Our TakeWhile the traditionalist in us sees high-tech, small-displacement engines as a complicated method of achieving underwhelming horsepower figures, the more progressive side in us embraces any form of technology used to maximize performance, regardless of an engine's displacement. Engineers tend to do their best work in the face of insurmountable odds, and nowhere is this more evident than in Formula 1 racing. Most Americans aren't too interested in watching oversized go-karts racing on the other side of the world, but F1 engines are arguably the pinnacle of small-displacement engineering. During the early '90s, F1 regulations banned all forms of forced induction and limited displacement to 3.5L. Nonetheless, thanks to the advent of pneumatic valvesprings that enabled engine speeds up to 16,000 rpm, these naturally aspirated V-10s and V-12s produced in excess of 800 hp. By 1995, the sanctioning body reduced displacement to 3.0L, but with rpm approaching to the 20,000 mark, these V-10s eclipsed 900 hp. Displacement was reduced once again to 2.4L in 2008, in addition to a limit in max rpm of 18,000, but these tiny V-8 engines are already approaching 800 hp. This is despite the fact that F1 engines must now last an average of two full races, where in the past teams used separate qualifying and race engines each weekend. Furthermore, new for the 2009 season is an optional hybrid assist motor. These Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, or KERS, use a generator attached to the car's transmission to charge up a battery. When the driver hits a button, the transmission-mounted generator converts the battery's electrical energy back into mechanical energy to boost engine output by 80 hp for up to 6.5 seconds per lap. It's like an electric nitrous system that recharges by itself.
Regardless of the V-8's future in production cars, it will always exist in some form or another. There are plenty of cores still sitting around in salvage yards-waiting to be rebuilt-and everything from old-school Hemis, to small-block Chevys, to big-block Fords can be built entirely from aftermarket parts. Despite the assault on our hobby waged by overzealous greenies, performance cars aren't going anywhere. If enough consumers demand performance in addition to excellent fuel mileage, engineers will find a way to deliver it, whether it's in the form of four-, six-, or eight-cylinder engines. -Stephen Kim