6 European cars with American pushrod V-8 power
About two years ago, the Hagerty Drivers Club editorial team picked three sporty, European-designed cars powered by American V-8s and headed to the foothills for a day of canyon driving. The trio included an AC 428, which is a handsome, powerful convertible fitted with, appropriately, a 428-cubic-inch Ford V-8. The trio also included a Jensen Interceptor and an Iso Grifo, two of my all-time-favorite European/American hybrids.
I’m an unapologetic fan of pushrod V-8s, big-block and small-block alike, and the idea of beautiful bodywork wrapped around an easy-to-tune, easy-to-upgrade pushrod V-8 is a match made in heaven.
Aside from the aforementioned AC, the Mopar-big-block-powered Interceptor, and Chevy-427-powered Iso Grifo (the article features a small-block model, but surely the big-block and its pagoda hood is superior), what other such American-V-8-powered vehicles constitute my list of favorites? I’m glad you asked, kind reader.
I had never even heard of this car until I read Jim Koscs’ article about them. This Italian/American hybrid is more American than most of the cars on this list as it also uses plenty of the donor car’s mechanicals besides the engine. The Ghia 450/SS relies on Mopar’s A-body suspension components, as it’s based on a Plymouth Barracuda. The 1967 Ghia SS450 uses a 273-cubic-inch Mopar LA small-block. With only 57 built, they’re a rare sight.
The fact that they’re based on one of Mopar’s best-looking pony cars means the bar for design was already high. Yet the Ghia 450SS is, in my opinion, every bit as cool as the early Barracuda.
This history of how the car came to be is just as fascinating as the design, so I suggest you read the story. In the meantime, just enjoy the Ghia 450/SS’s fantastic lines.
Chevrolet’s raucous 327 V-8 powered some of the best-looking and most desirable Sting Rays ever built. The 327’s lumpy cam and high-flow heads were perfect for a high-rpm road racer. Its compact overall size made it possible to fit under low hood lines, and the Bizzarrini 5300 GT is low. It’s hard to imagine a V-8 under the hood, yet those fluid Italian lines hide the engine well. You nearly expect a coupe this long, low, and sleek to be mid-engine.
Monteverdi Hai 450 SS
Monteverdi hoped to challenge the Italian supercar heavyweights with this 426-Hemi-powered brute. Sadly, Monteverdi built only a couple of prototypes. There’s a bit of Alpine A310 in the design, but I prefer to see it as a Miura infused with a bit of AMC Gremlin. (OK, that may be a stretch.) Now that you’ve considered it, however, you’ve got to admit that there is some resemblance in the quarter glass and rear end.
The thought of taking on Italy’s finest V-12s with a monster big-block may sound a little absurd, yet that 450 in the name comes from its horsepower rating, making it even more powerful than those high-revving exotics. The big lump of iron was mid-mounted to keep the 450 SS from being as unwieldy as the muscle cars that plied the streets with Hemi power.
Facel Vega FVS
This French grand tourer looks like a million bucks from every angle, even under the hood. Power came from a series of DeSoto Hemi V-8s, eventually giving way to a 354-cu-in Chrysler version of the Hemi. The FVS’s successor, the equally beautiful HK500, initially used the Chrysler Hemi followed by a 383cid Mopar big-block. It was a bit more powerful, but let’s be honest, few engines look as good as an early Hemi.
Another one of my favorite vehicle categories is the two-door SUV, including Bronco, Blazer, Cherokee, and Scout. The latter of these was used to underpin several Swiss luxury utilities, including the Felber Oasis and Monteverdi’s Range Rover competitor, the Safari. While there had already been a rebadged International Harvester Scout from Monteverdi with a new grille and fascia called Sahara, the Safari included a whole new body atop the Scout’s sturdy chassis and drivetrain, including its 345-cu-in V-8. It was also available with Mopar’s 318 V-8. Its greenhouse had a definite Range Rover look, while the front end was a bit more Italian class than staid British utility.
Another Range Rover competitor, the Laforza began its life as the Rayton-Fissore Magnum. Tom Tjaarda is responsible for the design, which may have influenced the ZJ Jeep Grand Cherokee. While the Magnum had European-sourced engines, the Laforza-branded version came with 5.0-liter and 5.8-liter Windsor V-8 power plants from Ford and finally a supercharged 6.0-liter LS-based V-8 from GM.
Honorable mention: Simca Esplanada
While not as exotic-looking as the rest of the cars on the list, and also not technically from Europe, plenty of Simca models adopted this same model and benefitted from American influence. It’s tricky, but here goes. Ford owned a portion of the French automaker in the ’50s, leading Simca to build and rebadge the Ford Vedette. While Flathead V-8s gave way to OHV Y-blocks in the U.S., the engine soldiered on in France. In 1958, Chrysler bought Ford’s stake in the company and used the Vedette platform to build cars—in Brazil.
Simca in Brazil developed its own OHV conversion for the small V-8 using Zora Arkus-Duntov’s rare Ardun OHV conversion as a jumping-off point. Simca also restyled the car for the Brazilian market and the resulting car, the Esplanada, has a bit of American flair, with stacked headlights resembling and AMC Ambassador. If you’re still following, it’s a Brazilian-designed car built on a Ford-designed platform by a French company in partnership with Chrysler, powered by a Ford V-8 topped with cylinder heads inspired by the “Father of the Corvette.” Simple, really.
Feel free to comment and add your own favorite American hybrids, V-8 powered or otherwise.