Chevy Muscle Cars - Rare V-8 Performance History

1962 Marked Chevrolet's 50th Production Anniversary

Doug Marion Aug 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
Sucp_0808_01_z Chevy_muscle_cars Chevy_bel_air_eliminator 2/10

The year 1962 marked Chevrolet's 50th production anniversary. To many, the full-size '62s were the best looking ever, rivaling the '57, but in a bigger, bolder way. You could get one of two optional high-performance 409 big-block engines in any full-size Chevy: 380 horsepower with an "E" series (650 cfm) Carter four-barrel carb, or 409 horsepower with two "D" series (500 cfm each) Carter AFB carbs. The only difference in the engines was the induction.

In all, 15,062 '62 409 engines were assembled at the Tonawanda Engine Plant, and 8,909 of them were shipped to respective big car assembly plants for new vehicle installation. The remaining 6,153 went to the GM Parts Distribution Center for shipment to dealership parts departments. The RPO 580 380-horsepower 409 cost $320.65, while the RPO 587 409-horsepower 409 cost $376.65.

Check this out: A total of 99,311 Super Sport Impalas were sold. Evidently, those 453 '61 SS models really made an impression! As for Corvette, a record number-14,531-were sold. The Vette 300hp 327 (3,294) cost $53.80 extra, the 340hp 327 (4,412) cost $107.80 extra, and the 360hp fuel-injected 327 (1,918) cost $484.20 extra. The new 327 was ordered in 240,909 full-size cars. By year-end, '62 big car sales increased 230,031 over 1961 to 1,424,008.

Sucp_0808_02_z Chevy_muscle_cars 409_factory_engine 3/10

As seen in this official '62 380hp 409 factory photo, the Carter AFB fuel inlet was moved from the left rear (1961) to the right front. From 1958-1962, knowing that serious racers would install tubular headers, Chevrolet chose to go cheap on their exhaust manifolds. On a 409 competition engine, the addition of headers was worth an additional 100 horsepower.

With 142 409s selling the year before, Chevrolet was not particularly expecting this kind of sales increase to 15,062 in 1962. The competition did not sell nearly as many high-performance big-blocks as Chevrolet did. How many four-speed full-size Chevys were sold in 1962? Exactly 25,448. That's a bunch. Three-speed? An unbelievable 338,695. Add another 16,795 with "overdrive."

'62 Z-11 409 Engine Race Parts/Cars
A good example of future things to come were the '62 COPO Z-11 engine parts for the 409. The original 18 sets of heads had much larger rectangular ports. We saw these ports again in 1965 on the new Mark IV semi-hemi, L78 425hp 396 big-block engines. To say that Chevrolet engineers were up to speed on these ports a full three years ahead of RPO production is simply stating the truth. The Z-11 heads were such that 409 valve covers would not quite fit. The Z-11 heads and valve covers had squared corners, while the RPO 409 heads were rounded.

The high-rise aluminum intake manifold was a two-piece assembly. The bottom was a valley cover and the top was the actual manifold. Yes, there was a single four-barrel manifold floating around, but most were twin four-barrel. The carbs were standard-issue 409. The pistons had a 12.5:1 compression ratio. The cam was big on lift and fairly short on duration. As a result, the Z-11 had a powerful midrange and good top end.

Sucp_0808_03_z Chevy_muscle_cars 409_biscayne 4/10

We snapped this photo in 1986 of Tom and Linda Jacobson's "Old Blue" 409 Biscayne. With a Z-11 top half, it won the '65 AHRA Nationals at Bill Heilscher's Green Valley Race City in Hurst, Tex., with an 11.50/125-mph time. The car was raced brand new by Butch Leal of Tulare, Calif., otherwise known as the "California Flash."

Chevy II FX V-8 Kits
This story is mainly about rare performance engines, but the following data is applicable. A lot of Chevy high-performance engineers wanted to see a V-8 offered in the new '62 Chevy II, but it was not to be until 1964. No matter. They pressed on and engineered a kit so any owner or dealership could do a V-8 swap, either a small-block or big-block 409. They presented all the data to the NHRA for competition in A/FX, B/FX, and C/FX (Factory Experimental). Some racers campaigned a two-door Chevy II, some a four-door, and others a station wagon. We have seen 283, 327, and 409 engines in Chevy IIs.

Not much more was said/stated/announced by the factory. New car RPO sales were much more profitable, and the working press and media seemed to like the big car drag wars more than Chevy IIs, Falcons, and Tempests. Some of these FX cars are still around today. We have the complete factory FX list of part numbers, but space does not allow us to print it here.

By the end of the year, these "FX" Chevy IIs mostly ran in the high 11s. So did Don Gist's legal '62 fuel-injected A/SP Corvette (he was a Florida winter-home neighbor of Harley Earl) and most of the Z-11-equipped 409 big cars.




Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print