What is old is new again—isn't that how the old cliché goes? It applies to so much in our hobby, and one old item that is new again is the W-series engine. It debuted in 1958 as a 348ci engine with the famous "W" shaped valve covers. Chevrolet stuffed these in cars and trucks alike. It would lead to the famous 409 in 1961, an engine that has become a cultural icon.
By 1963, output of the 409 swelled to 425hp thanks to two four-barrel carburetors, a solid roller camshaft, and 11.25:1 compression ratio. It was this combination that garnered a lion's share of the attention, especially from a 13-year-old boy from New York City named Scott Shafiroff. "I was riding my bike in my neighborhood when a bright red 1963 Impala SS with dual four barrels drove by me," Shafiroff reminiscent. He continued going down memory lane: "I just gotten home when I heard him doing some burnouts on the road next to my house. He launched it and ran through a few gears before letting off—a lot of hot rodders would use that road as a test track."
The young New Yorker would follow the Impala SS home, where the owner popped the hood and showed him the brand-new 409/dual carb engine. "It was the one of the first super hot rods that I was exposed to and that engine just stuck with me. I've never owned one, never raced one, but that memory just stuck with me. Just listening to the two four barrels open up was so cool," laughed Shafiroff.
The memories of the 409 remained with him through all the years despite the next generation MkIV big-block taking over the performance industry. The passion amongst W-series enthusiasts still rages today, and thanks to a couple of aftermarket companies, a few of Shafiroff's fellow car club members, and some ingenuity, the coolness factor of a 409 has entered the vast crate engine line-up at Scott Shafiroff Racing Engines (SSRE). Naturally, the team at SSRE put their own twists on the famous engine series by offering three all-aluminum versions of the legendary big-block.
The W-series engines came from the factory in three different configurations—348ci, 409ci, and a rare 427ci. Under the SSRE banner the W-series lives on in a larger package, with a 509ci dimension thanks to the World Products/Bill Mitchell Products aftermarket engine block.
"I came up with the 509ci because the 4.250-inch stroke crank fits perfectly with the deck height," explained Shafiroff. According to the seasoned engine builder, that particular stroke size is perfect for street applications. "You get great torque and everything. If you were to go with a bigger stroke then you start to make compromises."
Shafiroff uses a 4.370-inch bore size to come up with the final displacement. The engine size might not have a historical reference other than sounding similar to 409. As he puts it, pistons and rings can be made for any bore size, so why not a 509? Another overlooked fact is that when the bore sizes get over 4.370-inches, head gasket availability becomes tougher and the cylinder head doesn't pick up any cfm flow numbers
Typically, most cylinder heads increase airflow on the bench when subjected to a larger bore size as it un-shrouds the valves. That, however, wasn't the case with the Edelbrock W-series cylinder heads. The gains were barely recognized with the larger bore so Shafiroff just rolled with the new W-series engines in the 509ci configuration using the 4.370-inch bore and 4.250-inch stroke; he said, "It is like a 409, but bigger."
The Real Street engine is the starter package. It comes to the party with 509hp, while the Classic 509 has 565 hp. The top of the line 509 is called the Hot Hydraulic Roller, aka the HHR.
To support truth in advertising, a hydraulic roller camshaft is a large part of the 625 hp output. The engine build we followed made 617 hp on its first full pull on the in-house SSRE dyno but Shafiroff assured us that a little more tweaking with the carburetors and the engine would make the advertised 625 hp.
The World Products/Bill Mitchell Products block might be the foundation, but it's the Edelbrock 409 cylinder heads that really take the engine to the next level. The Performer RPM heads have been treated to a special SSRE package, including CNC porting and a very specific valve sizing.
SSRE offers the 509ci in a single four-barrel carburetor configuration with its Real Street package and the Edelbrock twin carburetor intake manifold is used on the Classic and HHR versions.
"It's great that people today can have these engines. Maybe someone couldn't have one back in the day, but now they can with the 509," said Shafiroff. He summed it all up: "The 409 kind of got lost and became old school once all of other big-blocks came out. This side of the hobby isn't only about the quickest e.t., but the coolness of the engine and the 509 brings together that great generation of people."