Dukeries Trial in about 1975. Keith was a perfectionist and we all watched in awe as he unleashed the full power of his immaculate white 80 inch on a hill climb. The rest of us competing with the old 2 litre ‘F’ heads had a glimpse of the future and it looked expensive. It took Land Rover until the 1990’s to twig that there was a demand for some kind of Land Rover hot rod and even then they denied the home market access to it by only releasing the NAS Spec 90 in the States. At about the same time, I had an invitation to join a handful of other journalists to drive, what Land Rover’s Press Office called, The Hannibal Trail, across the Alps. We assembled in an Hotel in Val d’Isere and despite it being July, the weather was distinctly chilly at that altitude. Most journalists opted for the warmer Range Rovers and Discoveries, but myself and another stalwart chap asked for the NAS 90, even asking the staff to remove the soft top. The 3.9 engine and auto ‘box were a delight as we purred across bits of Alp. Even as rain set in at about 8,000 feet our grins were still in place. Hannibal himself must have suffered similar weather as most of his elephants perished in the cold climate of the high Alps.



My next brush with a V8 was when I bought my Carawagon about 10 years ago. The previous owner had lavished a fortune on a new chassis and engine transplant, the V8 being liberated from a Rover 3500S. It’s thirst for four star lugging all that weight about was astounding. On my first trip, to southern Italy, it used £1000 worth of petrol! My only reward was to roll the windows down through the Monte Blanc tunnel and gun it in third. The sound was probably loosening the mortar in the brickwork, but it put a smile on my face. Once home the hunt began for a diesel engine and once found I sold the V8 to a chap who had plans to fit it to a Series 3 racer he was building. I clinched the deal by producing a short video of the engine in use, editing a close up of the speedo on 80 mph with a close up of the exhaust pipe emitting that wonderful burble.



July 2007



The NAS 90 high in the Alps .


Toby’s Carawagon under V8 power in southern Italy.


Toby’s pal, John, trying to reach the rear of the Daimler V8 engine!