What started its life as a "blessing" for hot rodders seems to have fallen upon disdain. The small-block Chevy is so successful there are rodders who turn their nose up at it. To them any motor is better than another small-block Chevy. To these rodders something along the line of a vintage Caddy, Nailhead, the venerable Hemi, and arguably the vintage engine champion the Ford Flathead V-8 is a much better alternative. Making inroads into the SBC kingdom over the past decade is the Ford where all the Model A’s, Deuces, Model 40s, etc., are equipped with modern Ford V-8s. Possibly, but let me make a case for the small-block Chevy.
For starters, in corresponding with Pat Ballogg of Wickenburg, Arizona, I learned he recently found himself back into the hot rod lifestyle having retired from the Army. During his high school years he had a ’40 Ford with a 283. (Does this sound familiar?)
In our writings he mentions, "One thing has puzzled me and that’s the disdain for SBCs that seems to be in every mag out there. You know the deal, another Chevy 350 syndrome."
Pat goes on to say, "However, as far as I can see, the Chevy 350 is just the Ford Flattie of its day. When I look at cars from the ’40s and early ’50s they were all Ford inline-fours or -eights and "I don’t remember anyone saying or writing, Just another old Flathead, why doesn’t someone use a Bugatti thumper?"
According to Pat he figured it this way, Why all Ford Flatheads? Because they were plentiful, cheap, and could be made to run fast on a budget, just like the SBCs. Most rodders were into cheap speed and not the Flathead cache and when OHV-8s became available cheaply they dumped the Flatheads for something that would go faster.
Pat closes by writing, "I love the sound/look/feel of a Flathead wound-up and the preservation of that era is great but the attitude thing I’ve noted since my hiatus is flat weird."
Have to agree with Pat on all of the above.
Did you know that over 90 million small-bock Chevy V-8s have been made in one form or another since 1955? It’s this availability that made the small-block so omnipresent. The speed equipment market was on the ball and made every imaginable piece of go-fast equipment. The small-block was the powerplant of choice for decades; availability made them affordable, and cheap speed equipment made them powerful. And, did we mention it fit nicely into a hot rod?
Excerpts from another letter I read seems to point to just the opposite. It talks about the lock on our hobby that Ford has and what can be done to get Chevy noticed.
"The hot rod movement and interest in things connected with hop-up and speed is still growing. As an indication: the publications devoted to hot rodding and hop-upping of which some half dozen have a very large circulation and are distributed nationally.
"From cover to cover they are full of Fords. This is not surprising then that the majority of hot rodders are eating, sleeping, and dreaming of modified Fords. They know Ford parts from stem to stern better than the Ford people themselves.
"A young man buying a magazine for the first time immediately becomes introduced to Ford. It is reasonable to assume that when hot-rodders or hot rod--influenced persons buy transportation, they buy Fords. As they progress in age and income, they graduate from jalopies, to second-hand Fords, then to new Fords."
This should sound familiar but I should mention that it was written by a well-respected, accomplished hot rodder, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Dec. 16, 1953. How times have changed, or have they?
The original small-block (265 ci) went into production in 1955 (’54-57) growing in cubes until it reached 400 inches in 1970 and this configuration was used from 1970 until 1981. In between there was the 283 (’57-67) that eventually sported the first Chevy mechanical fuel injection. Next up was the 327 (62-69) that shared production runs with the 350 (’67 to present as a replacement component). Mixed in was the highly desirable 302 (Z/28 fame) made for several years (’67-69) and a 307 (smog motor ’68-73). Another slight variation of this motor was the 305 (’76-00). There was also an oddball but a fun engine for hot rodders who really want something unusual--the 262 made for only two years (’75-76).
By 1957 the 265 grew into a 283 and it too came with an optional Rochester mechanical fuel injection, it became the first production engine ever to make 1 hp per cubic inch. Arguably the most popular of the small-blocks the 327 followed, turning out as much as 375 hp and increasing horsepower per cubic inch to 1.15. (This engine from 1963-65 also had an optional Rochester mechanical fuel injection. This FI is often referred to as a big-box injector and highly sought after by rodders who today convert them to electronic operation while keeping the vintage mechanical appearance.) It is the 350 that is most widely used among hot rodders.
By 1996 the last change came to pass for the Gen I engine (350), and it continued through the end of the production run in 2003; all ’97 to ’03 Gen I engines were Vortec truck engines. It featured an intake manifold bolt pattern that was changed to four bolts per cylinder head instead of the heretofore six.
The small-block Chevy fought a battle against the Ford to become the engine of choice among hot rodders--and it succeeded. In place of the SBC now comes the LS series of engines from Chevrolet and they have proven beyond any doubt what an incredible hot rod motor they make.
Now I have to believe there is an engineer or some other forward thinking Ford type who has read Mr. Duntov’s letter and is wondering how to get Ford back on top. Maybe it will be with the Flathead (probably not), maybe with the conventional small-block Ford (valiant battle but again probably not), but lastly could it be with Ford’s latest entry into the V-8 battle with the Coyote? Time will tell but in the meantime the small-block Chevy should be given its propsit earned them.