Chrysler Second-Gen Hemi

With the 426 Hemi in 1964, Tom Hoover and his Chrysler engineering team made lightning strike twice in the same place. Casting around for a competitive edge in NASCAR and drag racing, they decided to take the cylinder head configuration of the original '51-58 Chrysler Hemi and adapt it to the then-current B/RB V-8 short-block assembly. The port and chamber layouts had to be tipped inward several degrees to make the mammoth engine fit in a passenger car chassis, but to Hoover's surprise, on the dyno the engine didn't seem to care.

The 426 Hemi clubbed the field in the '64 Daytona 500, stinking up the show so badly that the engine was banned from NASCAR for a time, and it ruled the early years of NHRA Pro Stock in similar fashion. Even now, nearly a half-century after its introduction, every engine in Top Fuel and Funny Car owes its basic architecture to the Chrysler 426 Hemi.

Ford Windsor

...the engine was cutting edge in every other way, employing the latest valvetrain gear and thin-wall casting techniques.

Originally known within Ford as the 90-degree V-8, the Windsor was introduced in 1962 with the new Ford Fairlane intermediate. Its initial displacement was 221 ci, a callback to the original flathead Ford V-8 of 1932, but the engine was cutting edge in every other way, employing the latest valvetrain gear and thin-wall casting techniques. To demonstrate its advanced design, Ford handed the compact mill over to car builder Colin Chapman, who nearly stole the '63 Indy 500 with driver Jimmy Clark, finishing Second in their first attempt. Shown here is an early test engine from that project with upswept exhaust stacks.

Decades later the Windsor V-8 found new life in the Mustang 5.0 GT. Fun, cheap, and fast, Fox-bodied Mustangs were ubiquitous on dragstrips in the '90s, generating a movement the speed equipment industry would love to duplicate. The same basic engine was more than competitive in NASCAR well into the 21st century, winning Sprint Cup races until a few years ago.

Big-Block Chevy

The big-block Chevy V-8 first popped into view at Daytona in early 1963. Then, when GM suddenly pulled out of racing almost simultaneously, the 427ci, canted-valve engine popped back out of view so quickly it became known as the "mystery motor." When the production version eventually appeared in 1965, the engine lost a bit of its mystique but none of its mojo. Passenger car versions displaced 396, 427, and ultimately 454 ci as big-block Chevrolets carved out a major chunk of muscle car-era glory.

Chevy big-block V-8s ruled the original Can-Am road racing series, and their basic architecture continues to dominate NHRA Pro Stock and other big-inch drag racing applications to this day. You can't buy a big-block V-8 in a GM passenger car anymore, but Chevrolet Performance can still deal you the mother of all factory crate engines, the 572ci, 720hp monster pictured here. Swipe the card, turn the key, smoke the tires.

Chevrolet LS

If the original 265ci Chevrolet small-block defined the game for production pushrod V-8s, the Chevrolet LS series redefined it. The one pushrod V-8 clearly capable of competing on the world stage with the latest four-valve DOHC engines, the light, compact LS V-8 helped to make the C5/C6 Corvette package a true world-class sports car.

So sound, so well engineered, so advanced in every way-for a pushrod V-8 anyway-the LS series has set a new standard for performance potential in hot rodding. In production form, the current top dogs in the LS family include the 7.0L LS7 (shown here), the 550hp LSA, and 638hp LS9-supercharged engines. In modified form, the sky might be the limit.

Ford Modular

The first volume-production overhead-cam V-8 produced by the Detroit Three, the Ford Modular V-8 was introduced in 1991. The varieties are dizzying: two, three, and four valves per cylinder; single- and double-overhead camshafts; aluminum and iron blocks; supercharged and normally aspirated. The most recent variants, the 5.0L Coyote and Boss 302, are so thoroughly evolved there is some question about their family origins, however, they do share the same bore centers and knowledge base, it can be said.

These latest V-8s can do better than 100 percent volumetric efficiency in production form...

These latest V-8s can do better than 100 percent volumetric efficiency in production form, and they came off the drawing board fully protected for direct fuel injection and boost applications. They have the potential to be around for some years to come. Meanwhile, current modular motors like the 5.4L-supercharged V-8 used in the Cobra Jet Mustang drag package cars (shown here) continue to race and win-for example, at the inaugural Factory Stock Showdown at the 2012 U.S. Nationals.