40 Years Of 348 And 409 W-Engines - W-ow!

Celebrating 50 Years Of Chevy's First Big-Blocks, The 348 And 409 W-Engines

Doug Marion Jan 11, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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xcept for valve size differences, what you see here is the flat head chamber used on all 348, 409 and Z11 heads. The combustion chamber is wedgeshaped in the top of the cylinder.

10 Different 348 Horsepower Ratings
For the record, during its four-year passenger car production run, Chevy engineers were very busy coaxing all the power it could possibly produce. The 348 engine had the following suggested horsepower ratings between 1958 and 1961: 250, 265, 280, 305 (X2), 315, 320, 335, 340 and 350. If someone ever asks you what Chevrolet engine had the most horsepower ratings, you'll know the answer - 348 (ten). Further, according to ace W-motor parts and engine man, Phil Reed (Classic Motors, Kansas City 816-587-1109) the 305 hp 348 came in two different mechanical combinations: 3 or 4-speed transmission, hot cam and 3x2 induction versus hot cam and four barrel carb. This writer has never seen either one.

The Spring Of 1961 Brings The New "409"
In May, 1961, I stopped by Doane Motors in Dundee, Illinois. My Dad bought a new 1961 Corvette (#463) five months earlier in 12/60. Both Dick Doane and his service manager, George MacKendry, had been giving me super-tuning tips and explaining how certain tuning tricks increased performance. Sitting inside near the service entrance was a brand new white, 1961 two-door Biscayne. It looked to have a 320 hp 348. The shifter was a column-shift three-speed. MacKendry invited me to take a closer look. He said it was one of the very first 409s. It had a 0-7000 factory Sun tach on the steering column. To make a long story short, it soon had a T-10 four-speed transmission and was running in the 13.90s to low 14s like clockwork.

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The 1963, 1964 and 1965 409 engines all had a chrome air cleaner and valve covers. One of the best running street engines was the 400hp version. It had superb bottom-end and mid-range throttle response and then revved great to 6,000 RPM.

In all, 142 360 hp 409 cars were sold in 1961. It was a bored and stroked 348 (4.313 x 3.50) with an all-new block featuring thick walls, etc. It had the 350 hp 348 heads, an aluminum high rise intake manifold and a "D" Series Carter AFB four barrel carburetor. It had a strong mid-range power curve and made power to 5,500 - 5,800 rpm. Towards the end of 1961's production run, Chevrolet released bigger 409 heads and a dual Carter AFB induction. Many sets were delivered to racers. We have never seen a 1961 409 with big heads and dual quads - ever, so most veteran historians agree it is doubtful that any were actually sold via dealership RPO. We have never seen this option in 1961 dealer sales literature.

How many V8/four-speed Chevys were sold in 1961? Try 7,073. 1961 348 engine sales were 66,929. The new Super Sport option (456 sold) could only be had with a 305, 340 or 350 horsepower 348 or the 360 horsepower 409. Total 1961 three-speed transmission sales in full-size Chevys were 324,836. Other vehicle manufacturer sales paled in comparison.

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Stock Eliminator, 1961 U.S. Nationals, Indianapolis
Driver consistency would prove to be the difference here. Don Nicholson's 1961, white, 360 hp 409 Impala bested Arnie Beswick's 368 hp 389 Pontiac, 13.38 at 109 mph to 13.51 at 106 mph. Beswick had run a previous best of 13.41.

1962 Was Big!
Except for the 1955-1957 racing success in NASCAR, nothing prior would compare to Chevrolet's overall success in drag racing during calendar year 1962 - its 50th manufacturing year. The W-motor performance development engineers did not sit on their hands. New and updated 409 parts and pieces were developed seemingly weekly. Service bulletins noting these updates went to every dealership in the USA. 409s were not outrun on the street nor the strip.

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In all, 1962 full size Chevys outsold 1961 by 230,031. Super Sport Impala sales were a whopping 99,311. But, you could order your Impala "SS" or Impala "SS" convertible with any engine, straight six or V8. Total 1962 four-speed cars were 25,448 - over three times as many as in 1961.

The 409 had the late 1961 big port heads. An "E" series 600 cfm Carter four barrel carb was on the 380 horsepower version while twin "D" series carbs on the 409 horsepower mill. A whopping 15,019 were built at the Tonawanda Engine Plant in upstate New York. 8,909 of them were for new car orders. The rest (6,110 +/-) ultimately went to dealership parts departments in wooden crates to be sold. Some were no doubt used for warranty issues. That's a lot of 409s, folks. So many in fact that the Beach Boys coined their hit song "409" as a result in early 1963. As a result, 409 sales peaked that year.

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In August, 1962, 18 aluminum-nosed 409 Impalas were sold to top racers. New, secret Z-11 heads, camshaft and two-piece induction went to select racers prior to the NHRA U.S. Nationals. Dave Strickler's "Old Reliable" white '62 Z-11 equipped 409 Bel Air tuned by Bill Jenkins edged out Hayden Proffitt's red '62 Z-11 equipped Bel Air for the S/S class trophy. Then all S/S entrants ran again for S/S "Eliminator/ Mr. Stock Eliminator " laurels. Proffitt bested the factory Ramchargers S/SA Dodge with a 12.83 ay 113 mph run. He told me personally not too long ago that his '62 had easy 12.40 ET potential on narrow 7-inch wide slicks. That was moving! Pontiac, Ford and Mopar all had their fast cars - but the Chevy 409 did one more thing better. It out-sold them all at the dealership. What a way to help culminate Chevrolet's 50th Anniversary! Proffitt, Sanders, Strickler, Sox, Jenkins, Nicholson, Harrell, Leal and many others ought to each have an Accomplishment Award plaque with car photo in the lobby of the Chevrolet Engineering Center in Warren, Michigan.


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