When a petrol head sees a street rod roll up at a classic car meet, one of the first questions he might ask is: “What are you running in there? A small block Chevy?”
And the answer, seven to eight times out of ten will probably be in the affirmative.
When the Corvette owners that strut their show and shine stuff at The Classic Car Show 2016 on July 3 find time to wander around the Nasrec grounds, and check out other rides, they can take pride that the V8 engine that powers the majority of street rods and many muscle cars was first installed in a Chevrolet Corvette.
The Corvette was America’s first sports car, built in tiny quantities from 1953. It first appeared with a slightly souped version of the General Motors straight-six engine, and came with a two-speed automatic gearbox. Performance was middling and the fact that it sold a mere 300 units in its first year of introduction led Chevrolet to speed up development on what would become the world’s most-produced engine.
The first small-block Chevrolet V8 engine debuted in 1955 in the Chevrolet Corvette and in certain models of the classic 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air coupes and sedans.
The engine’s design is credited to one Ed Cole, and the light weight of the initial small block, as well as its modest 265 cubic inch (4,3-litre) displacement, belied the fact that it could already be ordered in 195 horsepower form. Just two years later, Chevrolet introduced a bored-out 283 cubic inch version with fuel injection that produced 283 horsepower! The early horsepower race was now fully in flight, and this engine was also available in what would be one of the first “musclecars”, the fuel-injected version of the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
The engine’s tuner-friendliness saw it find instant favour with hot-rodders and drag racers, and by the dawn of the 1960s a whole aftermarket industry had developed around the small block Chevy V8 engine.
The engine’s internal displacement grew to 327 and then 350 cubic inches in size – just over 6,0 litres in metric terms – and it is the 350 small-block that is the classic hot-rodder’s engine today, over 60 years after that first small-block V8 rumbled into life in a little Corvette sports car!
It is interesting to note that the so-called big block engine in the Chevrolet range employs almost identical design features as the small block. The only real difference is that the small block has 4,4-inch bore centres, while the big block has 4,8-inch bore centres.
The engine found its way into millions of cars and pick-up trucks over the years, and in 2011 the 100th million Small Block V8 was produced by Chevrolet.
Today the typical Chevrolet V8 is vastly removed from the original small block, in terms of fuel-injection, iginition and variable vale timing, but there are many basic design features to be found that date all the way back to 1955.
And, indeed, hot-rod and muscle-car builders can still order a classic small-block engine from General Motors Performance Parts’ division. The classic 350 small block is still obtainable brand new, producing some 290 horsepower, and is the ideal base for a whole range of performance parts from aftermarket specialists. The biggest Small Block on offer is a 572 cubic inch V8, on offer from GM Performance parts, and known as a “crate motor”. Out the crate it delivers a staggering 720 horsepower, and, indeed, Rolling Thunder, the associated hot-rodding firm from Robertsham that has been involved in every Classic Car Show at Nasrec for over half a decade, has built a number of muscle-cars with this monster motor!
How do you identify a Small Block Chevy motor from other V8 offerings from Ford or Chrysler? Simple. The ignition distributor for the Chevy engine sits at the back towards the firewall, while Ford and Chrysler engines have the distributor at the front of the engine.
Of course today, with fuel-injected V8s becoming more and more popular, well, you’ll have to look for the badge on the valve covers! Or ask the owner.
The Show runs from 8 am to 5 pm at Nasrec, located south of Johannesburg, just off the N1.
The Classic Car Show represents huge value for money. The gates open at 8 am and close at 5 pm, and prices are very reasonable. They are R80 per person for adults and children aged 11-and-under are R20 at the gate; R60 per adult and children at R20 each through TicketPro.
Spectators should enter Nasrec through Gate 5, while owners of Classic Cars must enter through Gate 2. The driver of the special-interest cars will be admitted free of charge, but all passengers must pay full ticket prices.