French cars with 8-cylinder engines. The great forgotten story

When we talk about an eight-cylinder engine, we most often think of V8s, particularly associated with American cars. German, British and Italian manufacturers can quickly come to mind as well, which is not the case with French brands. And yet, the history of eight-cylinder motor cars in France is as rich as it is complex between innovations, partnerships and aborted projects.

>>> French women with an 8-cylinder engine in pictures <<

The V8 was born in France

From corroborating sources, the first V8 installed on a car was the work of a Frenchman, Clément Ader. Its engine was installed on the chassis of a racing car from 1903. Then another Frenchman, Alexandre Darracq, stood out in 1905 with a V8 engine car cut for records.

Darracq’s V8 car, cut for speed.

It was then De Dion-Bouton who launched the first V8 produced in series, in 1909. Several models of the brand were therefore equipped in the years that followed. Panhard & Levassor, Talbot, Georges Irat or even Matford (association of Ford with Frenchman Mathis), companies that have all disappeared today, offered cars with eight-cylinder engines during the first decades of the 20th century. This was also the case for a still major manufacturer: Renault. In the early 1930s, the diamond firm offered a range of eight-cylinder models made up of the Nerva and Reinastella. Remember that at that time, many bodies coexisted on common chassis.

Prestigious sportswomen

Delage D8

Delage D8, a top of the range in the shadow of Bugatti.

During the inter-war period, the manufacturer which put the most value on its eight-cylinder in-line engines was undoubtedly Bugatti. The Alsatian firm adopted this type of block with the Type 29 in 1922 and remained faithful to it for many years. Delage also offered a sporty eight-cylinder with the D8.

TO READ. Delage D12 (2021): a French supercar with 1,115 hp

The American Baby Boom

Talbot-Lago America

The Talbot-Lago America with a BMW V8 engine.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Franco-American partnerships gave birth to French brand cars powered by V8s from across the Atlantic. Facel-Vega and Simca opted for this solution. But the Talbot-Lago America, contrary to what one might think, was powered by a BMW V8.

Missed opportunities

The story of France and eight-cylinder engines is also a great story of bad luck and stillborn vehicles. Engineer Jean Tastevin, for example, launched his Monica brand in 1973 with the Monica 560, a four-door V8 coupe. But the oil crisis hit the automotive industry that same year and only about twenty copies were produced.

Monica 560
The Monica 560, launched at the wrong time.

Citroën twice failed to offer a V8 model. The first dates back to the 1930s when the brand developed the Traction 22, whose V8 consisted of two 11 traction four-cylinders. Several prototypes were built and tested. The project was finally abandoned for reasons which remain to be confirmed. Laborious development, the takeover of Citroën by Michelin in 1935 and financial restrictions are all possible avenues. Four decades later, the SM designed with Maserati could have received a V8. The coupe was powered by a V6 created from a V8 from the Italian manufacturer. The latter nevertheless designed a prototype of SM V8 but Citroën did not follow up.

Citroën Traction 22 model
A development model of the Traction 22.
Citroën SM
The SM could have been offered with a V8.

The V6 PRV (Peugeot Renault Volvo) which fitted many vehicles between 1975 and the beginning of the 2000s was designed on an architecture intended to be also declined in V8, but here again the oil crisis got the better of this project. It was also this event, combined with internal financial difficulties, that prevented Matra from offering a U8 engine for the Bagheera designed with Simca. However, a prototype was built, its engine consisting of two combined Simca four-cylinders.

Matra Bagheera U8
The atypical Matra Bagheera prototype with U8 engine.

TO READ. The saga of French cars with V6 engines

Soon a new French V8?

It has been a long time since a French car maker ventured into offering an eight-cylinder engine, and this prospect seems less and less likely in the era of electrification. However, it is on this type of mechanism that the young brand Vision Automobiles is working. The latter is working on its first vehicle, a hypercar named 1789 which must be powered by a biomethane-fueled twin-turbo V8. This block is developed by Pipo Moteurs, a competition engine manufacturer. No launch date has yet been announced. See you … in eight?

Vision 1789

Vision 1789, a French biomethane V8 hypercar project.


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