A Look at America's Favorite Engine: The Chevy Small Block V8

Chevy small block engine

The Chevy small block V8 is an American icon. It’s fair to say the small block V8 changed the course of automotive history. Debuting in 1955, its influence on the V8 engine design forced automakers to change their offerings across the board. Since that time, Chevrolet has continually improved their small block V8, squeezing more power and efficiency out of a (seemingly) timeless design.

Here’s a look at Chevy's famous small block.

Chevy Responded To Competition With The Small Block

Chevy engine diagram

Until the mid 1950s, Chevy used six cylinders for passenger vehicles, with a few exceptions. This changed when the Ford Flathead V8 became popular, especially with hot rodders. Since the aftermarket parts companies made parts for these engines, the hot rod community loved the flathead.

To follow suit, other manufacturer’s such as Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler all came out with a V8 for their cars. Chevy didn't get into the V8 game until Ed Cole came around. He spearheaded the Gen I small block V8. Cole’s mission was to build an inexpensive V8 that would outperform anything Ford offered.

When Chevy started using the 265 V8 in the Corvette and Bel Air, it put out almost double the power of the flathead. That was just the start for Chevy.

The design and dimensions allowed engineers to create the small block in different forms. Soon, it would be available as a 283, 327, and even a 400 cubic inch engine. You could also interchange parts between the engines. This meant this engine family was perfect for use in a variety of applications, and it would go on to be modified in every way possible.

Throughout the years, the small block continued to prove its durability. This is partially thanks to the forged cranks and connecting rods. They would go on to show up in everything from Fords to race cars to boats.

Today, we’re currently in Gen V, the LT1/LT platform. While this engine is quite different from the original LT1, the basis for both blocks remains the same: a lightweight 8 cylinder engine with a 90 degree V-formation, single cam, pushrod valve train, and 4.4” bore.

NOTE: There are also GM crate engines, most of which are based on previous designs, but with more variation (too much variation to list here). Be sure to check out our GM Performance Parts section to see the options available.

The Small Block Timeline

Chevy lt1 engine

From the first 265 to today’s LT1, over 100 small blocks have been made. Here’s a look at the major designs throughout the years:

  • 265 Turbo-Fire: This is the engine that started it all. It was introduced in 1955 under the hoods of Corvettes and Bel Airs.
  • 283 Turbo-Fire: The 283 had a larger bore than the 265 and was first offered in 1957.
  • 327: Beginning in 1962, Chevy offered a 327 with a bore of 4.00”.
  • 302: Made in 1966, the 302 powered the new Camaro Z/28. The base engine would produce 290 horsepower, with the race version reaching up to 460 horsepower.
  • 350: This is the most recognizable and cited engine of the small block series. It was introduced in 1967 as a Camaro option, and many variants have popped up throughout the years.
  • 307: With the same crank from the 327, this small block was first offered in 1968.
  • 400: Making its debut in 1970, the 400 was the largest of the small blocks. It is known for its torque, and it was available in passenger cars until 1976 and a few years later for trucks.
  • 262: In 1975/1976, Chevy offered the 262, an engine that only made 110 horsepower.
  • 305: By 1977, the 305 replaced the 262 and would go on to be one of the better known engines. It was made for economy but still made respectable power.
  • LT1/LT4 (Gen II): The second generation of the small block came in 1992 in the form of the LT1. It was used in the Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, Impala SS, and a few other vehicles. The LT4 was the high performance version of the LT1.
  • LS1: The LS1 started the third generation of the small block engine. It was first offered in 1996.
  • LS2: This is the base engine for the 2005 Corvette and GTO. It eventually became the NASCAR specification engine.
  • LS3: This is an updated version of the LS2, introduced in 2008 for the Corvette. The more common application is the 2010 and up Camaro SS and the Chevrolet SS.
  • LS9/LSA: The LS9 is a supercharged 6.2L engine made for the C6 ZR1 Corvette. The LSA was a detuned version of the LS9 meant for the Cadillac CTS-Vs and the Camaro ZL1.
  • LT1/LT4 (Gen V): The current engine family made its debut in the 2014 Corvette Stingray.

NOTE: Check out our guide to LS/LSX crate engines for more info on various GM small block V8 offerings.

The Chevy small block is a hero in the automotive world. This engine will likely continue on longer than most models on the market today. Stay tuned as we continue to celebrate this awesome engine family.