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GM small blocks: The best V8 ever!

ER Classics Desktop 2022

Chevrolet's 'small' engine, the small block, is a legendary series of V8 automotive engines that was in production at the Chevrolet division of General Motors between 1954 and 2003. The entire line used the same basic engine block. And that was referred to as a 'small-block' because of its small size compared to the physically much larger Chevrolet big-block engines. The small block family ranged from 262 cu in (4,3 L) to 400 cu in (6,6 L) in displacement. Engineer Ed Cole designed this engine, which had to be cheap to make, simple and reliable. To achieve the thin-walled nature of the casting, he invented the 'upside down' casting technique.

No generation conflicts

Generation I and Generation II LT engines are distinct from later LS-based small block engines. The Generation II engine is largely an improved version of the Generation I, with many interchangeable parts and dimensions. Later-generation engines share only the connecting rod bearings, the transmission's bolt pattern on the block, and bore spacing with the Generation I and II engines.


Since 1955

Production of the original Small Block began in late 1954 for the 1955 model year, with a displacement of 265 cu in (4,3 l), and grew over time to 400 cu in (6,6 l) in 1970. In between were the 283 cu in (4,6 l), 327 cu in (5,4 l) and iconic and mass-produced 350 cu in (5,7 l) versions. Introduced in 350, the 1967 was used across the Chevrolet product line in both high and low output variants.

While all Chevrolet siblings of the era (Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Holden) designed their own V8s, they were the Chevrolet 305 and 350 cu in (5,0 and 5,7 l) small-block which became the GM company standard. Over the years, every US General Motors division except Saturn and Geo and its descendants has used it in their vehicles.

Everything is finite

Finally replaced by the Generation III LS in 1997 and discontinued in 2003, the engine is still made by a GM subsidiary in Springfield, MO as a crate engine for dead power replacement and hot rodding purposes. In total, more than 1955 small blocks have been built in carburetor and fuel injection forms since 29 and November 2011, 100.000.000. And whether those things were tough? In February 2008, a Wisconsin businessman reported that his 1500 Chevrolet C1991 pickup had traveled more than 1 million miles without major repairs to its small block V8 engine.

But once the story began

The first generation of Chevrolet small-blocks began with the 265 Chevrolet 8 cu in V1955, offered in the Corvette and Bel Air. It quickly gained popularity among stock car racers, nicknamed the 'Mighty Mouse' after the then popular cartoon character, later shortened to 'Mouse'. By 1957 it had grown to 283 cu in (4,6 l). Fitted with the optional Rochester mechanical fuel injection, it was one of the first production engines to produce 1 hp (0,7 kW) per 1 cu in (16 cc). The 3 was also used in other Chevrolets, replacing the 283 V265s. A powerful 8 cu in (327 L) variant followed, which turned out a whopping 5,4 hp (375 kW) (SAE gross power, not SAE net power or current SAE certified power ratings) and increasing the horsepower per cubic inch to 280 , 1,15 hp (0,86 kW). From 1954 to 1974, the small-block engine was known as the 'Turbo-Fire' or 'High Torque' V8.

The legendary 350s

But it was the 350 cu in (5,7 L) series that became Chevrolet's best-known small block. Installed in everything from station wagons to sports cars, in commercial vehicles and even boats and (in highly modified form) airplanes, it is the most widely used V8 block of all time. Although the 350 Series has not been offered in GM vehicles since 2003, it is still produced in a GM subsidiary in Springfield, MO under the company's 'GM Genuine Parts' brand, and is also used as an industrial and marine engine manufactured by GM Powertrain under the name 'Vortec'.

So when we all drive Duracel cars, there should still be enough small blocks left. That is a comforting thought.

A 'crate engine'

Almost indestructible

For the bedside table. The possibilities are endless

9 Comments

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  1. Cool article again! Well, it is chiseled in my brain that a Buick V10 is made into a V8 that can at least be found in countless Rovers. Can someone write to me if that's correct?

  2. Hello, thank you for this great article on the little GM block! Very interesting to learn about the different cubic capacities, designs and construction times. But also because I have a 74 Opel Diplomat-B with the 5,4 liter, 230 DIN PS. It is currently being partially dismantled for inspection. A worthy car with a beautiful, powerful engine. The sound of an Ami V8 is inimitable. It all depends on firing order, flatplane or crossplane crankshaft 😉 It's like a Mack V8, pure enjoyment. Although it comes from Scania. But a different story. In any case, the large Opel makes real “driving pleasure” 😉 Keep up the good work with your magazine! Greetings from Swabia, Wolfgang

  3. An indestructible block in the USA. But not in Germany.

    With the new KAD series (based on the Buick Special) in 1964, Opel also wanted to build an absolute top model, the Diplomat-Coupé. It did come, but not without problems.

    The beefed-up 4,7 liter engine turned out to be far from meeting the requirements: the Opel not only had to have a top speed close to the Mercedes competition, but also be able to maintain a cruising speed of over 200 km / h. The Germans call it “Autobahnfest”. And that went wrong. In America they travel 85 miles per hour, about 90. In Germany the Diplomat was driven up and down at 200 km / h by a test team between Hamburg and Rüsselsheim and the blocks were running hot, the piston rings burned and came with torn heads, burnt valves and charred oil residue back in the barn.

    Quarrel between Rüsselsheim and Detroit, because the Americans were definitely convinced that their engine was the very best in the world and that Europeans like Mercedes could not match it. And that was wrong.

    Finally, Opel got access to the competition 5,4 liter V8 from the Chevrolet Corvette. It had hardened valve seats in the reinforced heads, a larger sized cooling system, hard chrome cylinder walls and weighted Kruskas bearings.

    That went fine, Opel finally had a suitable V8, but the car then cost the massive sum of DM 1966 when it was introduced in 25.500 - and for that money the wealthy customers preferred to buy a Mercedes. Production stopped after 348 copies. Now you pay at least a hundred thousand for it.

    • Thanks for the information about the 4,6 liters in the KADs. I didn't know there were such problems there. 190 hp was already an announcement in 1964. It was therefore not surprising that the 5,4 liter was offered in the autumn of '66. Displacement cannot be replaced by anything 😉 Greetings Wolfgang

  4. I hope and expect that we can drive and-and for now. In a democracy, minorities are also protected and taken seriously.

  5. No greater happiness than the sound and power of an 8-cylinder. Since I have tasted the sensory pleasure of my incomparably beautiful Jaguar XK8 (1999), I have realized the imminent (possible) lack of an 8-pitter, when electric driving becomes commonplace….

  6. Clear piece and indeed happy that real sounds of V8s will remain, if only for / from classics.
    Smallblock GM 305 in a Camaro, other brands like a 318 Chrysler in a Dodge W200, bigblock Ford 428 in a Cobra built and nowadays a bigblock 440 Mopar (Chrysler) in again a Dodge W200, which was properly converted at the time and after good technical refurbishment is very enjoyable again 🙂

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