The best engine ever would be free, make gobs of horsepower and torque on demand, be the easiest thing in the world to work on, sound amazing, look good (so good that you’d HAVE to take the hood off), and have a legacy that makes people pray to it for guidance (sorry God!). Those are some pretty strict criteria, but with those in mind, let’s go into depth of the engines that really are just THAT good. Since everybody has their own ideas of which engine goes where on the list, I’m simply going to do them as bullet points and let you all squabble in the comment section as to what engine goes where. Have fun!
This is going to be the first in a series of blog posts for different types of cars: Economy cars, trucks, vans, etc. This post is dedicated to the cars that just begged us to floor it – muscle cars! In all of these posts, I will have a YouTube video of these engines revving for pure aural trauma.
- 1961-1980 BOP General Motors V-8 (215 c.i., 300 c.i., 340 c.i., 350 c.i.): BOP stands for Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac. GM originally invented this small-block all-aluminum V8 for their “advanced” line of “compact” vehicles for 1961- the Buick Special/Skylark, the Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, and the Pontiac Tempest. That path went off of a cliff in 1963, but the tiny 215 c.i. engine soldiered on to become the cast-iron 300, 340, and 350 c.i. V-8 engines that powered the full-size Buick’s until 1980. England’s Rover bought the rights to manufacture the engine in 1966, and mass-produced it as an aluminum engine until 2005. Today, the lightweight 215 c.i. V8 is a popular engine swap for small British sports cars, flatfender Jeeps, Chevrolet Vegas, and other small, lightweight vehicles. It’s light, reliable, fuel-efficient, and can take one hell of a beating. Oh, and Sir Jack Brabham won the 1966 Formula 1 world title with a Repco-modified BOP V-8; the only American V-8 to ever accomplish that title! It’s got some performance potential, it’s somewhat historically significant, it looks halfway decent, it’s something that can be built on something of a budget, it’s relatively easy to work on, and it’s pretty cool. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VxYcT1lZzc
- 1968-1984 Cadillac 3rd-Generation V-8 (368 c.i., 425 c.i., 472 c.i., 500 c.i.): When Cadillac’s redesigned V-8 arrived on the market in 1968, it was America’s largest engine displacement at 472 c.i., yet was somehow overlooked by hot rodders. Why? Ford, other GM manufacturers, and Chrysler all offered smaller, less expensive V-8’s with more performance potential. The big-block Cadillac V8 was largely overlooked until the mid-late 1980’s, when budget-minded hot rodders saw the big-inch V-8’s sitting in junkyards. As the age of the big Cadillac’s declined through the early 1980’s, so did the displacement. It shrunk from a whopping 500 cubic inches to a still-gigantic 368 cubic inches. Some cool facts: Cadillac apparently wasn’t content with a big ol’ V-8, so they were developing a V-16 for what would become the Eldorado. Alas, cooler heads at Cadillac management prevailed. The 500 c.i. V8 remains to this day the largest-displacement, production-line, passenger-car V-8 ever. What about the Chevy/GMC 502 c.i. V-8 of the early 2000’s? That was trucks only. It’s got some performance potential, it’s got some historic significance, it looks decent enough, it’s somewhat affordable, it’s easy enough to work on, and all you need to know is that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top built CadZZilla in 1989 with a Cadillac 500 c.i. V-8! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZvRrO_KF7o
- 1949-1964 Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 (303 c.i., 324 c.i., 371 c.i., 394 c.i.): Introduced alongside the Cadillac “nailhead” V-8 in 1949, Oldsmobile’s “Rocket” high-compression V-8 took advantage of the high-octane fuel refining technology developed during WWII. In 1957, the legendary 370-371 (it depends on who you ask – a hot rodder or a mathematician) cubic inch J-2 V-8 debuted with 312 horsepower, three vacuum-operated, two-barrel carburetors, and quickly became a legend in NASCAR and the gasser wars. We often think of this engine as a show-car engine, but it was definitely a show-stopper engine when an old 1941 Willys gasser idled up next to you. It’s got some performance potential, it’s fairly historically significant, it looks nice, it’s something you can build on a large enough budget, it’s easy enough to work on, and beware of it if you see a gasser! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adRWaLKkpL8
- 1953-1966 Buick “Nailhead” V-8 (264 c.i., 322 c.i., 364 c.i., 401 c.i., 425 c.i.): “Nailhead” was never an official factory designation for Buick’s first in-house V8, but it certainly stuck like the first nail in the coffin. It’s got one of the most recognizable engine shapes ever, thanks to it’s completely vertical valve covers, and quickly became one of the most popular engine swap choices ever. It offers plenty of cubed inches in a somewhat light, narrow package. Power was somewhat limited due to the flimsy valves that had a tendency to break apart, and a rather unusual valvetrain placement, but that certainly didn’t stop drag racing legend TV Tommy Ivo and road racing legend Max Balchowsky from being the winners multiple times. Because of the valve problems, you can’t get that much power from the engine, it’s got a lot of historical significance, it looks really cool, it’s pretty affordable to work on with a normal budget, and it won’t cause wrench throwing and cussing – at least not THAT much…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQPKBnS0rOE
- 1965-1990 Oldsmobile V-8 (260 c.i., 307 c.i., 330 c.i., 350 c.i., 400 c.i., 403 c.i., 425 c.i., 455 c.i.): One of the most legendary engines from the muscle car era was the 455 “Rocket.” The smog-happy 307 cubic inch V8 was introduced in 1973, and stayed in production until 1990. Chances are, if you had an Oldsmobile sedan or station wagon, or even a Buick, it had a 307. When this whole series of engines was introduced in 1965, it used the latest thin-wall casting techniques, as well as the somewhat revolutionary saddle-style rocker arms. These V-8’s were used by every GM division except for Chevrolet during GM’s corporate V-8 period, during which time the Pontiac Trans Am used an Olds 403 cubic inch V-8. Wanna know a cool song fact? Kathy Mattea wrote a song called “455 Rocket,” which sung the praises of a 455-equipped Oldsmobile. It’s got a great deal of performance potential, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like a big-block V8, you can build a good one on a budget, it will cause some wrench throwing and cussing, but so does every engine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ29D-Zlpok
- 1964-2003 Chrysler LA Series V-8 (273 c.i., 318 c.i., 340 c.i., 360 c.i.): Very loosely based on the LA Series (LA stands for Light A in Mopar lore), the LA V-8 displaced a somewhat skimpy 273 cubic inches when it debuted in the Dodge Dart in 1964. However, stroked versions of this V-8 followed. This engine was used in everything from trucks, vans, cars, and motorhomes. It can be found in many Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth products from 1964-2003. It’s one of the longest-lived American V-8’s ever, having lived a couple of years into the 21st century as the slightly revised 5.2 and 5.9-liter Magnum V-8’s. The most famous cars to utilize the LA V-8’s? Undoubtedly the Dodge Challenger T/A and the Plymouth Barracuda AAR. They both used a 340 cubic inch LA V8 with three two-barrel carburetors (hence the Six Pack moniker). It became wildly popular among street and strip enthusiasts, thanks to the largest cylinder bore of the engine group. It’s got lots of performance potential, some historical significance, looks OK, it’s relatively affordable to build, any gearhead can work on it, and it offers muscle-car power in a small, convenient package. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfmClbUX4fM
- 1967-1976 Buick Big-Block V-8 (400 c.i., 430 c.i., 455 c.i.): Buick’s big-block V8 shares essentially a basic engine block shape with a Chevy big-block V-8, but that’s where the similarities to any Chevy big-block V-8 end. It first appeared in 1967 as the successor to the “nailhead” V-8 that had enjoyed hot-rodding success for many years. Designed to give lots of lugging torque on demand, not high revs, this engine showed little to no performance potential until the 455 c.i. Stage I and II muscle car versions arrived in the Skylark packages in 1970, surprising just about everybody. This engine has been shown to keep up with the legendary 426 HEMI in match races that began in the 1980’s and continue today. It makes 510 lb-ft of torque at about 3500 RPM, which means that you really don’t need to floor it to get power. It’s got a lot of performance potential, some historic significance, it looks like another big engine, you can build one on a budget today, and yeah, you’ll probably wreck a few tools as you scream at it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgH1BwMPqZI
- 1968-1997 Ford 385 Series V-8 (370 c.i., 429 c.i., 460 c.i.): This big-block Ford engine was designed for three things in mind: 1) Beat the 426 HEMI in NASCAR and drag racing 2) Be easy to stroke out 3) Be easy to work on. This short-skirt, thin-wall engine design V-8 moved in to replace the legendary FE and MEL series V-8’s of the early-mid 1960’s. Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln land yachts used the gigantic 460 c.i. V-8 throughout the 1970’s, before being replaced with the smaller, more fuel-efficient 370 cubic inch V-8. The 460 Ford V-8 was used in trucks and vans through 1997, so finding engine cores is relatively easy. These under appreciated engines can easily be stroked out to 514 cubic inches. The biggest 385 series V-8 one can get is 828 cubic inches, which is popular in Top Fuel drag racing. They can make cheap, easy power. The best of this engine series? Unarguably the Boss 429, which powered the Ford Mustang Boss 429, and was a hemi-headed design based on the 385 series engine architecture was Ford’s big-block warrior during the NASCAR wars of the 1970’s. It’s got so much performance potential I don’t know where to start, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like yeah, another big engine, it’s somewhat affordable to work on, and you’ll probably bust a few knuckles working on it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9ZGx4YtYf0
- 1997-Present Chevrolet LS Series V-8 (4.8L, 5.3L, 5.7L, 6.0L, 6.2L, 7.0L): In much the same way that the original Chevrolet small-block V-8 turned the performance industry on it’s head in 1955, the LS Series V-8’s that replaced the old small-block revolutionized the affordable performance industry. In 1997, one could easily believe that the American V-8 had reached it’s maximum performance potential. Had it? Not even close. The LS Series engines redefined the words state-of-the-art for pushrod V-8 engines. It’s been shown time and time again that an LS V-8 is the go-to choice for most hot rodders. It’s got a lot of performance potential right out of the crate, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like a new V-8, it’s affordable enough to work on, and you don’t need to do much to it to get performance right out of the wood crate it comes in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpQlD-FLZMU
- 1970-1982 Ford 335 Series V-8 (302 c.i., 351 c.i., 400 c.i.): While this engine series shares the same bore and head-bolt patterns with the much-loved Windsor V-8 that it replaced, but that’s where any similarities between the two engines end. The key difference is that the Cleveland V-8, as the engine is known as, has specially canted valve covers. While production of the most coveted Cleveland V-8 ended in 1974, two much less popular variants (the 351M and the 400 c.i.) stayed in production until 1982. Australia built a 302 c.i. version of this V-8 that is rarely seen here. It’s got a lot of performance potential, some historic significance, it looks good enough, it’s relatively affordable to work on, and it’s going to cause wrench throwing and cussing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX_lVHoBnh8
- 1932-1953 Ford Flathead V-8 (221 c.i., 239 c.i., 255 c.i.): This is the one that started it all. John Lennon once said, “If you wanted to give rock and roll a name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'” If you wanted to give hot rodding a name, it might be Ford flathead V-8. Henry Ford’s L-head V-8 was the engine that started the 1940’s hot rodding frenzy. Flathead experts like to differentiate the engines by the 21-head stud 1932-1937 flathead V-8’s from the 1938-1953 24-head stud flathead V-8’s. These engines use two water pumps, which were located in the cylinder heads until 1936, when they were moved into the V of the engine block. It became obsolete in the early 1950’s with the advent of overhead-valve engines from GM and the early hemi engines from Mopar, but it is still the go-to choice for many classic Ford enthusiasts. It’s got some performance potential, it’s one of the most historically significant engines around, it looks really cool, anybody can build one on a budget, and it’s going to bust a few knuckles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-IevaW2lLY
- 1958-1976 Ford FE Series V-8 (332 c.i., 352 c.i., 360 c.i., 361 c.i., 390 c.i., 406 c.i., 427 c.i., 428 c.i.): Ford’s legendary FE Series V-8 made it’s debut in 1958 as the 332 c.i. V-8 found in the 1958 Ford Fairlane. Some oddball FE engines included the 361 c.i. V-8 found in the Edsel and the 410 c.i. V-8 found in fullsize Mercury’s from 1966-1967. Undeniably king of the hill was the 427 cubic inch single overhead cam engine introduced for NASCAR in 1964, and known as the S.O.H.C. (sock) or Cammer. However, the most famous FE engine was the 427 Carroll Shelby stuffed into the Shelby Cobra in 1964-1965. One version of the Cammer had a 6-foot-long timing chain and hemispherical combustion chambers, and was outlawed from NASCAR, but became a big winner in drag racing in the late 1960’s. It’s got gobs of performance potential, almost as much historical significance, it looks pretty darn cool, it’s going to need a big budget to build up, and it’s somewhat of a knuckle-buster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Q8PBknCDc
- 1955-1981 Pontiac V-8 (265 c.i., 287 c.i., 301 c.i., 303 c.i., 316 c.i., 326 c.i., 347 c.i., 350 c.i., 370 c.i., 389 c.i., 400 c.i., 421 c.i., 428 c.i., 455 c.i.): This gigantic series of V-8’s from Pontiac might just be the most versatile V-8 to ever come from GM. It was produced in even more displacements than the small-block Chevy V-8! Other manufacturers have based their engines off of multiple “small-block” and “big-block” platforms, but all of these Pontiac V-8’s have the same 4.62-inch cylinder bore, meaning that finding speed parts for any one of these engines is not going to be a massive headache (hem, hem 1996 GMC Yukon). The cars that carried these engines are the ones that made them famous – the Super Duty factory drag cars of the early 1960’s, the Pontiac GTO, and the Bandit-era Pontiac Trans Am. Talk about performance potential to the nines! These engines can be built any way you like them, they are pretty historically significant, they look nice, you can build one on a decent budget, and it’s somewhat of a wrench-thrower. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e26LT5DkGeQ
- 1951-1958 Chrysler/Dodge/DeSoto Hemi V-8 (331 c.i., 354 c.i., 392 c.i.): The 331 cubic-inch Hemi-headed V-8 Chrysler introduced in 1951 was their first overhead-valve V-8 engine. This was the original Mopar Hemi. The Hemi name came from the hemispherical shape of the combustion chambers. The trade name was FirePower. I’m going to avoid any Buzz Lightyear jokes. After a few years, drag racers found out that these engines worked really well huffing nitrous oxide and burning nitromethane. A new kind of drag racing sprang into being. It’s hard to imagine Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars without a Chrysler Hemi V-8. These engines have remarkable performance potential, you’ll be hard-pressed to find other engines that radically changed drag racing so much, it looks really, really cool, you can build one on a small enough budget, and they are easy enough to work on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGXMh_8p3n8
- 1958-1965 Chevrolet W Series V-8 (348 c.i., 409 c.i., 427 c.i.): These Chevy V-8’s are more of a historical footnote than anything else, but they have three good things going for them: 1) Their cool valve covers that form a shape somewhat resembling a W 2) The song that immortalized this engine, 409, by the Beach Boys. Once you listen to it, you’ll never get it out of your head. For those of you who have watched the Nicholas Cage movie, Bringing Out the Dead, remember that scene when he had the paradoxical reaction to the “Red Death” drug? That’s gonna be you…3) The W Chevy motor could really make a car haul, especially with the 409/409 horsepower mill. It had a four-speed manual, dual four-barrel carburetors (dual quads), a Posi-traction rear end, and a good, big engine. The 1963 Chevrolet Z-11 Impala with the 427 cubic inch V-8 that pumped out a massively underrated 430 horsepower as a drag-strip special didn’t hurt either. These engines were technological dead ends for Chevy, but they are forever immortalized by the Beach Boys. Nowadays, there is a lot of power you can squeeze out of them, they are almost too historically significant (thank you Beach Boys!), they look really cool, you can build one on a budget in your garage, and they are definitely not the easiest engines to work on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLkMMkK_a1s
- 1958-1977 Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth B/RB V-8 (350 c.i., 383 c.i., 400 c.i., 413 c.i., 426 c.i., 440 c.i.): Chrysler’s first entry in the big-block muscle car wars was a 350 cubic inch V-8 in 1958. Of course, the best-known Chrysler big-blocks are the 383 c.i. and 440 c.i. V-8’s, as well as the 426 c.i. Max Wedge HEMI engines that ruled NASCAR and the drag strips well into the 1970’s. The Max Wedge HEMI is so easy to squeeze power out of that it’s not uncommon to see them make 900 horsepower with mostly stock internals. Check them out on YouTube. These days, the smog-era 400 c.i. V-8 is the most prized engine, thanks to it having the largest cylinder bore of the group (4.340 inches) and their low deck height. This means that these engines can be easily stroked out to 500 c.i. and above. The engine one step below the 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” is the 440 Six-Pack V-8, which has three two-barrel Holley carburetors, an Edelbrock intake manifold, and other speed goodies from the factory. These engines have some of the biggest performance potential out there, they have almost as much historical significance as the 409 Chevy, they look really cool, they can be built on a budget, and wrench throwing will ensue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLkn66h66U
- 1962-2001 Ford 90-Degree V-8 (221 c.i., 255 c.i., 260 c.i., 289 c.i., 302/5.0L c.i., 351 c.i.): Better known to hot rodders and Ford enthusiasts as the Windsor V-8, the 90-degree V-8 is the blue oval’s most popular small-block engine offering. The K-Code High Performance 289 c.i. engine (1963-1967) was the first of these engines to really make a dent in the high-performance world. The first Shelby Cobra’s first used Ford 260 c.i. V-8’s and then 289 c.i. V-8’s. Today, these engines are nearly as common as a small-block Chevy V-8 on the street-rod scene. However, it was the advent of the fuel-injected 302 c.i. Mustang that really got the attention of enthusiasts and hot rodders worldwide in 1986. Those Fox-Body Mustang’s created one of the biggest marketplaces for performance parts, and Fox-Body Mustangs always seem to make up at least a third of the field at any given drag strip weekend or autocross event. There are so many performance parts for these engines that you could spend months picking out what parts you want! So, they have lots of performance potential, they are almost as historically significant, they look like another small-block engine, you can build one up for some money, and they are pretty easy to work on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfcuyUpI0W8
- 1964-1971 Dodge/Plymouth 426 HEMI (426 c.i.): Among enthusiasts, it’s known as the “Elephant Motor.” Dodge and Plymouth engineers were searching for a way to produce more horsepower during the NASCAR and drag racing wars of the 1960’s, Dodge and Plymouth’s engineers decided to update the original Hemi head design from earlier in 1964 and update it to the short-block Max Wedge V-8 engine. This is how the 426 HEMI was born. It was the most powerful engine of the muscle car era, dominating the tracks and the streets until 1971, when rising gas and insurance prices shot the elephant dead. I definitely think it’s the best looking engine of the muscle car era – nothing looks quite like it. It’s defining moment was it’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1964 Daytona 500, with Richard starting 2nd and coming in 1st. It’s got probably as much, if not more performance potential as a big-block Chevy V-8, it’s probably the most significant engine of the muscle car era, it looks drop-dead-gorgeous, it’s not at all affordable to build (not only due to it’s rarity, but due to the fact that too much power makes it go boom), and it’s nowhere nearly as easy to work on as a Chevy V-8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9JiN6qlcnw
- 1965-2009 Chevrolet Big-Block V-8 (366 c.i., 396 c.i., 402 c.i., 427 c.i., 430 c.i., 454 c.i., 496 c.i., 502 c.i.): While people often call Chevy’s W-Series motors talked about earlier here the first big-block Chevy V-8’s, but the big-block Chevy (BBC) as we know it first appeared as a 396 c.i. V-8 in the 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle. It appeared in various Chevelles and Corvettes that same year, but my personal favorite is the 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396. It’s got an understated elegance to it, and it’s really muscular at the same time. Yes, I’m still a fan of the 1970 El Camino SS454, LS6. Chevy’s official name for the engine was the Mark IV V-8, but it quickly picked up nicknames like Porcupine, Rat, semi-hemi, or big-block. I like Rat. Ever since it’s inception, it’s been a fan favorite of the go-big-or-go-home crowd. If you’re going to build a super-powerful 454, look for one that was based off of a truck 454 – it’s made out of forged steel, so it’s better than bulletproof. It’s got nearly as much performance potential as the 426 HEMI, it’s almost as historically significant, it looks almost as cool (talk about a show engine – for looks, quality, and affordable performance), you can build one for a few grand, and it’s extremely easy to work on. If you want to build one on a budget, go to a junkyard and look for a heavy-duty Chevy truck or van. It might have a 454 in it, and you can take it home, rip the smog stuff off of it, and buy quality parts for it, and make whatever car you have waiting for it a total sleeper. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIJstg1Jwx4
- 1955-2003 Chevrolet Small-Block V-8 (262 c.i., 265 c.i., 267 c.i., 283 c.i., 302 c.i., 305 c.i., 327 c.i., 350 c.i., 400 c.i.): Affectionately known as the “Mouse” motor (I prefer to call it the rat baby!) among enthusiasts, the Chevrolet small-block V-8 is probably the most versatile engine in hot-rodding. It’s been said by many that it’s been produced in greater numbers than any other V-8 in history, and it’s been raced everywhere from the high banks of Talladega to the Brooklands corner of Le Mans to the rectangular shape of Indy. While it’s just a legendary V-8 today, the small-block Chevy was ground-breaking when it was introduced in 1955 in the Corvette, Bel Air, and the Cameo/Apache pickups in Chevrolet’s lineup. Why? It was cast upside-down, and it’s rocker arms were made out of sheetmetal. The last production version of this engine rolled off of the production line in a Chevrolet cargo van in 2003. That same engine will undoubtedly power a street rod sometime in the 22nd century. The fastest V-8 in the world is a heavily-modified Chevrolet small-block! The king of the hill for production small-blocks is certainly the 327 c.i./375 horsepower L-84 with Rochester mechanical fuel injection offered in the 1964-1965 Chevrolet Corvette. However, many say that the 1970 LT1 with 350 c.i., 11.0:1 compression, 370 horsepower in the Corvette, as the best. I think both are great. My personal favorite Chevy with a small-block V-8 is the 1967-1969 Camaro Z/28 with the 302 c.i. V-8. It blends power with style, light weight with muscle car 1/4 mile numbers, and it’s still a formidable car on the race track in stock form. It’s got tons of performance potential, almost as much historical significance as the 426 HEMI, it can look pretty good, it’s incredibly affordable to build today, thanks to masses of cars/trucks/vans all over the place, and it’s something that anybody can work on. I have a 1996 GMC Yukon with a 350 c.i. V-8 that’s blown. How much does an engine cost, one might wonder? About $1,500. If I had a Dodge Polara with a 426 HEMI, it would be about $16,000. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZDAHMPmIAk
If your favorite muscle car engine from this era wasn’t mentioned here, tell me what it is. I’d love to know, and I would be happy to do a Part 2, if needed! The next in this series will be diesel engines! They are built to take more than a huge beating, so you can tune one to within an inch of it’s life without worry. Remember that the Forum is coming up on Friday! Come up with some questions!