Out of America’s many contributions to the automotive industry, affordable power is arguably among the greatest ones. Simple, durable and convenient to mass produce, American V8 engines democratized performance by offering an abundance of power between the 1950s and the 1970s.
For that reason exactly, European boutique manufacturers often turned to Detroit’s Big Three in sourcing commercially viable powerhouses that could match more expensive and otherwise unattainable Italian engines of the era. These methods of production culminated in the 1960s—but even though it’s not as common as before, the practice hasn’t changed to this day.
Here, we will focus on US-powered cars produced by European marques, so the list won’t include cars like the Shelby Cobra, Ford GT40, Hennessey Venom or Ariel Atom 2, nor LS-swapped passion projects. So let’s go and see what cult cars from across the pond got good ol’ American power!
#1: Sunbeam Tiger
The ultimate variant of a charming yet otherwise tame Sunbeam Alpine, the Tiger was Rootes Group’s entry into the global sport roadster market. Initially, Rootes Group approached Ferrari to help with squeezing more power out of the Alpine’s inline-four, but after the negotiations fell through, F1 racer and constructor Jack Brabham proposed a Ford V8.
Cramming an American V8 into a small European roadster was Carroll Shelby’s specialty, so Sunbeam hired the racer-turned-constructor to carry out the conversion and make it ready for production. Shelby did his part in engineering the necessary alterations, but as result of some back and forth between Rootes Group’s chairman Lord Rootes and Shelby, the final assembly was eventually carried out by Jensen.
During its short production span from 1964 to 1967, the Tiger got two V8 engines. Initially, the Mark I variant had a 4.3-liter 260 Ford, while all 633 examples of the 1967 Mark II Tiger got an upgrade to 4.9-liter 289 Ford.
When Chrysler completed the Rootes Group buyout in 1967, the Sunbeam Tiger was eventually discontinued as no Chrysler engine could be mounted without thoroughly modifying the engine compartment.
#2: Bizzarrini 5300 GT
One of the most important figures for the post-WW2 Italian automotive industry, Giotto Bizzarrini was a master engineer responsible for the storied Ferrari 250 GTO. After the Great Walkout in 1961, Bizzarrini was involved in a number of projects—including building his own car, thus gifting us with one of the most striking automotive silhouettes ever created.
The 5300 GT‘s design was as Italian as it could ever be, but this low-slung stunner got its power from a Detroit-born V8. It was a 5.3-liter Chevrolet 327 small block V8, a powerplant good for 365 horsepower in street-going Strada trim or 400 horsepower in the racing Corsa variant.
#3: Iso Grifo
If the Iso Grifo resembles the previous entry, you’re on the right track because they were in fact developed by the same person: signore Bizzarrini himself. The grand tourer we now know as the Grifo was designed in Bertone by Giorgetto Giugiaro. On the other hand, Bizzarrini refined the racing Grifo A3/C Corsa to create the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada after splitting with Rivolta.
Beneath the beautifully sculpted bodywork, the Grifo took full advantage of American V8 engines. The grand tourer debuted in 1965 with a 5.4-liter Chevrolet 327 small block and three years later,…