The classic Chevrolets of the world would be a lot less interesting without all the great engines that powered them. Before 1955, few in the hot rod community gave Chevys more than a passing nod, thanks to their reliable, but unremarkable, Stovebolt Six engines.
Everything changed in the fall of 1954, when Ed Cole's lightweight, groundbreaking V-8 arrived wrapped in a breathtaking '55 design that was all new from the tires up. It wouldn't be long before more powerful versions were offered. Once speed-crazed enthusiasts discovered the wonders of this compact powerhouse, it soon replaced the flathead Ford as the darling of the performance world.
Three years later, a new, larger engine would be introduced, the 348, to be followed by the 409. Immortalized in song, the 409 gave way in '65 to the 396. Then came the 427, and 454. The '90s gave rise to the LS engines, which are writing a new chapter in the legacy of high-performance Chevys.
Here, are the Top 15 Chevy engines of all time.
1. 265 V-8 (3.750x3.00)
Brand new for model year 1955, it powered over one-half of all new Chevys sold. Ditto in '56. Its actual production run ended in mid '57 when availability ended. It was used on early model two-barrel/manual transmission orders. Trucks and select cars had iron blocks with thicker cylinder walls. This allowed for 0.125-inch (1?8-inch) boring (18 more cubic inches) for 283 cid. Surprisingly, the fabled '55 small-block V-8 engine commenced a 50-year-plus history. The very first 265 assembled at the Flint Engine Plant on July 9, 1954, was put aside for perpetual display in a sealed enclosure. In all, well over 1.5 million 265-powered Chevrolets were sold.
2. 283 V-8 (3.875x3.00)
It was a passenger car option from model year 1957 through 1967. You name it and it did it, including make 1 horsepower per cubic inch in '57, thanks in part to a "Duntov" camshaft and Rochester fuel-injection. These 283s, 292s, and 301s ruled the streets in every town in America. The 283 also powered millions of the USA's work trucks. In all, millions sold.
3. L65 327/365hp V-8 (4.00x3.25)
From 1958 through 1964, Chevys grew bigger and heavier, so factory engineers bored and stroked the 283 to 327 cubes. The highest factory horsepower rating for a 327 was 375 in 1964-'65 (Corvette with Rochester fuel injection). But the best bang for the buck was the 365hp version sporting a 600-cfm Holley carb on an aluminum high-rise intake manifold. Many of these engines were purchased by enthusiasts from GM parts departments, right over the counter. Thousands of previously 301-powered Chevy IIs and Malibus became ultimate performance monsters on the street and strip with the factory 365hp 327.
4&5. 348 & 409 "W" Motors (4.125x3.25 & 4.3125x3.50)
The 348 was originally designed to be a heavy-duty truck engine capable of pulling tons of weight. Yet when stuffed into a '58 Impala with a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, it wasn't so great. But with more compression, a high-lift camshaft, tri-power induction, manual transmission and gearing, it became a certified high-performance torque monster capable of making over 300 horsepower to about 5,500 rpm-through factory stock exhaust. The 315, 320, 335, and 350hp 348s in 1960-'61 continually put Chevys in the winner's circle from coast to coast.
The 1961-'65 high-performance 409 was a bored and stroked 348 with larger head ports and valves. Despite heavy pistons due to cylinder head and combustion chamber design, this engine was highly competitive in everything except NASCAR long-track competition. (Imagine eight 2-pound piston assemblies revving 6,400 rpm for many hours.) Short tracks-no problem. The overwhelming majority of the USA's best drag racers ran a 409 in 1962-'63. Additionally, the Beach Boys became even more famous because of their hit song, "409."
6. L78 396/425hp (4.094x3.76)
Its "daddy" was first seen at Daytona in 1963. Designed to make Chevrolets competitive on the NASCAR high banks, the "Mystery Motor 427" blistered the field in qualifying runs. During the race, minor things such as water pump failure forced all entries to the pits. But the cat was out of the bag. Over another year of engineering saw its external dimensions increase about 1 inch-to where none of the Mystery Motor internals were interchangeable. In February 1965, two Turbo Jet 396 "big-block" engines replaced the pair of 409s: RPO L35, a 325hp torque engine featuring high-velocity, oval-port heads and an 800-cfm Rochester Quadrajet carb; and RPO L78, a 425hp, ultra-high-performance engine featuring rectangle-port heads. Either engine could be ordered in any fullsize model. Production: L35: 55,454. L78: 1,838. The L78 also saw its way into 2,157 Corvettes for an extra cost of $292.70. In '65, the 425hp 396 was the quickest and fastest RPO Chevrolet ever produced. But that wouldn't last long.
7. L72 427/425hp (4.250x3.76)
Designated RPO L72, it was offered in 1966 Corvettes and 1966, 1968, and 1969 fullsize passenger cars. Rated the same as the '65 L78 396, it actually produced 450 hp and was advertised as such early in model year '66. Then, due to owner insurance cost flap (and theoretical potential loss of sales), its rating was quickly reduced to 425. Since new, this engine has proven to be a winner on all fronts and is the basis for all other solid-lifter big-blocks offered through 1969. Total 1966 L72 passenger car sales were 1,856. Big car L72 sales in 1968 and 1969 were 568 and 546, respectively. These late-'60s cars were huge. Performance fans chose Chevelles, Novas, and Camaros instead.
8. 427/430HP L88(4.250x3.76)
The 1967-'69 RPO L88 race engine was rated at only 430 hp for obvious reasons-the first of which was the given rpm-reading: a mere 5,200. Why tell the world your 12.5:1-compression, mega-cam, rectangle-port 427 actually snorts out over 550 hp at 7,400 rpm? It was only available from the factory in the Corvette, or over the parts counter. This engine put out so much power and heat that it was very difficult to keep cool on the street. Actually, there was a factory center console plate on Vettes so equipped stating, "Not For Street Use." As it was indeed a road-racing terror, L88 Corvette sales in 1967-1969 were 20, 80, and 116, respectively. The L88 solid-lifter camshaft was Chevy's best-sounding cam to date, and thousands were sold to owners of solid-lifter 396 Chevelles, Camaros, and Novas who sought a max-power setup with an awesome-sounding rough idle.