Chevy fans today fondly remember all of these great 1962 409 national drag racers. But the one car and the one race they seem to cherish the most was Hayden Proffitt's red '62 S/S Bel Air sport coupe outrunning the Ramchargers S/SA Dodge convincingly at the U.S. Nationals capturing the S/S Eliminator title. The huge 5 foot tall NHRA S/S trophy stands proudly today inside Roger Sortino's secured garage.
1963: From Bang To Bust
The 409 got a power boost to 425 (2x4 induction) and 400 (1x4 induction) thanks to slightly larger valves and increased valve lift. 1963 409 car sales also reached a sales record. A whopping 21,267 were sold. This includes the new 340 horsepower, ultra torque, smooth-idle 409.
Chevrolet's first and last full size race car, the RPO Z11 Impala saw 59 built and sold to specific racers. (Note that Z11 researchers and owners presently believe that only 50 were built and delivered). The great Jere Stahl (Stahl Headers, York, PA.) got his start with Don Gist's 11-second, A/Sports '62 F.I. Corvette and the Dave Strickler/Bill Jenkins #1 '63 Z11 409/427 Impala. THIS Z11 ran in the high 11s and was said to have won won over 90-percent of its races. Credit Bill Jenkins! Frank Sanders' Aqua Z11 won F/X at the '63 NHRA Winternationals with a 12.03. Terry Prince was an inch behind with a 12.05 in his red Z11. Sanders went on to be tops on the Drag News Top Ten west coast S/S list just about all of 1963.
Around the same time as the NHRA Winternationals and NASCAR Daytona 500 , GM decided to again follow the AMA suggestion that no car manufacturer be involved in racing. It also had done so in 1957. The AMA was said to have included truck and train builders so we have never understood its reasoning. Neither did Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation. Most professional GM racers had no other choice but to accept lucrative contracts with Ford or Chrysler. How do you stay loyal to a company that just closed its door and more or less left you stranded? Your financial means of support is drag racing plus building cars and engines. Result: GM lost a lot of talent in 1963 - many forever.
Chevy racers bored and stroked their 409s and Z11s 427s for custom-created, match race Chevelles and Chevy IIs. The stock RPO 409s of 1964 were exact duplicates of 1963. The 409 car sales for 1964 were: RPO L33, 340 hp: 5,615. L31, 400hp: 3,024. L80, 425 hp 1,986. Total: 10,625. Total 1964 4-speed big car sales were just over 48,000.
In 1965, the 409 was in production less than five months. On February 1, it was justifiably, quietly replaced with the brand new semi-hemi 396. Total 409 sales in 1965 were 2,828 (2,086 L33, 340 horsepower and 742 L31, 400 horsepower.) The 396 was born out of the Mark I '63 427 Mystery Motor program. Chevy Engineering quietly continued this powerhouse engine's refinement the rest of 1963 and all of 1964.
If you missed the 1958-1961 348 and 1961-1965 409 performance eras, you missed a really special time. The 1961 - 1965 409 new car sales totalled over 43,600. This was truly outstanding for the times. Total 348 engine sales are unknown. But for the record, in 1961 the total 348s sold were a whopping 66,929. Most of these were more than likely base 250 hp engines probably in 4-door sedans. But owners liked their torque and all-around drivability. The manual transmission 348s I competed against truly ran great for the times. If I could turn back time, I'd love to have every one of you ride shotgun in a hot, 3x2, 348, 4-speed Impala with 4.56:1 gears. These cars put Chevrolet right (or ahead of) next to the Pontiacs and set the stage for future 409s to forge an historic saga.
As an owner of a 1962 409-powered Impala SS and a Bel Air sport coupe (#213111), I have always been amazed at how well they performed - considering each of its eight piston and wrist pin assemblies weighed almost two pounds. Imagine eight of them at 6,000 rpm! That's a lot of mass and this is why they did not fare well on the NASCAR super speedways. Yes, they kicked butt on the NASCAR short tracks. This is one of the exciting things about overall Chevrolet engine science and looking back at actual Chevrolet performance history. Its V8 engines - including these ancient/vintage "W-motors" have always been known and noted for throttle response and excellent full-throttle power. Long live the W-motor 348 & 409. Both indeed hauled and HAULED!