Clyde Barrow found enough down time between robbing small-town banks, generally shooting up the populace and with Bonnie Parker battling John Dillinger for top Public Enemy status, to write Henry Ford personally to tell him "what a great car you got in the V-8."

Mr. Barrow, reputedly a voracious reader, may have fallen victim to some form of rudimentary, Depression-era Ford Motor Co. marketing. But it's safe to assume the man who earned his living honing the art of the hasty getaway probably didn't form his opinion about the V-8 solely from perusing magazine ads.

Sixty years later automakers don't need Clyde Barrow's endorsement; they know there's no quicker way to accelerate a carlover's reach for the wallet than to say, "It's got a V-8."

If one's a serious numbers-cruncher, the temptation is to believe that the steady decline of V-8 installations (see chart) is indicative of market disapproval. The truth is, while Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and emissions concerns preemptively laid old-fashioned V-8s low, the new electronic engine-management technology that automakers applied to their 4-and 6-cyl. engines is turning similar economy and emissions tricks with formerly gas-guzzling, particulate-spewing V-8s.

Engineers once believed reducing the number of cylinders -- eliminating each extra cylinder's contribution to an engine's need to eat and excrete -- was the only path to pleasing regulators. But electronic engine controls and modern manufacturing techniques offer new hope for the V-8. In some applications, V-8s now are more efficient than 6-cyl. engines; economy (combined with cleanliness) and a multiplicity of cylinders are no longer incompatible concepts.

Automakers are gleefully reaping the rewards of their engineers' efforts. And while the current V-8- equipped models are some of the market's hottest commodities, several automakers are planning to release a wave of redesigned V-8s as Americans once again conclude it's OK to want eight hulking pistons to pull them down the highway.

Just in time, coincidentally, for the Big Three to take full advantage of the market's colossal shift to light trucks and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs). Traditionally a "work" segment, V-8s always have been big sellers among the truck set, with installation rates in the last 15 years running as high as 60%.

But with legions of consumers switching to trucks with the expectation that they'll serve as all-purpose vehicles, their desire for V-8s seems particularly intense.

General Motors Corp. doesn't plan to let a single V-8 "intender" leave the store unsatisfied. It plans to upgrade its entire V-8 truck engine range for 1996. Jim C. Perkins, general manager of Chevrolet Div., by far the General's largest purveyor of light trucks, thinks his division's move to push V-8s is perfectly timed.

"There's a real desire on the part of the American public," he says, for V-8 powered, rear-drive trucks. "I think there are long legs attached to this business."

GM plans to adapt its "Vortec" concept to the ubiquitous small-block 5L and 5.7L truck V-8s for 1996. The Vortec design, first used for the 4.3L V-6, relies largely on sequential central port fuel injection (SCPI), taking the place of throttle-body injection (TBI).

With the Vortec SCPI design, fuel is delivered to a central area where it is then metered and sent on to each individual cylinder port via a small artery-like tube. With the SCPI system, GM gets the precise intake metering available from a sequential injection setup, without the cost of individual unit injectors at each cylinder. Nifty.

Along with CPI, more power comes to the Vortec V-8s with the help of an improved, two-piece (aluminum and composite) manifold and an increase in compression ratio from 9.1:1 to 9.4:1.

Emissions are reduced for the Vortec V-8s through a long list of improvements. First, the engines are OBD-II compliant (see WAW -- Feb. '95, p.45). Mass-airflow metering and a crankshaft-position sensor help the OBD system to catch emissionsrelated fluctuations, while a reworked exhaust manifold and highly controlled piston tolerances reduce total emissions.

The 5L Vortec V-8's preliminary figures of note are: 220 hp at 4,600 rpm and 285 ft.-lbs. (386 Nm) of torque at 2,800 rpm. That's a whopping 45-hp increase over the old 5L's 175 horses -- and Ray Corbin, GM Powertrain V-6 product manager, says emissions are lower and fuel economy should be about 10% better. On top of that, Vortec V-8 service intervals -- through use of platinum-tipped spark plugs, a 100,000-mile (161,00-km) accessory drive belt and long-life engine coolant -- are greatly extended. Is this a great country or what?

GM believes the Vortec 5L engine is so substantially revised that it gets a new internal designation: L30 (the old 5L was LO3). At press time, GM hadn't released any official horsepower and torque figures for the 5.7L Vortec V-8, but WAW's fearless forecast sees the 5.7L going to about 250 hp from the current engine's 200 hp. And if form follows, its designation goes from LO5 to L50.

Mr. Corbin boasts that the Vortec V-8s represents "the most significant upgrade to these powertrains in the last 20 years."

Good as they are, the Vortecs are still GM's truck V-8s. Coming for the '97 model year Corvette is the so-called Gen3, the all-aluminum (but still overheadvalved) 5.7L V-8 that may also spawn a smaller version. Inside word at GM is that many of the Gen3's design details have yet to be finalized -- and one well-placed source confirms the Gen3 program is behind schedule.

But the Gen3 is designed to be built with the current 5.7L LT1's tooling, so once the design is finished, Gen3 will, in essence, be ready for production.

Ford doesn't plan to be left behind in any market-pleasing truck strategies -- so yep, you guessed it -- the Dearborners also are ready with a new V-8 or two. Ford has invested mightily in creating its New Generation Truck, or NGT, V-8 engines, which are based on the company's "modular" engine concept.

At 4.6L and 5.4L (and a 6.8L V-10 that doesn't count here because we're talking about V-8s), the iron-blocked NGT engines have it over GM in that they have aluminum heads and overhead camshafts.

Ford won't release stats for the NGT engines, which will be fitted in 1996-'97 model F-series pickups, Bronco SUVs, Econoline vans and in various "specialty" areas (read: Mustang). But the engines include goodies such as power-metal connecting rods and hollow tubular steel camshafts with powder-metal lobes. Sources tell WAW the engines will be power-dense and highly fuel efficient.

Speaking of fuel efficiency, that should be a supreme attribute of the Power Stroke, Ford's all-new, 7.3L direct-injected V-8 turbodiesel. At 210 hp at 3,000 rpm and a gigantic 420 ft.-lbs. (569 Nm) of torque, it's the most powerful light-truck diesel offered in North America. Ford says city-cycle economy should be in the 16- to 17-mpg (13.8 to 14.6L/100 Km) range.

Some of the Power Stroke's advanced details include self-rotating valves (to reduce wear), a gear-driven oil pump that uses lube oil to drive the unit injectors, a fully electronic engine control system and hydraulic valve tappets.

Ford wasn't going to let a total redesign of the Taurus/Sable go by without the chance to finally shoehorn in a V-8, so the high-performance SHO model gets one for '96. The tidy 3.4L DOHC SHO V-8 is based on the 2.5L all-aluminum modular V-6 Ford uses in the Contour/Mystique. Ford makes the engine, ships it off to SHO V-6 partner Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd. for some cylinder head work, slaps it all together and gets 225 hp and 225 ft.-lbs. (305 Nm) of torque.

If all that sounds marginally familiar, note that the current Yamaha-tweaked SHO V-6s (3L and 3.2L, depending on transaxle) develop 220 hp.

If one says that's not much of a difference, one has yet to get the hang of this new-generation V-8 thing. As in many new installations -- particularly for passenger cars -- V-8s aren't necessarily about making more power. Smooth running was Ford's priority for the new SHO V-8.

Gerald L. Haycock, Ford's director-core and advanced powertrain engineering, says that "We wanted to improve the power flow and provide superior NVH (for the SHO V-8). The engine is a 60-degree vee and has a balance shaft, so vibration is practically eliminated."

And look out for 1999, when Ford introduces its next generation of small passenger-car V-8s developed under the now ill-named DEW98 program. Variants include a 4L, all-aluminum DOHC V-8 that Jaguar will adopt as its own. It's understood the engine features innovative design and construction features -- and abnormally high specific output. The DEW98 V-8 also will be found by 1999 or so in whatever remains of Ford's rear-drive fleet.

Until Chrysler Corp. reevaluates its Sphinx-like posture in discussing future powertrain plans, there isn't much to tell about the new line of truck V-8s the company recently announced it will build at a refurbished Mack Avenue assembly plant in Detroit. A Chrysler spokesperson only will say that the program goals for the new V-8s are development of high power density, more fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

Nor are foreign automakers going to watch the V-8 wars from afar. BMW AG will enlarge its already well-regarded (and relatively new) 3L and 4L V-8s fitted in the 1996 5 Series to 3.5L and healthy 240 hp and 4.4L and 300 hp, respectively.

Mercedes-Benz AG is readying a new line of modular V-8s that we'll likely first see stateside in the company's Alabamabuilt All Activity Vehicle (AAV) SUV-cum-minivan.

And rumors persist that Toyota Motor Corp. is still jacked about not having a V-8 for the T-100 full-size pickup. Incredible as it seems, Toyota -- with all its resources and worldwide influence -- has but one V-8 to its name, the 4L DOHC all-aluminum gem the company uses in a just a single product, the Lexus LS 400. Probably not a good engine for truck use, though.

So c'mon, Toyota, get with the program. If you want to compete in trucks, spend some of that hard-earned cash, design a new V-8. It's the '90s. V-8s are OK again.