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Chevy small-block: The little engine that did

Mankind’s list of significant 20th century achievements includes space flight culminating in travel to the moon, personal computing and the Internet, and life-saving medicines such as antibiotics and vaccines. Add to that the small-block Chevrolet V-8 (SBC), the most prolific engine ever made. Since its 1955 introduction, more than 108 million have been sold. It may be the most beloved internal combustion engine of all time, thanks to its performance, durability, adaptability, and accessibility. Well into its fifth generation, the SBC is showing no hint of fatigue and is more than ready to power the eighth-generation Corvette to ambitious new heights.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/03/24/chevy-small-block-the-little-engine-that-did
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I’m gonna throw a penalty flag immediately: the GenIII engine and beyond is NOT a Chevrolet smallblock. It shares nothing except bore center spacing with the GenI/II. Just as one example: the article points out at some length how the original SBC wasn’t a “Y” block like the Ford FE (and prior Fords) or the Chrysler B/RB. Well, the Gen III IS a Y-block.

Nothing against either engine, but they are way more different than just an “evolution.” The GenIII/IV might as well have been a Buick or Olds engine as radically different as it is.

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Similarly - if that 108M includes all the derivatives of the original design, then what about other “classic” engines that evolved over decades and found multiple (and in some cases non-automotive) uses - I’m thinking of Ford’s T engine and the BMC A engine (and their descendents including those not made by the original manufacturer). No knock on the small block but it seems unlikely that a largish American-format engine (v8) is the most prolific engine progenitor worldwide.

Total agree with lackersg. Gen 3 and beyond has enough differences that they are not a SBC. They are a different family of engines.

Yep,
LS and newer is NOT related to the original SBC. Bore center doesn’t really count once it’s a “clean sheet design”.

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As above, it’s a great article and much appreciated. It should have ended where it starts on the Gen3, however. Just because it has a block, is smaller than some other blocks, and is put in Chevy products, that doesn’t make it the SBC.

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Great article for a novice car/engine guy like me

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The 6.0 Liter SBC 390 Hp engine also ended up in my 2005 Chevy SSR, couple to a 6 speed manual transmission. This is the same engine as the first year C-6 Corvette The transition from the 5.7 L engine to the 6.2 L V-8 came by way of the 6.0 L V-8.

BTW, great article and it helped to fill in some little known knowledge gaps in my brain. One quick question, how did the Big Block series Chevy engines (396 cu inch, the 427 cu inch, and finally the 454 cu inch engines) develop ? Were they small block derived / related or was that a clean sheet design ? I own a first year 1965 Big Block Corvette convertible (the one year only 396 cu inch). Curious if a new article could be written for the much beloved Big Block engines.

jbarone01
They saw the popularity of the “W” series engine and large displacement Olds and Pontiac V8s. The W series was limited and really not a performance engine so they came up with the Mark 4 which is the big block. Pretty much clean sheet except for a few items like the distributor.

I must agree that the classic SBC series ended with the Series II engines. Virtually nothing other than the bore spacing and 2 valve pushrod design remains and those are very different from the original SBC. The port spacing was completely changed starting with the series III when the Ex-In-In-Ex-Ex-In-In-Ex valve alignment in the heads was changed to alternating Exhaust and Intake valves. This change improved flow as well as eliminating the hot spot in the center of the heads caused by adjacent exhaust ports. Well the bore spacing has remained but that was true of the Lotus produced 4 OHC 4 valve per cylinder Lotus LT5.

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@lackersg @mgpsmith @risz757 Sorry to disagree, gentlemen, but the Gen III motors are Small Block Chevrolets. Why? Same reason that big blocks are big blocks and small blocks are small blocks - the manufacturer says they are.

Making the argument that Gen III motors are not SBCs because of their huge differences would be akin to saying 55 Corvettes aren’t really Corvettes as they could be ordered with an engine and transmission “radically different” from 53/54 model’s Blue Flame Six and Powerglide transmission.

No reason to take the fight to the author when your beef is with GM.

The big blocks all grew from the 348 Mark I, which IIRC came out in 58, and are really pretty different from the smallblock. The big change that happened in the BBC development cycle was switching from the weird chamberless heads and tilted (relative to the bores) block deck on the 348/409 when the 396/427 was introduced, creating the familiar canted-valve “rat motor” heads. The 348 and 409 are easy to spot by the scalloped valve covers, a little bit like a poly-chamber Mopar engine valve cover.

Since you probably didn’t read and comprehend before commenting, the author does say that the Gen III is a Y-block and the bore spacing makes is a small block… From a more literal sense, through a good portion of the run of the Gen III, GM also had the Gen VI and Gen VIII Big Block. So yes, it is a small block in the most literal sense possible.

That’s for the great article. I would disagree with the other replies and say that the SBC didn’t end after Gen 2 though. All these engines are built using the original formula making the SBC the icon it is today, single cam, OHV, genius rocker and pushrods, light weight compact block, less moving parts, low cost to build, repair and upgrade. Best of all they are dependable, simple and easy to work on. To this day you know when you hear a SBC the sound not exactly the same as my 68 Camaro’s 350 but undoubtedly a pushrod SBC. When I hear a new 5.0 or Hemi nowadays all I can I think is I don’t hear their iconic engines from the past anymore. I hear what sounds like two 4 cylinder Honda’s glued together upset screaming at each other confused on what happened to theirselves. Yes the SBC may have slightly changed block shape to upgrade strength of those iconic 4 volt mains and to expand it’s lungs getting rid of some old second hand smoke we left… but the overall heart and iconic designs that made it a world leader to this day still hold true. This is why I believe that the SBC still lives on today and hopefully for another 100 years to come. I know that a Gen 1 will live on in my small vicious Camaro eating mustangs until I kick the bucket!

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Nice enough article, but how about crediting Studebaker in the fourth paragraph, with their own durable V-8 engine introduced for the 1951 model year? (Really, there were extant domestic car companies in 1951 that were not affiliated with the Big Three.)

I don’t get the hostility Turd. I wasn’t questioning what the General claims. I’m questioning how a large displacement V8 - a fairly uniquely American engine - is the “most produced.” The two examples I was thinking of - the T engine in all of its iterations (such as the enlarged versions made and used well into the 40s) and the BMC A series engine and all of its derivatives (including the B and C series, a raft of Nissan engines, etc…), or come to think of it the first gen VW inline OHC 4 water cooler and all of its iterations and developments over several decades would seem to have been more likely contenders on a world-wide basis. Can’t find numbers on the electronic nanny though, so I don’t know. Just a question.

In your mention of early OHV V8 engines you forgot the 1951 Studebaker V8 that was produced until 1963.

When I first read this article this morning there were no comments, and as I expected there are a lot of opinions. My opinion is the LT1 with reverse cooling was the last of the SBCs. It shares most of the parts with the traditional SBC and the Siamese exhaust/intake ports. My opinion is the SBC stopped being an evolution at that point and instead was a revolution, just as the original was in 1955. Still all great machines and the reverse cooling version eeked out the last bit of potential in from the original design while meeting emissions requirements of the day.

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I never said the GenIII GM corporate v8, commonly called “LS” family, isn’t a smallblock… it is clearly a smallblock because it has a bore center spacing less than ~4.6 inches.

What I SAID was that it is unrelated to the old Chevrolet smallblock engine, and that is also clearly obvious just looking at the engineering designer features.

Think of it another way: the Chrysler GenIII Hemi is also clearly a smallblock, but do you EVER hear anyone arguing that it is the same engine family as the Chrysler A/LA smallblock that dates back to the 1956 277 and ran through the 2001 5.9 Magnum, making the Chrysler smallblock a continuous production from 1956- present?? Of course not! Some people even separate the “A” from the “LA” and then “LA” from Magnum, even though everything from the oil pan up to the head gasket is basically the same. But the Gen III Hemi, like the Gen III/IV GM corporate v8 is a radical departure from its predecessor in having a Y block, higher cam location, different oiling path, no provision for a distributor at all, and a dozen other critical differences.

The simple fact is that the SBC production run was 1955-2003, PERIOD, and there hasn’t been a SBC installed in a new GM vehicle in 19 years. 58 years is darn good, and it was a landmark engine deserving all the accolades it got. But the Rolls Royce / Bentley L410 (1959-present) is now the elder statesman V8 at 61 years continuous production, and counting.

Oh, and if we’re being pedantic, the Chevrolet Big Blocks are not normally referred to as “Gen” I, II, III, IV, and V, GM called them the “Mark I” (348/409) through “ Mark V”

So the argument is Gen ll or Gen lll. I would love to get some idea as to whether continued development of a Gen II could keep up with the huge advances made by the Gen III, and still be just as drivable as the Gen III. My guess is no. I agree that further development is a good thing. They started with what was learned on Gen II, and what they needed a block to do on a Gen III, and went from there.