Like a lot of other segments in our hobby, the legendary 409 is enjoying a new heyday. The beginning was about 10 to 15 years ago when stroker kits hit the scene, punching displacement up to 482 ci. Within the last four or five years, strides have been made with aluminum heads, dedicated distributors, reproduction and aftermarket oil pans, roller cams and roller rockers. Leading the charge since running a blown and injected 409-powered '33 Willys in the early '60s has been Lamar Walden.
From billet blocks to rocker arms, Walden has made just about everything possible for a 409. His most recent venture has been to team up with Bill Mitchell at World Products to develop an aluminum 409 block.
"The problem is that blocks have just about dried up," Walden says. "You can get race or street heads and intakes, billet timing chains, valve covers, crank kits, good pistons, and everything else. The only thing you can't get-and the most important-is the block."
There were originally two factory blocks: passenger car and truck. The truck blocks are the most common, but have a handicap in the form of a large, compression-killing notch cut in the side of the bore. Opinions vary on "The Notch." Over the years, it's been said the notch unshrouds the exhaust valve, which is true. However, the benefit of the unshrouded valve usually doesn't outweigh the compression drop. It's good for a forced induction application, and some race engines. Prices for buildable passenger car blocks range from $2,500-$4,000 (and cracked cylinder walls or water jackets aren't deal breakers), while truck blocks aren't far behind.
As much as we love the '09, we have to be honest and admit there are several shortcomings: The deck is a little on the thin side, making high/race compression ratios, forced induction or nitrous a dicey proposition (flex does bad things to head gaskets). They also have a tendency to pull head bolts out. The area where the exterior of the block meets the deck is also thin-Walden has dozens of blocks that were cracked from running too hot or freezing. (Fortunately, he's developed a method of repair).
And then there are the 409-specific bits that can add hundreds of dollars to a build: oil pan, timing cover, distributor (or spacer sleeve) and harmonic balancer. Reproduction oil pans are in the neighborhood of $300, while original timing chain covers are scarce. And you need the right one, because there are two timing tab locations.
Walden and World Products addressed these issues with a new aluminum block, that actually measures 509 with the as-delivered 4.5-inch bore and a 4-inch stroke crank. There's a thicker deck, a dual-pattern oil pan rail to accept an original 409 pan or a readily-available big-block Chevy pan, and a BBC timing chain cover pattern to accept any factory or aftermarket piece, including billet covers and belt drives.
"We kept the things that make it a 409," Walden said. "Obviously, the heads and the deck are what make the engine, but nothing looks like a 409 pan so they can still use it, and we had to keep the 409 water pump, too. That's almost as visually important as the heads."
What has many excited is the price for the 509 block-at press time, the block was shown on World's website retailing for $5,549, which sounds like a chunk-until you do the math. Take a good-deal $2,500 iron block, then add all the machine work required to make it usable. Boring a 409 not only requires specific know-how, it requires several additional machining operations due to the combustion chamber being in the block. Many blocks require a sleeve or two by now, which is no big deal, but it's added expense. And then of course you still have 2-bolt main caps, unless you step up to 4-bolt caps and the expense to install them-required with a stroker crank. And the main stud kit. Toss in the OE oil pan and timing cover, and you'll easily have $4,000-$6,000 in a prepped block ready to go. You could have a better, stronger and lighter W-block (with more cubes) for the same money.
Lamar had the first two prototype World 409 blocks shipped to his Doraville, Georgia, shop, and we followed along while he put the first together for a customer. The build was simple: mild cam (with specs Lamar guards like he's still Pro Stock racing), mild 10.5:1 compression ratio, Lamar's "-690" aluminum street heads topped with a brand-new Hilborn injection intake converted to EFI. The bruiser thumped out 667 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, and was still climbing at 655 hp when they ended the pull at 6,500 rpm. "It's not a race motor," Lamar told us, "so there was no point in running it all the way up."
With a set of his Z11 race heads, more compression and cam, another engine they built for Nostalgia Super Stock racer Barry Camp went well past 750 hp and another 2,000 rpm. And that was through a pair of carbs. The Hilborn they tested on this engine had 2.5-inch throttle blades, but 3-inch discs are available. The blocks can also be punched out a lot more, so we're certain Walden hasn't come close to wringing all there is from the new aluminum W-motor.
RPM - HP - TQ
3,300 - 251 - 533 / 3,400 - 262 - 545 / 3,500 - 273 - 552
3,600 - 273 - 532 / 3,700 - 281 - 531 / 3,800 - 293 - 532
3,900 - 304 - 534 / 4,000 - 314 - 539 / 4,100 - 330 - 550
4,200 - 342 - 556 / 4,300 - 366 - 571 / 4,400 - 384 - 578
4,500 - 411 - 591 / 4,600 - 439 - 609 / 4,700 - 450 - 618
4,800 - 487 - 629 / 4,900 - 486 - 639 / 5,000 - 496 - 643
5,100 - 506 - 648 / 5,200 - 527 - 655 / 5,300 - 543 - 659
5,400 - 555 - 662 / 5,500 - 573 - 667 / 5,600 - 584 - 665
5,700 - 589 - 660 / 5,800 - 603 - 660 / 5,900 - 619 - 660
6,000 - 627 - 656 / 6,100 - 636 - 653 / 6,200 - 642 - 649
6,300 - 643 - 634 / 6,400 - 648 - 630 / 6,500 - 655 - 628