The V Engine

In 1889 Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler designed and built the first V engine; a two-cylinder motor that had a measly 4hp at 900rpm. He surely would never had imagined the success of the mighty V engines in future years to come.

Simply put, an engine in a V configuration has its cylinders set in opposing positions on the crankshaft. They commonly have an angle between 60-90 degrees between them. When viewed inline with the crankshaft, the arrangement of the cylinders create a distinct V shape, hence the name.

Design

The two most major parts of a V engine is the crankcase, and the cylinder banks.

The cylinder banks attach directly to the crankcase which, unsurprisingly, contains the crankshaft. In modern engines the crankcase and cylinder banks are usually cast or machined as one piece which is known as the ‘block’. This is basically the structural foundation of the engine and needs to be very strong, yet light.

A V8 engine stripped down to just the block.

The cylinder banks are the rows of cylinders on the engine. The banks mount opposite each other on the crankcase and the angle in between gives the V engine its V.

This angle is hugely important to the function of the engine.

The areas highlighted in blue are the cylinder banks.

Inside an engine, the momentum of the pistons moving up and down generate a huge amount of force. This force, if left unchecked, will violently shake the engine. The forces can be cancelled out however, by timing one pistons movements with another.

The angle of the V can help with this timing and balance the engine with the optimal crankshaft rotation between firing.

On top of each cylinder bank in the cylinder head is the cam shafts. The cam shafts operate the engine valves, timing the correct release of fuel and air into the cylinder, and drawing out exhaust gasses.

A double overhead camshaft (DOHC) arrangement on an inline engine would mean 2 cams in total. On a V engine a DOHC system would have a total of 4 cams as there is two per cylinder bank.

The double overhead camshafts can be seen on this 6.2 L AMG V8.
Image by User Alofok CC BY-SA 3.0

The method of driving the cams has evolved over time, with most V engines now using either a timing belt or chain system. The two banks with either one or two cams each can make for a very complicated belt layout. Changing a V engines’ cam belt or chain can be very costly and time-consuming.

The cambelt layout is much more complicated on a V engine than an inline one.

For earlier engines gears or bevel shafts were commonly used to turn the cams. Modern heavy-duty engines still use these systems though as they offer much greater durability. Alternatively, engines can use the older pushrod method to open and close the valves. This system has the camshaft located in the block, which moves rods connected to the valves in the cylinder head.

Advantages

The V engine has stuck around for over a century, with the first V8 firing up in 1903. This is for good reason, as the configuration offers useful advantages over a layout such as an inline engine.

A V engine is typically smaller in height and length than its inline counterpart of the same displacement. This is more noticeable in bigger engines. A V-twin or straight-twin may have similar dimensions, but a V8 is considerably smaller than a inline 8.

V motors are able to be much more compact height-wise as the cylinder banks are not vertical. They are also shorter because the cylinders aren’t all in one long line.

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Reducing both engine height and length not only allows for a smaller vehicle, it also lowers the centre of gravity as the weight is located lower in the vehicle. This makes for more precise handling and balance, and less body roll.

Arnaud 25 CC BY-SA 3.0
The Lamborghini Murciélago’s 6.2 L V12 that produces 572 hp and 479 lb⋅ft of torque.
Image by Arnaud 25 CC BY-SA 3.0

Another less considered benefit is the convenience of the V shape. The open gap between the cylinder banks can be used to place engine ancillaries like the alternator, air conditioning pump and inlet manifolds. There has even been a 20mm cannon barrel located here in a military aircraft V12!

This is a World War 2 German DB 605A 35.7 L inverted V12 from a Bf 109. A 15 mm or 20 mm cannon would fire through a tube between the cylinder banks of this engine.
Image by Peppe.bellomo CC BY-SA 4.0

The exhaust manifolds are usually on the outside of the cylinder banks.

These design elements make the V engine a very space-efficient box like unit. A boxy shape is far easier to implement into a car than a long tall inline engine.

Legacy

America’s love of the V8 in the 1950s, 60s and 70s with cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro made it globally recognised.

Automakers usually followed the “no replacement for displacement” motto to squeeze power out of their engines. Some reached staggering sizes, like the 8.2 litre V8 in the Cadillac Eldorado.

This is a Chevrolet 502 V8 engine that is 8.2 L in displacement.
Image by MJCdetroit CC BY-SA 3.0

The V engine has since become a symbol of prestige and power.

With modern advances like fuel injection, catalytic converters and the use of forced induction, V engines are no longer seen as loud, big and dirty power plants, but now represent performance, finesse and engineering.

Designers can get the power, without the size and bulk of older types. The 3.5 litre twin turbo V6 in the 2017 Ford GT can produce 650 hp.

The 2017 Ford GT.
Image by Norbert Aepli CC BY 4.0

The V layout has broken speed records on land, sea and air, won wars in the confines of a tank or the freezing temperatures at 30,000ft in an aircraft, kept countries stocked pulling along trucks and cargo vehicles, powered heavy industries and brought joy to millions of car lovers.

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The V engine truly is one spectacular design.