Talk about heavy hitters the original 348/409 was a 665 pound V-8 making it approximately 100 pounds heavier than its small-block kin. It first appeared in 1958 with the intent of being used in trucks, which it was, but it quickly found its way into the “heavier” passenger cars. It was the nature of the 348/409 with its combustion chamber not in the cylinder head but in the cylinder that allowed it to have impressive torque numbers.
This was achieved through maximum brake mea effective pressure (BMEP) being developed at low rpm giving the engine a broad torque curve. Since copious amounts of torque is needed to pull heavy vehicles (such as trucks and the 1958 Chevy) this V-8 was a natural for the day.
The W-motor because of the shape of the cylinder head (and emphasized by the valve cover) was given this moniker and it has stuck through the years. Although the engine had a short life span in production (1958 to 1961) there were two primary versions: the 348 and the 409. (There was a 427 cubic in version based on the 409 but this was a race motor available in 1962 and 1963.) While all of the motors looked fundamentally the same from the outside there was one telltale factory that hot rodders use today to immediately tell the difference: The 348 dipstick is located on the passenger side of the block while it is on the driver side on the 409. Not exotic but effective.)
The 348 started out with 250hp with a single four-barrel carb. There was also a 280hp version that featured the highly sought after Tri-Power (3x2 barrel carbs). (These units are worth a small fortune today especially if the linkage is intact. The 3x2 motor was called the Super Turbo-Thrust and over time until 1961 it increased in horsepower to 315, 335, and then 350. The 348 would go onto to horsepower ratings of 305, 320, and 340 horsepower through a single four-barrel carb.
The 409 ran from 1961 to 1965 and featured single or dual four-barrel Carter carbs but it never did receive the Tri-Power setup…although that would have been very cool to see in action.
To the Chevy lovers of the world each has his own favorite motor from the six cylinder to the family of small-blocks, to the larger family of big-blocks but the 348/409 will always hold a special place. (It didn’t hurt that the Beach Boys made the motor immortal with the song “409” (We bet you are humming the tune in your head right now! It’s ok; it’s a hot rodding prayer, of sorts.)
The Holley National Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA Insurance has come up with the 409 Challenge and we think it should stick around for many years to come.