2014 Gore Aussie Muscle Mania Car Show (12-4-14)
Celebrating the 350 part #1: Chevrolet 350 V8
THE POWERPLANT (Part 1 of 2)
One of the great paradoxes of automotive history is that while the Ford Motor Company was the first mass manufacturer to produce affordable V8-powered cars, it is the Chevrolet small-block V8 that has gone on to become the most famous and loved of all eight-cylinder engines.
In naming the 10 best engines in history, Ward’s AutoWorld found a place for the Ford side-valve flathead V8 but the only postwar V8 from Detroit to get a spot was the Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch unit.
The postwar boom in the US created a huge proliferation of new models and, by the mid-1960s, what became known as the horsepower race. In our current era where the same basic engine might be found in Peugeots, Citroëns and the Australian Ford Territory, it is difficult to grasp the fact that General Motors was so rich that most of its divisions had a unique range of V8s and in multiple variants.
When the Chevrolet Division introduced the 350ci V8, Buick had a 340 (as well as its 300, 400 and 430), Oldsmobile had a 330 (plus its own 400 and a 425), Chevy’s closest sibling Pontiac had a 326 (and yet another 400 and its 428) while GM’s flagship brand Cadillac had a solitary 429.
None of these engines could match the production life of the Chevy 350 which made its debut in the 1967 Camaro 350SS, tasked with the challenge of stealing sales from the phenomenally successful Mustang.
Although replaced by the Generation II LT and Generation III LS engines in the 1990s, it was not discontinued until 2003. And it remains in production in Mexico as a crate unit for Chevrolet Performance.
To understand the significance of the 350 it is necessary to look at the history of Chevy’s small-block V8.
High-compression V8 engines had been a key element in GM’s postwar plan. Alfred P. Sloan Jr, who effectively ran the corporation from 1923 (as President) to 1956 when he finally retired as Chairman of the Board, wrote in My Years with General Motors: “At the close of World War II we made the projection that for an indefinite period the principal attractions of the product would be appearance, automatic transmissions and high-compression engines, in that order; and that has been the case.”
While Cadillac had always been GM’s top brand, Oldsmobile was usually the one where new engineering was first applied. So it made sense for the high-compression V8 engines to make their 1948 debut in both marques for model year 1949. The chief designer of the Cadillac engine was Ed Cole (see below).
In 1952 Cole was transferred to Chevrolet Division where the engineers were already at work on a new high-compression V8 intended for the Corvette. The view at the time was that without a powerful V8 engine the model would have to be discontinued as the ‘stove-bolt’ 165hp straight-six …