It all started in 1955 when Chevrolet introduced its first small-block V-8 engine.? Built at the rate of nearly 5,000 engines per day since then, the engine production odometer will roll over ?100 million built? during 2011.
From 1929 and 1955, Chevrolet only offered six-cylinder engines, but with the growing demand for performance, Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole set out to design a Chevrolet V-8 that was powerful, lightweight and affordable.
His solution was elegantly simple: a compact, efficient 90-degree V-8 engine, featuring overhead valves, pushrod valvetrain, and 4.4-inch on-center bore spacing. The Chevrolet Big Block follows the same formula, with the exception of a wider 4.8 inch bore spacing.
?The introduction of the Small Block changed everything,? said Jim Campbell, vice president, GM Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. ?The Small Block was an instant success because it offered customers high performance and an affordable price, in a design that was very easy to modify. The Small Block also started a wave of innovation ? and escalating performance ? that transformed the cars Americans drove on the street and the track.?
When it debuted, the Small Block delivered 195 horsepower with an optional four-barrel carburetor, and outperformed most anything then on the market.
?The performance of the Small Block transformed Chevrolet,? said Campbell. ?The Small Block made Chevrolet the weapon of choice for grassroots racers on the drag-racing and sports-car tracks across America. It also powered Chevrolet?s factory racing programs, leading to wins in stock car, endurance, and Trans Am series. Chevrolet?s racing experience in turn led to more potent production cars, creating legendary names like Corvette, Camaro, Impala, and Chevelle.?
Today, Chevrolet sells more four-cylinder engines than V-8s. But, descendents of the original Chevy small block still power Chevrolet?s most-capable production and racing vehicles. As per the original, the newer V-8s are physically small and light ? and extremely efficient at turning fuel into horsepower.
?Without question, the current Chevrolet V-8s are lineal descendants of the 1955 small block,? said Sam Winegarden, GM executive director for Global Engine Engineering. ?They retain the 90-degree V-configured eight-cylinder layout, overhead valve placement and characteristic pushrod valve train. Where they differ are the modern technologies that would have sounded like science fiction 50 years ago, such as all-aluminum blocks, titanium connecting rods, Active Fuel Management, and variable valve timing.?
On the track, the Small Block has made Chevrolet the most-winning name in NASCAR history, and it powered the Corvette Racing team to seven class wins at Le Mans between 2001 and 2011.
On the street, the modern Small Block powers Chevrolet?s full-size trucks, such as Silverado and Suburban, as well as performance cars including the Camaro and Corvette. These modern engines deliver levels of power, durability, and efficiency that were inconceivable 50 years ago. For example, the 6.2L Small Block in 2012 Corvette delivers 436 horsepower, up to 26 miles per gallon, and is backed by General Motors? five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
?Constant innovation and evolution have made the Small Block relevant for more than 50 years,? said Winegarden. ?We are actively working on the fifth generation of the Small Block, which we believe will be the best V-8 engines ever made. By adding new technologies, such as direct injection, we will continue to improve the performance, durability, and efficiency of the iconic Chevy V-8.?