Never Stop Driving #35: Long Live the Chevy V-8

General Motors is spending almost a billion dollars to build a new V-8 engine. That’s a significant chunk of change—GM’s 2022 revenue is estimated to be $14 billion. While GM intends to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035, the automaker’s announcement clarifies that the path to ZEVs in 2035 will still include many new pickup trucks that need a modern V-8.

I encourage you to read GM’s press release because it emphasizes not so much the engine itself and the strong-selling pickups it will (mostly) power but rather how the investment will create and maintain U.S. manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are great, but the way GM released this news made me think about the tricky position legacy car companies are in: On one hand, they need to hype the electric future largely because Tesla showed the way for that story to sway public opinion and juice the stock price. But on the other hand, pickups and V-8s bring home the pork and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

That reality is not necessarily welcomed by those who don’t run car companies.

The small-block Chevy V-8 is an incredible engine, the most prolific ever made, with roots that go back to 1955. Among GM V-8s, the small-block was simply physically smaller, which earned it the nickname. At least that’s the genesis I’ve heard. If you know better, please share in the comments.

The secret to the small-block is its simplicity and careful, detailed engineering. The motor is incredibly dense—the amount of power it produces for its physical size—and cheap. In 1997, the third-generation small-block debuted, heralding the “LS” era. LS motors, often nabbed from junkyards for under a grand, are such popular engine upgrades that there are festivals dedicated to LS swaps called “LS Fest.”

The small-block has graced our pages and videos for years. For the soup to nuts history, read this. If you want to see how a small-block goes together, join the 1.7 million who’ve watched our time-lapse rebuild. And, finally, we also explained the small-block’s sibling, which is, naturally, the big-block. Automotive engineers are nothing if not logical! If you really want to dive in, type “small-block” into the search field at to reveal volumes of material.

My personal small-block experience includes a 2002 Corvette that I impulsively won in an online auction for only 15 grand. That C5-generation Corvette took full advantage of its compact small-block V-8 and had a very low hood line, which provided a fantastic view out of the windshield. A previous owner had modified the engine and exhaust, so it was a loudly raucous thing that raised neighborhood hell. I loved it at first but grew tired of the attention and didn’t want to spend the money to change it, so I sold it for about 14K. Lost again, lol. The C5 Corvettes remain incredible values and we just included one on our Bull Market list. (You can also watch the Bull Market here)

Larry Webster

Yet another car I wish I had not sold, a 2002 Corvette, in Marietta, Ohio, one of my favorite driving destinations.

GM engineers define the small-block by the distance between the cylinders, which is why the new Corvette Z06 engine, which employs double-overhead cams rather than traditional pushrods, is considered a small-block. I wrote a deep dive on this motor and during the production of that piece, we had many internal debates about how far we need to go when we’re explaining technical topics. Can we assume the audience knows what horsepower is? Does the average reader recognize that an E30 BMW refers to the 3-series model that was built from 1982 to 1994?

Diving into every detail can bog down an article, or a video, in a hurry and make an audience feel like they are being talked down to. (Of course I know what horsepower is!) Conversely, too much jargon and assumed knowledge can turn away newcomers. We welcome the curious with outstretched arms but also want to communicate that we are in this deep and know our stuff. Like everything, there’s a balance. In that Z06 piece, I focused on the main engine technology and tried to simply explain its importance in a way that’s enlightening to the knowledgeable but also welcoming to those who don’t have a mechanical engineering degree. My dream would be for someone who has little to no gearhead knowledge to be curious enough to read and think, “Ahh, now I get it. That’s interesting.”

I’d love to hear what you think and your own small-block tales.

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    GM has a plan with the new small-block: build enough of them so that when all of the EVs fail, their software gets hacked, and batteries for them become as hard to get as computer chips are today, there will be enough SBC’s around for EVERYONE to do an engine swap into their crippled vehicles, thus ensuring the continued demand for parts and maintenance at GM plants and outlets. 😋

    Larry, I’d love to regale you with all of my small-block tales, but I fear I’d turn the audience off. Suffice to say, I’m glad I cut my first mechanical teeth on a 265 back in the early 1960s, because it truly led me into some of the most fun, fruitful, and fantastic automotive adventures I could have imagined. I’m fine with marque-loyalties, so if someone is a FoMoCo freak, mad for Mopars, or even rabid for Ramblers, that’s okay with me. I’ve even owned and been satisfied with other makes of motors, but if I could only choose ONE engine to have in ANY vehicle I was building, the choice would be simple and immediate: a small-block Chevy!

    [PS – I considered using “insane for International-Harvester, Joy-jumping for Jaguar, and krazy for Kaisers”, but they just didn’t have the right ring… 😁]

    Hello I read some place that the engineers that developed the Pontiac V8, later developed the Chevy V8. I do not recall the engineers names or where I read that. But that makes sense as I do believe Pontiac V8 came first then the small block.

    Colin Chapman’s quote “add lightness” should be part of GM’s cure for sports cars of the future. GM offered a connect and cruise LTG 2 Liter DOHC turbo 4 with 6 speed transaxle @ 295 HP that I bought a few years ago and built a sorta light weight car around it. It came in at 1530# wet….a little chubby i thought, so I bought a BMW K1600B motorcycle and built a very light weight monoposto @ 1038# wet….take a look at Jay Leno’s review of them
    Admittedly not practical but educational ….cars have gotten chubby laden with too many accessories that are parasitic fun loss….go back to basics “add lightness”

    Dang, the Lulu is amazing! Agree on the weight part, but you know all the reasons….crash requirements, etc. Glad you’re keeping the flame lit!

    I don’t think the term small-block was applied to the Chevy V8 until they, Chevrolet, introduced the 348 cid engine in 1958, which of course was a big-block. And I coudn’t agree more about the use of too much jargon in a car story. Does the average consumer know what center stack, or light signature, or greenhouse is?

    While my ‘experience’ goes back to ’63 through to the present complete with a host of others as per DUB6’s excellent post above one ‘small block’ really stands out. I sold an underperforming 2003 Mercury Marauder and bought a new 2005 CTSV with the LS6. (I traded my ’96 Impala SS in on the Merc and was sorry I did). I took the CTSV to Lingenfelter in ’06 where they modified it to 427 cubes c/w racing cam etc. They did a great build and the car was such a pleasure. In 2012 I bought a CTSV wagon (yes, manual) which I still drive today and installed a full KB suspension on the ’05 which I used for track days for 5 years. I still have the ’05 (sold my track membership due to age/health issues) and drive it pretty regularly. Compared to the ’12 (or my new Tahoe c/w Magnuson SC) it’s a little rough but still a hoot to drive. Couldn’t ask more of these motors!
    Always enjoy your articles Larry.

    I was working at Ford when the Marauder came out, and I was driving a well used 95 Impala SS. Ford’s own website showed that the 6 year old Impala had better acceleration than the Marauder. I thought maybe they should have called the Jay Walker.

    I wound up in a focus group because i had the Impala. A group of 50-60s old guys came in, started looking at the handout. As soon as the young woman started the focus group, one of the old guys raised his hand. “Is it true that the Marauder takes 8.2 seconds to get to 60?” he said. The young woman had no clue as to what that meant, other than it was written in the handout. She agreed. Half the guys immediately got up and walked out. The poor woman was completely undone, in tears even, and had to call her boss. He didn’t know much either.

    In the afternoon, we got to drag race new Marauders in an 1/8 mile strip on the Dearborn proving ground. Because I worked at Ford, I could get my Impala into the grounds. After an hour of burning up Ford’s tires, I offeredto race one of the Ford engineers with my old Impala. It easily beat the Marauder. I let a couple of the Ford guys try it, and the Impala won every time, easily. Finally, one of the Ford guys said to me, “this car runs pretty good for a car with 33,000 miles”. I said, “look again. That’s 330,000 miles”.

    Needless to say, the Marauder never got to do any serious marauding. More like jay walking.

    A new generation of small block coming is the best automotive news so far this year. I personally like descriptive articles about automobiles, if someone has trouble with the terms everybody has this really near hand held device that they carry around with them that allows them to type words in and educate themselves. Sometimes that’s part of the fun too, the rabbit holes you go down and the joy of attaining that new knowledge.

    Heck with Microsoft Edge you can highlight a word you do not understand, right click and hit define and the web browser will tell you the definition. Better yet have your web developer folks make it so all the difficult words popup a definition when you place the mouse cursor over the troublesome word. This can be automated to the point where the web developers can add/remove words and definitions to a database.

    Once all the words and definitions are added a simple parser can be written so that articles with difficult to understand words are automatically modified to the point the writers and editors need to do no extra work except enter the word and definition once perhaps though a simple admin page.

    So basically in the end you can provide more detail without overloading the articles with definitions and descriptions.

    I have a LT1 350 from an early 70’s Camaro. I have friends of mine that are trying to talk me into a more modern motor for my 1955 Chevy Belair. I just can’t seem to talk myself out of the old school motors…

    Hi Larry, I’m driving my small block Chevy on the Amelia Island or Bust tour 2023. There is a seat available for you if you wish to ride down with us again this year. PM me for details. Hope to see you at Amelia, I’ll be at Radwood. Appreciate the newsletter! Cheers, Pete Engel

    Glad to see this article and read the press release. It’s encouraging to see that it’s still in fashion for at least some of us to support our country.

    Well here is what GM is not saying publicly.

    If you step back and look GM and several other MFGs are using a two prong effort in the conversion to EV. In the case of GM we have an ICE Blazer and we now are getting an EV. Both will be sold at one time. Same with the Equinox as it will be available in ICE and EV.

    The reason for this is the transition is over time and they want to sell ICE as long as they can. But be ware this is not a fad or a failed effort on EV. The regulations in place give them no choice but to move to EV if they plan to sell cars in the future.

    The trucks as the story said pay for everything so they will keep them gas as long as they can. The Corvette will benefit by this. Now be aware as time goes on some states will shut out these vehicles and they will face more guzzler taxes etc.

    I anticipate we will see the half ton go EV and the 3/4 and one tone stay gas for a longer time. Their regulations are less strict. Bu their will not be cheap as they are high priced now.

    Ford even played with the idea of two Fords one Gas and One electric.

    None of this has anything to do with Tesla. This is all about Regulations from state, national and global regulations.

    We already have a number of states ready to ban ICE and they alone account for 1/3 of the car sold in America.

    The reason this is not a fad and will not fail is the amount of money being invested is so high there is no real turning back. The time line could be extended but the direction is pretty much set.

    The back and fourth of the past where regulations changed with each president are over as cost are too high to keep changing. Automakers once they perfect EV products can also be more competitive price wise as there will be less parts, less assembly and like most other electronics with scale and over time technology gets cheaper.

    So right now you need enjoy what we have and we all need to step up and protect our collector cars. They may not ban them but they can take away what we need to run them. The oils today are very non flat tappet friendly and I expect more trouble with oils and fuels.

    If they up more alcohol in the gas it could destroy much of the old cars and bike fuel system. The synthetic fuels being worked on will also come with a price tag you may not like.

    I am not making an argument either way but we all need to be realistic here and learn where this is going to better deal with it. Too many get emotional over this and in denial and that only hurts things more than help. We the enthusiast are no longer a leading group and they are going to do what they want so we need to save what we can at this point.

    EV is not the end of the world but it could be the end of our hobby if we do not get more help and more support.

    I shake my head at those who overestimate the ability of government to mandate change and underestimate the logistics challenges of this change in particular. The amount of raw materials involved in building batteries and the infrastructure required to operate the vehicles is staggering. Already California’s electric operator has advised not charging EVs during power challenges. No.

    The only unknown? How long it will take for a better technology to replace the EV/battery fiasco. Yes, fiasco.

    “The reason this is not a fad and will not fail is the amount of money being invested is so high there is no real turning back.”

    The same thing could’ve been said about New Coke. Or Olestra. Or the Edsel, or GM diesels in the 70s…

    Don’t get me wrong, EVs are great for some situations and SOME people love EVs and will buy nothing but going forward, but just because extremist tree huggers hoodwinked hundreds of naive politicians and a few dozen CEOs that the future can be powered by unicorn farts, that doesn’t mean tens of millions of street smart Americans have to ignore common sense and agree with them.

    When the number of rabidly enthusiastic EV fan boys and girls plateaus– and it will– and plenty of Joe Sixpacks show ZERO, ZILCH, NADA interest in electric trucks (trucks being far and away the most popular class of vehicles sold in the U.S.) Chevy’s $1B investment in this engine will be seen as the most prescient business decision GM has made in the past 30 years. ICE trucks will be sold in the U.S. for a long, loooooooong time.

    Agreed. I better purchase and build a mid 1980’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme soon. My first car was a Cutlass and sadly the 3.8L V6 had an oil pump failure, at the time I didn’t have the resources to replace the engine. I’m really kicking myself for that oversite now as the rest of the car was in spectacular condition.

    I’d like to have that car again, but with a bit more power and efficiency. I do not plan to use an LS or LT as that seems almost to simple and played out. I have other plans for the rest of the car but the biggest area I plan to focus on is keeping it looking as stock as possible, at least the interior, exterior and ride height.

    Larry, suggest you should describe technical terms. Perhaps like this: The horsepower of an internal combustion engine (ICE) is the result of a mathematical expression using torque and rpm as variables. Torque is the result of combustion pressure on the piston (force) applied to the crankshaft (lever arm.) This results in a rotational motion measured as revolutions per minute. A dynamometer measures torque and rpm. Horsepower is calculated from this data. In the USA the conventional unit for the force is pounds with the lever arm measured in feet. Technically defined as pounds-feet, but commonly called foot-pounds.

    A future topic, for you, could be to describe the theoretical relationship of the electric vehicle (EV) battery capacity, the onboard charger and the external power source as they relate to the time to recharge.

    Hi Larry, Related to the article on the Chevy engines, I had the pleasure of meeting and enjoying the company of “Chuck” … met him in Honduras, he was running a resort on Moon Bay at 72 years old.
    He was the retired GM guy that made the original casting molds for the “ 265” ( 283) V8. He and I talked hours about cars, the ideas and efforts.
    What a history that motor has ..

    The same size container, but a different favor: I’ve just come out of a mustang6g forum discussion on whether 486 and/or 500 horsepower is enough from a 5 liter V8. I’m referring to the Ford Coyote engine here of course. Being an old fart, provides prospective that some of the younger enthusiasts may not have. Granted, the way horsepower numbers were generated has changed over the years due to SAE making the testing protocols closer to reality than they were prior, but think about the horsepower big blocks of the muscle car era created, and what a small block motor does these days? Improved breathing with 4 valve heads and computer added devices like variable valve timing are probably the biggest changes.

    But think about it…12:1 compression ratio engines running on pump gas! Pretty remarkable, to say the least!

    Great article on an American icon. I am on my sixth LS motor. My 2001 Suburban 5.3 ran 275,000 before is dropped a lifter. By then it was 19 years old and my daughter and her husband owned it. In between my second, a 2015 Silverado with another 5.3, and my current 2022 Silverado I rolled in three successive Escalades with 6.2 motors. My favorite has to be the 2014. It was a tight and solid motor and even at 98,000 ran so quietly and pulled like crazy until you got on it. That had the dual square pipes below the rear bumper and you could always sense and feel the motor. My 2016, same car two years newer, seemed to have grown up. Motor and power were there, but well hidden by sound dampening. I went back to the 5.3 in my current Silverado. Just a little better gas mileage than the 6.2, and the certified pre-owned LTZ I found had that motor. It seems just fine.

    I suppose I could also mention the grandfather’s ’60 Chevy with a 283 that I drove and drooled over extensively, and then there was that ’66 283 that my buddy and I learned how to rebuild by doing it. And that ’57 Belair convertible with the 283 Power Pak that my dad bought when I was 5. You could say that, along with my ’65 MGB, the small block Chevy has been a part of my life all along in one way or another. Pretty darn lucky to have that motor and the vehicles it powered, the way I see it. Thanks again.

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