It’s difficult to have a consistent perspective on horsepower as technology rapidly evolves. When the new-hotness looks nothing like the old-bustedness, it can be especially tricky to trace the family lineage of our favorite powerplants. Thankfully, if there’s one consistency at Chevrolet, it’s the small-block V-8—the venerable pushrod-actuated mill that has powered hundreds of millions of vehicles over its 65-year reign. The engine has gone through a few major revisions, but its 4.4-inch bore spacing and 16-valve pushrod configuration remains at the heart of Chevrolet’s V-8 lineup.
Richard Holdener has been locked away in a dark corner of Westech’s horsepower empire for the better part of his life running engines against the dyno to figure out the truth of the matter when it comes to making power. Today’s featured video is a rare slice into the wealth of data that Holdener’s collected on various engine combos—specifically, on three different small-blocks.
This video analyzes the 1970 LT-1, the 1995 LT1, and the 2017 LT1, three of the General’s small-block offerings that, despite their common foundation, hail from three very different eras of technology.
That original 350-cubic-inch LT-1 enters the arena with 2.02/1.60 valves, an 11:1 compression ratio, and a choppy solid-lifter cam, promising output in the neighborhood of 360 to 370 gross hp. (The number fluctuated largely based on what the marketing team felt like the motor made, depending on the year and application.) Since this motor’s output was originally measured outside of today’s SAE procedures—notably, running with no engine accessories—Holdener’s test resolves much of the debate around the yesteryear’s “underrated” performance options.
In the second corner sits the 1995 LT1, which trades a choppy cam and bigger valves for a 1.94/1.50 combo that benefits low-end torque. Chevy engineers mastered this engine’s 10.5:1 compression ratio on unleaded pump gas thanks to the LT1’s reverse-flow cooling system, which allowed them to avoid detonation cause by increased cylinder pressures.
Finally, we take a look at the 2017 LT1, a 6.2-liter, direct-injected tour de powah that still shares the same basic dimensions of the other two small-blocks but benefits from additional decades of development (and a few extra cubic inches). It brings together the best of the ’70s and ’90s, bumping up compression and valve-lift while maintaining excellent drivability.
We know that this test’s horsepower and torque comparison isn’t the end of the discussion, especially when it comes to picking the engine that’s right for your project. That said, would you consider tossing one of these three small-blocks in your next machine?