In addition to being the 100th anniversary of the Chevrolet brand, 2011 also heralds another major milestone for the company. This fall, Chevrolet expects to build its 100 millionth small-block V-8 engine.
Chevrolet doesn’t yet know which engine will be number 100 million, nor has the company planned that engine’s fate. A spokesman told us the milestone V-8 will likely be a Corvette engine and could be placed in a General Motors collection or perhaps auctioned for charity. It should roll off the assembly line some time this fall.
The small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine first arrived in 1955. Designed by Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole, the first small-block was destined for use in the 1955 Corvette, replacing its weak inline-six engine. Little did Cole know that the V-8 engine’s basic design criteria — 4.4-inch bore spacing, 90-degree crank angle, pushrod valvetrain — would form the basis of countless Chevy V-8s from then on. Engines built on those specifications became known as small-block V-8s.
Since then, Cole’s basic V-8 formula has evolved into scores of different General Motors engines — GM even says the 638-hp supercharged 6.2-liter in the Corvette ZR1 descends from that 1955 design. The small-block’s versatility and performance soon made it wildly popular, says GM vice president for performance vehicles and motorsport Jim Campbell.
“The small-block was easy to work on, easy to modify, and a whole industry grew around it to provide the parts to modify it,” Campbell said. “It changed everything.”
Just how big an impact has the engine had on the automotive industry? GM Performance Parts engineer Jamie Meyer said he believes more than a third of the cars cruising Woodward Avenue in Detroit this week will pack a small-block Chevy under the hood — and that includes classic, modern, and non-GM vehicles.
“We sell a lot of our engines to folks who drive a Ford,” Meyer said.