2011 marks the centennial anniversary for Chevrolet. Some of the bow-tie brand’s most long-standing contributions to the automotive world have been engines. We’ve compiled a list of Chevy’s ten best powerplants — some have been revolutionary, some have been game-changers, others have been just downright awesome.
Stove Bolt Six; 192 cu in in-line-6, 46 hp
The Stove Bolt Six — so-called because it mimicked the bolt found on early-twentieth-century stoves — was not Chevrolet’s first six-cylinder engine, but it was the first six-cylinder that the automaker offered in a value-priced car. Chevy advertised it as “a six for the price of a four” because it was more closely compared with the in-line four-cylinder offerings of the day in price and power. Chevrolet continued to use a variant of the Stove Bolt, which was introduced in 1929, until well into the 1960s.
Why is it one of the best? The Stove Bolt Six was the first six-cylinder engine on sale in the U.S. in an affordable car. It also beat out the then-best-selling Ford Model A’s four-cylinder by 6 hp.
Small-Block V-8; 265-283 cu in V-8, 162-225 hp
The 1955 Bel Air was a big deal for Chevrolet, as it overhauled the Chevy’s brand image and sold in droves. Equally important, it heralded the debut of the small-block V-8. The 265 cubic-inch V-8 was good for 162 hp in the Bel Air but could be fitted with an optional power pack, which bumped power by 18 hp with a four-barrel carburetor, a revised air cleaner and intake manifold, and a dual exhaust. The 1957 Bel Air would become the be-finned icon of the 1950s, and with those tailfins came a bump in the small-block’s displacement, to 283 cubic inches, and fuel injection. The small-block turned out to be so flexible that it was adapted for racing, becoming the first Chevy engine to produce 500 hp. The small-block also spawned some of American society’s most loved engines – such as the 409 that used a four-barrel carburetor, aluminum intake manifold, and unique casting to pump out 360 hp, and had teens across the U.S. crooning along with The Beach Boys
Why is it one of the best? The Chevy small-block marked the beginning of the modern V-8. Its basic design is flexible enough to accept numerous advancements over the years and continues to be used to today.
Corvair Monza Spyder Turbo Six; 144.8-163.6 cu in turbocharged flat-six, 150-180 hp
When talking about engineering innovations, we can’t neglect to mention that Chevrolet was the first to bring to market a turbocharged production car, in 1964 with the Corvair Monza Spyder. The Corvair was also the only American-made rear-wheel drive, rear-engined car, just like the much-loved original Volkswagen Beetle. The Corvair may have met an untimely fate thanks to Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed, but the innovations it introduced live on – especially today, as manufacturers look to smaller turbocharged engines to make efficiency gains and meet more stringent regulations.
Why is it one of the best? It was the first turbocharged engine on sale in the United States.
1969 Camaro ZL-1; 427 cu in (7.0-liter) V-8, 430 hp
Chevrolet only built ’69 Camaro ZL-1s, and they cost roughly twice as much as a standard V-8-powered coupe. An all-aluminum version of the Chevy big-block V-8 that was intended more for drag race use than on the streets, the ZL-1’s engine was produced by hand in a “clean room.” It took 16 hours to build each engine.
Why is it one of the best? The 1969 ZL-1 was one of the most powerful Camaros, and one of the rarest to boot.
Aerovette Four-Rotor Wankel; 585 cu in (9.6-liter) four-rotor Wankel, 350 hp
Ok, so the 1970s Aerovette concept never made it to production, but it is still had one of the most impressive engines to appear in a car wearing the bow tie. The Aerovette was impressive because it was built entirely from parts that were already being used elsewhere in the Chevrolet lineup. Its engine — the largest Wankel rotary engine ever in a car — was mid-mounted. The Aerovette’s shape differed from other Corvettes of the 1970s thanks to a wind-tunnel honed 0.325 Cd body and bi-folding gullwing doors.
Why is it one of the best? The Four-Rotor engine shows that Chevrolet engineers have been — and continue to be — among the most innovative in the automotive industry, ready to take risks and developing engines that are both powerful and legendary.
LT5; 5.7-liter V-8, 375 hp
The LT5 went under the hood of the first Corvette ZR-1 in 1989 but wasn’t made in-house. GM contracted development of the engine to Lotus Engineering (which was actually owned by GM at that time). Originally, Lotus designed a clean-sheet design for the LT5 that was intended to make 400 hp. However, GM wanted to use the engine block from the existing small-block V-8, and the Lotus modified its design to meet GM’s requirements. The consequence was that the power output for the engine dropped to 375 hp. The new engine also ended up with both a longer stroke and a smaller bore than the old V-8. Production of the LT5 was contracted out to Mercury Marine.
Why is it one of the best? The LT5 was all-new engine that veered from the small-block norm, it was truly a global collaboration that helped to produce this super Vette.
LT1; 5.7-liter V-8, 300-350 hp
The LT1 engine in the 1994 C4 Corvette revitalized the F-body car and democratized horsepower by making 300 hp (and more) available without requiring the purchase of a costly high-end package (such as the ZR-1). The stock Corvette gained a number of technical enhancements developed by GM’s engineers, which, along with the LT1, gave the car a higher level of performance than what was previously seen in the base Corvette.
Why is it one of the best? It may have not been the first 300-plus-hp engine on the market, but it was one of the first that was reasonably affordable.
LS7; 7.0-liter V-8, 505 hp
The Corvette was already on the map as a world-class performance machine thanks to the C5 Z06, but the 2006 C6 Corvette Z06 took the iconic sports car to new heights. The LS7 was essentially a small-block V-8 enlarged to seven liters with titanium-alloy connecting rods and a dry-sump oil system. The engine also was slotted into the C6.R race cars campaigned by Corvette Racing in the American Le Mans Series. Power in the stock Z06 hit 505 hp, 75 hp more than the base Corvette. It was later trumped in the Corvette stable only by the 2009 ZR1.
Why is it one of the best? Not only was it the latest in a long line of venerable small-block V-8s, the LS7 was essentially the same engine that Corvette Racing was running in its C6.R cars at the American Le Mans Series.
LS9/LSA; 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, 556-638 hp
In 2009, the a new flagship model of the Corvette, the ZR1, made its debut. At more than $100,000, it became the most expensive Corvette ever and, with 638 hp, the most powerful Corvette to come off the Bowling Green, Kentucky, assembly line. With the supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 V-8, the Corvette reestablished itself as one of the world’s performance leaders. The 556-hp LSA – a retuned version of the LS9 – helped to do the same for Cadillac in the CTS-V, showing that General Motors is ready and willing to build world-beating performance cars.
Why is it one of the best? The LS9 found its way under the hood of the first $100,000-plus Corvette, and along with the LSA in the Cadillac CTS-V and the 2012 Camaro ZL1 has helped to cement Chevrolet as a global performance leader.
Voltec; 16 kWh liquid-cooled AC motor with a 1.4-liter in-line four, 150 hp
Voltec is not technically an engine; it’s the powertrain behind Chevrolet’s gasoline-electric Volt. One of the first electric cars to market, the Volt points the way forward for engine and powertrain development. The Volt’s gasoline engine charges the battery pack, which then propels the Volt. The technology has already spread beyond the bow-tie brand to GM’s international subsidiaries with the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera and the Holden Volt. It will also soon be seen in the Cadillac brand with the ELR, the production version of the Voltec-powered Converj concept.
Why is it one of the best? Voltec provides us with a glimpse at the possible future of not only Chevrolet, but of the car industry itself.