You don't need a V12 to produce an icon.
Every car enthusiast appreciates a V8 engine. It's a staple of performance cars and traditionally able to generate more torque than a six-cylinder engine while not weighing as much, or drinking as much fuel, as a V10 or V12. When it comes to serious power and exotic cars, the V12 is the biggest headline grabber and a specialty of European automakers, particularly the Italian manufacturers. However, Italy's finest machines haven't always been headlined by V12s, and in and among the archives, there have been some stellar Italian cars powered by equally amazing V8s.
The Ferrari 308 GTB was as close to a mass-production car Ferrari ever came to and is stamped in popular culture through the 1980s. Over 12,000 were built, and there's an argument to be made that it's why Ferrari became such a household name. However, the incredibly rare Ferrari 288 GTO has a better claim as Ferrari's most important car. It was a Group B homologation Ferrari derived from the bones of 308, built in numbers fewer than 280, and with performance that paved the way for the F40, the F50, the Enzo series of hypercars. It was lighter, stiffer, and sharper than the 308 and powered by a new small 2.8-liter V8 pumped up by two small turbos. It made 395 hp at 7,700 rpm and 366 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm and propelled the 288 GTO to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and down the quarter-mile in just 12.7 seconds.
While Ferrari and Lamborghini hit their stride as Italy's elite automakers, they eclipsed other Italian companies on the world stage, and now the excellent Iso Grifo is an obscure collector's car. It's obscure despite being produced from 1965-1974 fighting the good fight in the grand tourer segment. The Grifo was styled by Bertone and powered by various American V8s from Ford or Chevrolet through its production run, the biggest of which was a 7.4-liter V8 Chevrolet power plant. More common were Ford's 5.8-liter power units. These were unsophisticated but powerful engines and not just used as they were less expensive than Iso designing and building its own mills. The biggest advantage was that the American engines made great power and made a reliable basis for a long-distance grand tourer.
Lamborghini has a few V8 powered cars in its back catalog, but they're mostly part of efforts to make more affordable supercars. The current Lamborghini Urus is a monster in its own right, though. The Italian supercar maker's first SUV is designed to be driven every day, so rather than use its larger V10 and V12 engines, it turned to parent company Volkswagen AG and modified Audi's 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8. It's a peach of an engine and also used in Porsche's Cayenne and Panamera models as well as by Bentley. Lamborghini heavily reworked the power plant, though; in the Urus, the V8 makes 641 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. We expect backlash for calling this an Italian great, but this V8-powered behemoth will financially secure Lamborghini's future, and for that, it deserves celebration.
The Maserati Gran Turismo stuck around for ten years and went out of production after the 2018 model year. It's a big, heavy grand tourer with excellent grip and handling. The Ferrari-sourced 4.7-liter V8 produced 454 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque got it to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, which isn't exactly mind-bendingly fast, but it had another ingredient that gets it on this list. Its V8 sounds fantastic. It's a melodious sound that becomes operatic as it gets the GranTurismo's heft moving into the upper reaches of the RPM gauge. Maserati might now be building its own engines, but this was one of the pinnacles of the Ferrari-powered era.
While Lamborghini has only used V8s in supercars to be more affordable to its faster brothers, Ferrari has some hardcore mid-engined Ferrari V8 model in its back catalog. Sadly, the 458 Speciale is the last of the naturally aspirated Ferrari V8 models. Not so sadly, it's a masterpiece of engineering. Ferrari's vitriolic 4.5-liter V8 cranks out 597 hp at 9,000 rpm in the Speciale model, 35 hp more than the "standard" 458. The Speciale is proof that perfection is just a concept as the extra power is generated by some reworking of the already incredible engine. It has a crazy new 14.0:1 compression ratio, new pistons, shorter intake runners, reshaped intake ports, improved combustion chambers, and higher lift on the exhaust and intake valves. That's all then topped off with a new carbon-fiber manifold and airbox. Don't even get us started on the sound it makes...
In 1967, Alfa Romeo started building one of the world's first supercars. It was based on Tipo 33 prototype race car, but "stradale" translates as "road-going," and the 33 Stradale was street-legal. It was hand-built using an aluminum body on aluminum tubular chassis and the first production car to feature dihedral doors. Its centerpiece is the race-bred 2.0-liter flat-plane crank V8 engine that bore little relation to any Alfa Romeo production engine. It had a 10.5:1 compression ratio, and the power output averaged out at around 225 hp at 8,800 rpm. We use the average as it was hand-built in the 1960s, so power output varied. At the higher end, Alfa Romeo recorded 243 hp at 9,400 rpm on the first production model. It was expensive to build and even more costly to buy, so only 18 were built on top of the two prototypes. The 33 Stradale was recorded reaching 62 mph in under six seconds, which is stunning for its time in a road car.
A V8 powered one of the, if not the, most iconic Italian supercars of all time. The 1987 to 1992 Ferrari F40 built on the idea of using Group B road racing as a testbed pioneered by the 288 GTO and unleashed an almighty supercar. The twin-turbo V8 had only 2.9 liters of displacement as it was derived from the 288 GTO's power plant but created 477 hp in US specification at 7,000 rpm and 426 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The demon of an engine mixed with a lightweight chassis and bodywork incorporating Kevlar and carbon fiber with aluminum rushed the 2,765-lb Ferrari F40 to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds. It was recorded hitting 199 mph in two independent tests.