Question of the Week: Small-block or big-block?


Back in the day I wouldn’t have even considered a Chevelle with a small block a muscle car. To me that was an everyday driver that was quick at best. To me big blocks were muscle cars. Lets not forget the Mopars. 383s and 440s were the norm. Not 340s or 318s or later 360s. Chevys 396, 427, 454 Nowadays in comparison since less is more quite literally due to advancements in engineering we look at a 350 and consider it big ! The other day I was looking at an add for the Hellcat. It said it had a 6.2 liter engine. I thought wow that must be big. I looked up the conversion. That is 378 Cubic Inches. Not big at all compared to a 440 But of course look at the power they are getting out of these engines today !!! Amazing. But of course there is a big difference between Large Cubic Inches compared to Horsepower, Torque and Breathing. As a long time ago street racer I would take a good breathing engine over the torque. A 302 Camaro is a good example. If you are racing you need that engine to keep pulling rather than flatten (power) out on you as the RPMs increased. They are all good though for their own reasons !!


I don’t think anything in the world sounds sweeter than a 340! But, I did have a 383 that was as smooth as can be. I’ll take a big block for cruising and a small block for running the curves.


I’m about to install a 454, 4 bolt main, bored 30 over, into my 67 convertible Camaro that currently has an aftermarket stock 350 under the hood. My new aluminium top end BB with headers is almost the same weight as the existing stock engine which is all steel. What’s different is the anticipated umppphhh (torque) of the BB at launch instead of having to wind up my existing 350 mill. You can tell from the posts below that the big block guys are smiling right now. They know that feeling. TK


Bought my first car in 1973, a 67 Cougar XR7 289 4V. Could have found one with a 390 FE but greatly preferred the small block for better gas mileage since it would be a daily driver. Swapped a 302 into it later but it’s still a daily driver and I’m still glad it’s a small block!


It’s very simple…Big Car, Big block. Small car…Small block. I.I. I have owned every full size Ford or Merc. from 1961 One Starline 390/401HP which I gave a transfusion to giving it a H/M side oiler builprinted 427.(4 speed/3:89 gear) to '68 Monterey 390/325HP which I tricked out as I was a USAC builder when it was new and lastly a California based '68 Monterey Q coded with a 428 CJ in it and on the flip side a '39 Ford Deluxe Coupe with a bluepinted 350 SBC. ALL the big Ford and Merc FE powered cars, with the exception of the 427 side oiler with the 3:89 gear had AC and at 75/80MPH gave me a solid 17 MPG but with real leaded fuel ! My '39 Coupe with a 350 Turbo and 3:08 gear on cruise/AC on…with a new 650 Edelbrock square bore is lucky to get 15MPG with a tail wind but is far more exciting to drive than all those big block cars put together.I just switched it over to a 650 Holley Spread bore in hopes of getting a little closer to 17MPG like I got with the stock Q-Jet that was on it because both Rochester and Edelbrock don’t know how to make primary throttle shaft bushings that can live past 6000 miles with my foot on the small foot rest on the floor of my car.I love that little car with that little motor because it is just like the go karts we drove down the side roads of Wisconsin doing 70MPH passing up cars back when we were in high school. Please remember to keep the rubber side DOWN. Thanks…


I’ve owned both big block and small block Chevy motors. Both modified and basically stock. Nothing comes to lifelike a big block. A small block engine ‘starts’ while a big block ‘explodes’ to life. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a Ford, Chrysler or Chevy motor the comparison is the same. That being said I am firmly in the small block fold. For a street engine there simply is no substitute, in my not so humble opinion. If I am going racing then I’d want a big block. There truly is no substitute for cubic inches. In closing though I would like to refer back to the year 1966 when Chevy campaigned a small block iteration that kicked ass and took names against all manner of big block equipped cars. Many a Chrysler hemi followed the Chevy ll L79 small block across the finish lines of drag strips all over the country.


Greg, I was enlightened regarding Pontiac not having a “Big Block” engine, technically. May I inject that all Pontiacs (except the short deck engines) used the same stroke, and displacement was decided by the bore. The stroke is comparable with the Chevy 454. That being said, I believe that ALL Pontiac V8 engines built up to 1981 are “Big Block” engines. Unless this is all just a sales tool to sell the larger displacement engines, of course, sighting the phrase, “Bigger is Better.”


400 smallblock with a 177 Weiand blower, comes on like a bigblock without the weight!


I have a 1972 Oldsmobile 442 that I factory ordered in Dec of 71. I have owned it continually since it was delivered in March of 72. It is a 455 4v with turbohydrmatic 400, 3.42 positrack (anti-spin to Olds) and a Hurst Dual Gate Shifter. I have own many performance Oldsmobiles in my 70 years which includes both 455 and 350 cubic inch 4v engines.
I prefer the big block Olds 455. The 310 and 325 horsepower 350’s are strong engines and great drivers, but there is something unique about the way a 370 horsepower 455 4v feels, sounds and makes a Cutlass 442 handle. I love Oldsmobile 442’s and Cutlass Supreme SX and the Olds 455 engine.


backup1mar2018%20174 my 455 bored to 461 with Eagle Nodular crank and forged I-beam connecting rods and forged flattop pistons in my 19’ 1977 Taylor Jet Boat; Jacuzzi WJ jet drive.


I bought a 1977 Pontiac Formula off the showroom floor a year after I graduated from college, and had it until 2005. It had a 6.6L engine, 4 speed tranny, 4 BBL carb, and 350 heads which upped the compression and power a bit. I never raced it, not even on the street, but you just think about going fast, and the acceleration would push you back in the seat. As far as I know, it didn’t have the special handling package.

I recently bought a 1981 Pontiac Trans AM SE, with a 4.9L engine. That was the biggest displacement Pontiac sold that year, and the last year they sold V-8s. Pontiac trimmed the weight of the engine because it was making less power, and that adds to its nimbleness on the road, which I like. (The SE came stock with the special handling package).

I like my car’s handling, and I brag about it as much as I can, but I miss the “push you back in the seat” power the 6.6L had, even at highway speed. It’s not legal to put an engine older than the car’s model year, so I can’t do a legal transplant. Plus, this is a survivor car with matching numbers, so there’s another reason to keep it stock.

Still, I keep thinking of ways of boosting my power a bit. I have a few big ticket items to do to the car that will consume my AMUs for a while. (AMU - Automotive Monetary Unit = $1000). Once those are done, I might trade a few AMUs for performance upgrades.

As a couple other posters have said, all Pontiac V-8s have the same footprint, only the bore changes.


In the 70’s and 80’s I always ran pumped up small block Camaro’s and Mustang’s for road racing in the Sierra Nevada’s. Big block numbers but better small block cornering, engines were temperamental though and always required lots of tinkering. Got back into it 20 years ago and with prices I thought were ridiculous went big block for the investment value. Happy with my big blocks, 67’ 427 3x2 Corvette Convertible, 66’ 427 ERA Cobra, 67’ Mustang custom 428 Shaker hood fastback and 67’ Camaro RS/SS 396. For investment value more bang for the buck with big blocks.


Of my 7 cars my big block Ford FE 406 tri power 4 speed is my favorite. You rarely see the high performance FE series at car meets but they are great sounding through a set of flomasters.


LS blocks rock, small blocks rock, but Big Blocks Roar and press your glute’s in the seat. 70 Buick 455 Stage 1 in a Nova


I recently rebuilt an FE390. Unfortunately twice. Now bored .030 over. But if you can get over the fuel, it sounds down right guttural. Primitive and mean outweigh the smallblock for me. It breathes through dual magnaflow stainless tubes and headers. It resides in a semi restored F100 and just has that stupid fun factor that the kids today don’t appreciate.


Big Block for the weekend around town donuts and coffee. Small block for the cruises and long rides along the coast or through the canyons.


Not that I am a speed racer, but I’ve been around.
That being said, IMHO, small block. Less weight and great
Fastest car I ever drove was a Camaro Z28. I believe it was a 1968.
Wow! Those short strokes were just screaming out the rpm and mph that was a very special feeling. Like a rocket or jet.

I own a 1970 T/A 340 six pack in a 68 Dodge Dart GT convertible.
Not to be taken for granted.
Vroom, Vroom!


Neither, I’ll keep my Pontiac engines. Pontiac blocks were the same size from the 55 287 ci all the way up to the 455


Many good answers, and will read it all, but after half of them, they miss an issue… the boat they are in. I loved the Ford 221/260/289… But for a car bigger than a Fairlane or Mustang, I loved the 390. My Dodge Maxi was soecial ordered w a 360. 390 &360 are truck engines w advantages. The 390 was Nevada’s Police Interceptor in '62ish. The 360 in my van was mated to a 2.71 rear for 120 in 2nd but good economy. So, it depends. At one time I wanted a Taurus for the wife w Yamaha’s 200 cube V8. It added cost and was dropped. ;>( I like inline 6’s and understand the why of transverse V6’s but dislike them and front wheel drive. It depends. A 390 (3/4 race P.I.,) in a lil ole Fairlane is too much, but nice in a Mercury Montery or T’bird. And I loved that had I wanted, I cuda bolted on 4 more pistons and a head if I wanted my 144 CI slant-4 IH Scout to be a 288. It deoends. Instead, dad added an overdrive to the 4, for cruising at 80, and that wasn’t kph! Love all the better V8’s!!! I hear the 327 was v nice. Dunno. It was behind OUR 390, but, that’s an unfair comparison. ;>)


I asked Carroll Shelby this EXACT question at the Victory Banquet the year I won the NAJA championship. Dinner was served, and the table was quiet with everyone eating. I interrupted the silence and said, “Hey Carroll, which was better, the big block or small block Cobra?” Forks and knives hit plates so loud other tables looked our way. With fellow journalists poised with pen in hand, he said, “The big block was a BASTARD of a car. Go like hell in a straight line, but that’s about it. The small block was a MUCH better car.” I said, “Though so.” Btw, my Beck Lister Corvette #007 has an full-alloy 400 Donovan that twists 8000…best of both worlds. http://www.damdrivingschool.com/media/Photos/pages/CarrollShelbyNAJA.htm