The term V8 refers to an engine with eight cylinders that is mounted on a crankcase featuring two banks of four cylinders each sharing a common crankshaft. This layout forms a "V" shape. Each cylinder in the engine contains one piston that is regulated by the crankshaft. In most instances, the two cylinder banks are positioned at a right angle to one another, forming a 90-degree V.
There are two classic V8 crankshaft designs. The most basic is a single-plane, or flat-plane, crankshaft. The second is a cross-plane, or two-plane, crankshaft design which is used in most vehicles with V8 engines. The benefit of the cross-plane configuration is that it is capable of good balance. At the same time, the cross-plane configuration requires heavy counterweights, and as a result, the cross-plane engine tends to be slow revving. In an all-out racing vehicle, a single-plane crankshaft -- which allows for quicker acceleration and higher RPM, but which is difficult to balance and prone to vibration -- is often used instead.
Leon Levavasseur designed the first V8 engine in 1902. He patented an engine known as the Antoinette. The engine was produced on a limited basis until 1912. The Rolls-Royce Company manufactured the first V8 engine for use in automobiles. The engine was known as the Rolls-Royce Legalimit. In 1914, Cadillac began producing the V8 engine on a mass basis. The following year, the 5.1-liter engine became standard on all Cadillac vehicles. Due to the fact that the cross-plane design was difficult to create, many early engines featured flat-plane designs. Although the cross-plane design was initially proposed in 1915 at an auto engineering conference, it did not go into production for another eight years. Peerless and Cadillac both applied for a cross-plane design patent at the same time, and the two companies ultimately decided to share the design idea. In 1923, Cadillac introduced the design for a Compensated Crankshaft V8 engine. The following year, Peerless introduced the Equipoised Eight V8 engine.
The V8 engine is a popular choice for sports cars, SUVs and other vehicles because it is easy to work on and is highly durable. V8 engines are often comprised of solid cast iron, making them engine resistant to damage and tolerant to the high temperatures produced by the engine. Due to the structural soundness and durability of the V8 engine, it is a popular choice for sports car designs and among high-performance enthusiasts. A V8 engine is installed sideways in vehicles. This allows each of the cylinders to run parallel to the vehicle's fenders. This position makes assembly of the engine easier as a result of the engine's size.