One of the most famous engines in the muscle car era was the Chrysler 426 Hemi V8. They conceived it in the early ’50s with an innovative way of constructing the heads of the engine with big, hemispherical combustion chambers and side-mounted valves. This configuration proved to deliver more power, torque, and revs than regular V8 engines. Soon, Chrysler adopted it for most of its cars. The Hemi family started with the 331 CID engine and went all the way to 392 CID before they discontinued it in the late ’50s. However, while looking for racing engines, Chrysler engineers remembered the Hemi. They decided to resurrect it in 1964 as a pure racing engine with 426 CID or 7.0-liters of displacement. The new engine proved to be fantastic for drag racing and on the NASCAR ovals, too.
It didn’t take long for management to understand its commercial potential. So in 1966, the 426 Hemi became a regular production option on selected Dodge and Plymouth models. Compared to other muscle car engines of the period, the Hemi was the king and soon earned the nickname “The Elephant” for its size and power. In street trim, they rated the engine at 425 HP, but it was obvious it delivered around 500 HP straight from the factory. Soon, the Hemi became the most desirable engine for all street racers The last year of the 426 Hemi production was 1971. For five years, they installed around 10,000 engines in Dodge and Plymouth cars, and even in drag racing boats.
The mythical Boss 429 engine is a proper muscle car legend. Ford built the engine in 1969 as a pure racing engine for use in the NASCAR championship. The Boss 429 featured different engine architecture than the rest of the Ford big blocks. The Boss 429 was much wider and had semi-Hemi combustion chambers that helped it achieve higher revs. With better flow inside the head, it produced more power and torque. Although it was factory-rated at 375 HP, in reality, this unit produced over 500 HP, and even more in race trim.
Ford decided to put the Boss 429 engine into the Mustang, creating a limited production Boss 429. However, NASCAR decided not to homologate it since the series only accepted intermediate and full-size cars and the Mustang was a pony car model. So, Ford homologated the Torino Talladega, adding the Boss 429. Ford participated in the 1969 season with Torinos and Mercury Cyclones powered with the Boss 429 engine. Those cars proved successful, winning 30 out of 54 races that year. Ford designed the Boss 429 to run at high RPMs for long periods of time and achieve peak power high in the rpm range. Unfortunately, the Mustang Boss 429 never fulfilled its street racing potential since the mighty engine needed those long superspeedway tracks to reach full power rather than short quarter-mile stretches.
Available between 1965 and 1978, the Chrysler 440 CID V8 was one of the most popular big blocks on the market. It was the last version of the ancient RB big-block V8. This engine was a feature in almost all Chrysler products, from Dodge and Plymouth to Chrysler and Imperial. The 440 was a tough, dependable unit and the performance intake made it one of the best muscle car street engines ever.
The high-performance versions produced 375 HP, but with the “Six Pack” intake system containing three two-barrel carburetors, power output was 395 HP. The 440 V8 was often compared to the Hemi since they produced similar power and they used them in the same models. However, the Hemi was a little more powerful and had much more tuning potential for those serious racers. During the ’70s, the compression levels declined, and so did the power levels. That meant that in 1978, the 440 V8 was just a big engine without power. Even in the “police interceptor” package for 1978, the once-mighty 440 V8 produced just 255 HP.
Chevrolet’s biggest engine was the 454 V8 they introduced in 1970. Chevrolet built it using the 427 V8 as a base, installing it in numerous cars, including the Corvette. When the 454 V8 debuted, the 427 V8 stayed in production, so Chevy had two big blocks to offer.
The 454 was factory-rated at 390 HP. However, for a limited time, Chevrolet offered a 450 HP LS6 version, which was the prime muscle car engine at the time. However, they took one more step beyond the LS6, and that was the LS7. It had a rating of 465 HP, but it was a limited-production item that later moved to the aftermarket crate engine segment. The original 454 V8 was in production until 1976, gradually losing power and torque due to tightening emissions standards. Chevrolet re-introduced the 454 in the late ’80s as their truck engine.
After the 421 and 428 V8, both successful big block power plants Pontiac produced in the ’60s, they presented the mighty 455 V8 in 1970. The engine was similar to other General Motors big blocks, but it had a few important differences.
The biggest difference was the stroke, which was longer than the other engines, making Pontiac’s V8 unit more powerful. Even though the power rating was 370 HP, the 500 lb-ft of torque rating was even more impressive. They installed the 455 V8 mostly in luxury and full-size cars, but the GTO and Firebird Trans Am received it as well. They discontinued the engine in 1976, and in its final phase, it only produced 200 HP.
Buick offered their 455 V8 in 1970. It came with the same displacement as the Pontiac V8, but different technology and construction. The different bore and stroke dimensions, as well as the thin-wall casting, made the Buick unit the lightest of all GM big blocks.
The initial power output was a healthy 350 to 360 HP, but the torque was astonishing 510 lb-ft. That was only 10 more than the Pontiac 455. That meant the Buick 455 officially became the engine with the biggest torque rating in the muscle car class. They installed this unit in the Buick luxury car lineup. Also, a small amount went to the GS, Rivieras, and GSX muscle cars. The engine was discontinued in 1976 when it produced around 250 HP.
Oldsmobile presented its own 455 V8 in 1968, basing it on the Oldsmobile big block like 425. The 455 was an updated version with more bore and stroke and different heads. In comparison to similar engines, the Olds Rocket 455 produced the highest amount of horsepower.
The base Rocket 455 V8 only produced 275 HP, but most of the engines produced 375 HP since they came with four-barrel carburetors. From 1968 to 1970, Oldsmobile produced a performance version of the Rocket 455 for the Toronado GT coupe. It produced 400 HP, which was the biggest officially-rated number. As with other big blocks from GM, they retired the Rocket 455 V8 in 1976. However, Oldsmobile produced a few more units until 1978 for motor homes and various other industrial buyers.
The biggest passenger car engine the Ford Motor Company ever produced was the famous 460 V8 initially designed for Lincoln and Mercury. Based on an old 385 V8 engine, the 460 was thoroughly re-engineered with future fuel and emissions regulations in mind. This made the 460 V8 the first truly modern 1960s big block.
Introduced in 1968 and installed in the Lincoln Continental Mark III coupe, the 460 delivered a solid 365 HP and a healthy 485 lb-ft of torque. They designed it as a luxury car engine and Lincoln was proud of its smooth power delivery and effortless cruising. As with all other big blocks, they phased the 460 V8 out in the late ’70s for passenger cars, but it continued to serve in heavy-duty trucks and motor homes until 1997.
In a relentless quest for performance, power, and prestige, Cadillac introduced the 472 V8 in 1968. It was the biggest passenger engine in the world at the time. The new powerplant replaced the 429 V8, and with 50 more CID came new technology and more power. The 1968 to 1970 472 V8 produced 375 HP and 525 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to deliver lively driving dynamics.
Over the years, the power level went down. The last year for the 472 V8 engine was 1974 when it produced just 205 HP. Sadly, it was just a pale shadow of its former self.
The Cadillac 472 was an enormous, potent engine when they introduced it in 1968. However, GM’s top luxury brand wanted more. So just two years later, the company introduced the mighty 500 V8 with the biggest displacement in the world.
At first, the new engine was exclusive to the Eldorado coupe. But after 1975, it was available in Fleetwood sedans and limousines, and the De Ville, as well as the commercial chassis. The 500 V8 produced 400 HP for 1970 and an astonishing 550 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, this engine was also affected by emissions regulations and low compression. Gradually, it lost power to the point where the once-mighty Cadillac 500 V8 only produced 190 HP. They ceased production in 1977.
In the late ’80s when Dodge started the Viper sports car project, the company didn’t have a proper, high-performance, high-output engine. Back in the day, American car manufacturers just started producing engines with substantial power. The biggest power plant Dodge had was the 5.9-liter V8 that produced 230 HP. The Viper project demanded a bigger, more powerful engine. The Dodge engineers produced a couple of prototypes using the 5.9 Magnum block with two more cylinders, creating the V10 configuration. This engine proved to be promising, so Chrysler decided to develop it for sports car use and for the truck division as well.
The final version grew to an enormous 8.0-liters or 500 CID. Also, the V10 configuration was quite exotic for a mainstream American carmaker. The truck V10 had an iron block and internals to provide torque as well as power along with durability under hard working conditions. The sports car version had an aluminum block and more power for better performance. You may have heard that the V10 in the Viper is the same engine Dodge used in its trucks but that’s not true. They are similar in construction and architecture, but the materials and output are not the same. Also, not many of the components are interchangeable. The first-generation Viper engine produced 450 HP and 490 lb-ft of torque, which were impressive numbers for the early ’90s.
Dodge presented the next generation of the Dodge monstrous engine along with the second generation Viper in 2003. The basic construction was the same, but they updated the cylinder heads, along with the cooling and valve train. The displacement grew to 8.3-liters or 505 CID, and the power climbed to 510 HP. This engine went to the Dodge Viper and also the Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup, making it the fastest truck in the world.
In 2008, Dodge introduced a slightly improved version of the same engine which now produced 600 HP with a slightly bigger displacement at 8.4-liters. In 2013 with the introduction of the last generation Viper model, the 8.4-liter V10 returned but with 640 HP. Unfortunately, Dodge Viper production stopped in 2017, which meant Dodge also stopped producing this fabulous engine as well.
Although the GM powertrain division is among the best in the world, most drivers were surprised to learn about Cadillac’s new Blackwing V8. This is a clean-sheet design and the first twin-turbo unit Cadillac has ever produced. It’s an all-aluminum engine with a modern cylinder head construction. The “Hot V” configuration means the turbochargers are between the cylinder banks.
The engine has a displacement of 4.2-liters and a nominal power output from 500 to 550 HP. This engine is available in only one model, the Cadillac CT6-V, starting from the 2019 model year. This is a limited-production model that magazine testers called one of the best American sedans ever built.
You probably know about the Coyote 5.0-liter in the Mustang and the fantastic Voodoo 5.2-liter V8 in the Shelby GT350, but what’s the new 7.3-liter Godzilla? It’s one of the hottest new V8 engines designed especially for heavy-duty trucks and towing. The 7.3-liter is famous for its unique characteristics and distinctive old-school approach in a modern package.
The 7.3-liter Godzilla V8 is a push-rod, small-block, gasoline V8 engine that looks like it came from the ’60s. But with the latest technologies, state-of-the-art fuel injection systems, modern castings, and electronic engine management, it’s far from vintage. The new 7.3-liter is brutally-dependable, tough, and easy to repair. Surprisingly, it is also economical, powerful, and can last millions of miles. The nominal power figures are 430 HP and 475 lb-ft of torque, but the Blue Oval guys are sure to offer much more from this package.
These 20 influential American engines helped change the car world. Even nowadays, they’re still making an impact on how the major car manufacturers produce engines. While newer engines are coming, the older ones are still powering many cars on the roadways today.