The super Chevys of the world would be a lot less interesting without all the great engines that power them. Before 1955, few in the hot-rod community gave Chevys more than a passing nod, thanks to their reliable, but unremarkable, Stovebolt Six engines.
Everything changed in the fall of 1954, when Ed Cole’s lightweight, groundbreaking V-8 arrived wrapped in a breathtaking ’55 design that was all new from the tires up. It wouldn’t be long before more powerful versions were offered. Once speed-crazed enthusiasts discovered the wonders of this compact powerhouse, it soon replaced the flathead Ford as the darling of the performance world.
Three years later, a new, larger engine would be introduced, the 348, to be followed by the 409. Immortalized in song, the 409 gave way in ’65 to the 396. Then came the 427, and 454. The ’90s gave rise to the LS engines, which are writing a new chapter in the legacy of high performance Chevys.
Here, in chronological order, Super Chevy Platinum presents its picks for the Top 15 Chevy engines of all time.
1) 265 V-8
(3.750 X 3.00)
Brand new for model year 1955, it powered over one-half of all new Chevys sold. Ditto in ’56. Its actual production run ended in mid-’57 when availability ended. It was used on early-model two-barrel/ manual transmission orders. Trucks and select cars had iron blocks with thicker cylinder walls. This allowed for 0.125-inch (1/8-inch) boring (18 more cubic inches) for 283 cid. Surprisingly, the fabled ’55 small-block V-8 engine commenced a 50-year-plus history. The very first 265 assembled at the Flint Engine Plant on July 9, 1954, was put aside for perpetual display in a sealed enclosure. In all, well over 1.5 million 265-powered Chevrolets were sold.
2) 283 V-8
(3.875 X 3.00)
It was a passenger car option from model year 1957 through 1967. You name it and it did it—including make 1 horsepower per cubic inch in ’57, thanks in part to a “Duntov” camshaft and Rochester fuel-injection. Hot-rodders then bored its cylinder walls 0.060-inch for 292 cid, as well as 0.125-inch for 301 cid, then installed 1.94-intake valve heads (1960-up) and 2.02-intake valve heads (1964-up), a ’57-’61 245 or 270hp dual WCFB carb setup, or a ’62-up aluminum high-rise four-barrel intake with 500-600 cfm Carter AFB or Holley after 1965. These 283s, 292s, and 301s ruled the streets in every town in America (when linked to a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed and high numerical rear gears). The 283 also powered millions of the USA’s work trucks. In all, millions sold.
3) L65 327/365HP V-8
(4.00 X 3.25)
From 1958 through 1964, Chevys grew bigger and heavier, so factory engineers bored and stroked the 283 to 327 cubes. The highest factory horsepower rating for a 327 was 375 in 1964-’65 (Corvette with Rochester fuel injection). But the best bang for the buck was the 365hp version sporting a 600-cfm Holley carb on an aluminum high-rise intake manifold. Both of these engines were internally identical (11.0:1 compression, big ports, and 2.02-intake valve heads and a radical “30-30” solid lifter camshaft). The 375 and 365hp engine’s power curve was 2,700 rpm to 7,200 rpm and powered on in a blink. Many of these engines were purchased by enthusiasts from GM parts departments, over-the-counter. Some were then equipped with a new 750-cfm, dual-inlet Holley 3310 carb for even more power. Thousands of previously 301-powered Chevy IIs and Malibus became ultimate performance monsters on the street and strip with the factory 365hp 327.
4) 348 & 409 “W” Motors
(4.125 X 3.25 & 4.3125 X 3.50)
The 348 was originally designed to be a heavy-duty truck engine capable of pulling tons of weight. Yet when stuffed into a ’58 Impala with a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, it wasn’t so great. But with more compression, a high-lift camshaft, tri-power induction, manual transmission and gearing, it became a certified high-performance torque monster capable of making over 300 horsepower to about 5,500 rpm— through factory stock exhaust. The 315, 320, 335, and 350hp 348s in 1960-’61 continually put Chevys in the winner’s circle from coast-to-coast. The 1961-’65 high-performance 409 was a bored and stroked 348 with larger head ports and valves. Despite heavy pistons due to cylinder head and combustion chamber design, this engine was highly competitive in everything except NASCAR long-track competition. (Imagine eight two- pound piston assemblies revving 6,400 rpm for many hours.) Short tracks—no problem. The overwhelming majority of the USA’s best drag racers ran a 409 in 1962-’63. Regional and low-buck racers ran B and C/Stock 409s in the mid-’60s with much success. Top 409 big-name racers in ’62 were Dyno Don Nicholson, Hayden Proffitt, Dave Strickler/Bill Jenkins, Dick Harrell, Ronnie Sox, and Butch Leal. We could easily name 30 more national, regional, and local 409 racers in 1962 who seldom lost. Additionally, the Beach Boys became even more famous because of their hit song, “409.”