Small Superstars - Our list of the top five classic small-blocks and their accompanying performance “enclosures”

Small Superstars - Our list of the top five classic small-blocks and their accompanying performance “enclosures”

    The small-block has gone through an amazing number of different configurations over the past 50 years. Fuel injected, single carbureted or dual carburetors, the small-block has run the horsepower table ranging from 195hp when initially introduced in 1955 to 500 hp when bolted into the new Z06 Corvette.

    But wrapped around each amazing small-block has been a vehicle that takes that power and converts it into something truly exciting to drive. The following is our list of the Top 5 superstar small-blocks of the past 50 years and the cars that made us smile


1969 Z/28 Camaro

  • Small-Block: 302cid
  • Horsepower: 290
  • Induction: carburetion

     The ‘69 Z/28 wins the honors as the “most fun” small-block powered car of all time. On the heels of Mark Donohue’s success in 1968 SCCA Trans Am competition, the 1969 Camaro with its destroked 302cid small-block, became the beneficiary of an amazing array of factory-supplied all out race goodies. To power up the 302, owners could order up such formerly exotic race parts as a transistorized, ball-bearing distributor, tubular exhaust headers, Duntov-designed “140” camshaft, fresh air cowl-induction hood and dealer-installed twin four-barrel Holley carburetors on a Winters-cast aluminum cross ram intake manifold. Knowledgeable (and lucky) Z/28 buyers could further equip their cars were a host of amazing race parts including four wheel disc brakes (Corvette style), special shocks and springs as well as close ratio transmission gearing just for starters.

1955 Corvette

  • Small-Block: 265cid
  • Horsepower: 195
  • Induction: carburetion

    After Zora Arkus-Duntov’s successful proving ground test of a smaller displacement V-8 in 1953 Corvette #02, the plan was set in motion to create a small-block-powered Corvette for regular production. The 1955 Corvette was to revive sagging interest in the nearly stillborn car. The small-block’s original 195hp rating helped to stir excitement for the Corvette and led to race car development and historic Daytona Beach speed trials. Those lucky small-block Corvette owners reaped the rewards of not only 45 more horsepower, but less baggage, the V-8 41 pounds lighter than the Blue Flame six. The result was the best handling Corvette ever and at least one more year of production for American’s fiberglass sportscar.

1957 Chevrolet

  • Small-Block: 283cid
  • Horsepower: 283
  • Induction: mechanical fuel injection

     One horsepower per cubic inch. How cool is that? The small-block Chevrolet engine achieved a benchmark for performance, not unlike breaking the speed of sound or landing on the moon to power-starved enthusiasts, in that fateful year of our lord 1957. Delivering on the hopes of performance addicts around the world, the Rochester fuel injected small-block was a high winding powerplant delivering its peak power at an incredible 6200 rpm. While the fuel injected small-block was the new standard for tire-smoking performance, the sound it generated was a feature not to be downplayed. From that point forward, high performance made a gleeful noise, ear-pleasing horsepower notes that were a combination of exhaust, venturi and tire bite. The fuel-injected small-block generated music to the ears of speed freaks everywhere, a virtual American Bandstand of performance.

1990 ZR1 Corvette

  • Small-Block: 350cid
  • Horsepower: 370
  • Induction: fuel injection

Dave McLellan had an idea. His goal was to build a “King of the Hill” Corvette complete with the most perfect small-block ever created. Working with Illmore in England, he rolled the dice and created the first factory-built overhead camshafted small-block Chevy. Fuel injected and lovingly assembled by the good folks at Mercury Marine, the ZR1 engine, rated at 370hp, took form and delivered on Dave’s directive. For seven years, ZR1 Corvettes would roll from the Bowling Green, KY assembly line and receive special recognition as members of an exclusive club. Even today, the ZR1 is still considered an amazing work of performance art with a snake-like plenum air intake and enormous cylinder heads. The most exotic small-block to date, only the new Z06 500hp LS7 would surpass its accomplishments.

1965 Corvette

  • Small-Block: 327cid
  • Horsepower: 375
  • Induction: fuel-injection

    All good things come to an end . . . but that doesn’t mean the party can’t be fun. In 1965, the last of the fuel injected small-blocks stepped aside in favor of its much-heralded big block 396cid/425hp brethren. Better handling than the newly released fat motored Corvette, the last of the 375hp fuel injected small-blocks benefited from the first year of four wheel disc brakes, the only year in which FI and discs were both available. While Barrett-Jackson “aficionados” hold big block Corvettes on high as the cars to have, the fuel injected small-block Corvettes, like 289 Cobras, were the better car for all around performance. Only 711 of these missing link Corvettes were built that in ‘65. Get ‘em before they’re hot.

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