In a world where the phrase “there’s no replacement for displacement” is thrown around quite a bit, we tend to forget about some of the truly great small-block cars. While a big-block is preferred by most enthusiasts, there are a few out there who love a small-block because of its ability to make power at high RPM ranges and its relatively small size, which makes it an ideal engine for swapping into a large number of chassis configurations. Here are five particularly legendary cars powered by small-blocks that prove you don’t need a huge engine under the hood to be a good muscle car.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 Sport Coupe 302/290
Hagerty Price Guide: $62,200-$130,000
When the Camaro was introduced in 1967, Chevrolet saw the need for a road-course-oriented version they called the Z/28. It featured the now-legendary 302 small-block, born out of the need for a 5.0-liter V-8 for Trans Am series racing. Known for its high RPM capability (just look at the 8,000 RPM tachometer), the 302 Chevy could be had with a single four-barrel carb or your local dealership could install a “cross ram” dual carb intake. With that in mind, the 290 factory horsepower rating seems like a blatant understatement.
1970 Dodge Challenger T/A Hardtop Coupe 340/290
Hagerty Price Guide: $42,900-$97,300
Possibly one of Dodge’s most celebrated small-block powered cars is the Challenger T/A. Just like the Charger Daytona with NASCAR, the Challenger T/A was Dodge’s homologation special for Trans Am racing. The T/A’s 340 engine was topped off with Six Pack induction like the one found on the 440 big-block, with the exhaust exiting through giant chrome trumpets in front of the rear wheels. In true Mopar fashion you could add high-impact colors to accompany the already standard stripes and outrageous hood scoop. Add a heavy duty suspension to the package and you have a truly outrageous looking car that could actually perform.
1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 SportsRoof 302/290
Hagerty Price Guide: $43,300-$130,000
Like the Z/28 Camaro and Challenger T/A, the Boss 302 was another Tran Am series homologation car. The Boss used a strengthened version of Ford’s Windsor small-block topped off with a set of high-flowing cylinder heads. Much like Chevrolet’s 302, the Boss was characterized by having outrageous RPM capabilities and being rated at a conservative 290 horsepower by the factory. This is one of Ford’s most celebrated renditions of the Mustang and well deserved at that.
1970 Chevrolet Corvette LT1 Coupe 350/370
Hagerty Price Guide: $23,200-$74,400
The Chevrolet 350 is probably the most-produced V-8 in existence. With production spanning from 1967 to present (in crate motor applications), this particular engine is by far Chevrolet’s most successful engine. Perhaps the best use of this engine was the LT1 in the Corvette. With horsepower ratings matching some of the big-blocks offered that year but weighing far less, the LT1 was the perfect engine for the Corvette: plenty of power without the weight to throw off the balance of the car. This engine is legendary enough that the LT1 name was resurrected in the 1990s for the performance applications and again in 2014 for the C7 Corvette.
1966 Shelby GT350 Fastback 289/306
Hagerty Price Guide: $118,000-$252,000
The GT350 is the car that really put Shelby’s road cars on the map. Equipped with Ford’s 289 Hi-Po small-block tweaked to make 306 hp, better braking and suspension, this is the car that solidified Shelby’s reputation as a master car builder both on and off of the track. While the GT350 hit the streets, production really came into stride for 1966. Not only were cars being built for private ownership, but the Hertz Corporation bought a handful for their Rent-a-Racer program. This was the last year of Shelby’s full involvement of these juiced-up Mustangs, making the early GT350 a truly special car.