Chevrolet is expecting to reach another milestone this year: the production of its 100-millionth Chevy Small Block engine. The “Chevy V-8” was presented in 1955 and is known for its power, its affordability, plus the fact that it’s lightweight. When the Small Block debuted, it generated 195hp with an optional four-barrel carburetor and it was the best one in the market at the time.
But then, with the arrival of new technologies, the capabilities of vehicles went up and so did the horsepower. In 1957, the use of fuel injection raised output to 283hp. The Chevy V-8 family had grown by 1970, which was when it offered the 450hp, 454-cid Big Block.
Jim Campbell, vice president, GM Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, said that Chevrolet was transformed with the performance of the Small Block, which made the automaker as the “weapon of choice” for grassroots racers who were on the drag-racing and sports-car tracks throughout the U.S.
It was also used to power Chevrolet’s factory racing programs, resulting to wins in stock car, endurance, and Trans Am series. This racing experience paved the way for more powerful production cars, creating names such as the Corvette, Camaro, Impala, and Chevelle. Campbell said that Chevrolet currently records higher sales for the four-cylinder engines than the V-8s.
However, descendents of the original Chevy small block continue to power Chevrolet’s production and racing vehicles. The Small Block has pushed Chevrolet to become the most successful name in NASCAR history.
The Small Block had powered the Corvette Racing team to achieve seven class wins at Le Mans from 2001 to 2011. But on the roads, the modern Small Block is found in Chevrolet’s full-size trucks like the Silverado and Suburban and even performance cars like the Camaro and Corvette.
With its compact size, remarkable power and available aftermarket components, the Chevy V-8 became the industry’s most popular crate engine. In fact, the Chevy Small Block was the only engine Tammy Ray considered when her 1933 Ford Phaeton hot rod named “Gold Digger” was built before it won the 2010 Ridler Award.
Although her builder advised her that a Chevy provided more horsepower than a Ford, Ray based her decision purely on appearance, saying that the Chevy V-8 was “cleaner,” “more compact,” and more customisable due to the availability of many parts that allowed modification of every part of engine – “right down to the gold nuggets inlaid on valve covers.”
Currently, General Motors Performance Parts offers hot rodders a vast range of new Chevrolet V-8 crate engines. An ideal starter engine would be the classic 290hp 350-cid Small Block, which is affordable and easily customised. At the other end of the spectrum, drag racers might want the ground-shaking 572-cid ZZ572R Big Block which produces 720hp and 685 pound-feet of torque.
GMPP’s latest engine line is the E-ROD engine family, which notably became the industry’s first crate engine to comply with California emissions requirements. The E-ROD engine package is a complete set of components for maximising performance and minimising fuel consumption and CO2 emission of any hot rod. These are the GMPP engine wiring harness and engine control module; a petrol tank evaporative emissions canister; and the exhaust manifolds, catalytic converters, oxygen and mass-airflow sensors.
Campbell said that compared to even all other engines combined, “more people do more things with a Small Block.” He adds that any hot rodder can find a suitable Small Block for anything from “a gold-plated hot rod, a 1,000-horsepower dragster, or an emissions-compliant project car.”
Constant Evolution of the Small Block
Nowadays, Chevrolet’s four-cylinder engines outsell their V-8s. However, the original Chevy Small Block has spawned successors that are still utilised in Chevrolet’s top performance production and racing automobiles. Like the original, the modern V-8s are compact and lightweight, as well as powerful and highly efficient.
Sam Winegarden, GM executive director for Global Engine Engineering, said that unquestionably, the 1955 small block is the ancestor of the modern Chevrolet V-8s, as these have the same 90-degree V-configured eight-cylinder configuration, overhead valve location and distinctive pushrod valve train. The main difference is the presence of current technology and materials, such as aluminium blocks, titanium connecting rods, Active Fuel Management and variable valve timing, which were only imaginable in science fiction five decades ago.
The Small Block has also helped Chevrolet achieve the status as NASCAR’s winningest name ever. It was also the engine used by the Corvette Racing team at Le Mans from 2001 to 2011, in which they had seven class wins.