As technology of all sorts continue to evolve, there will always be certain inventions from the 1950s, a decade of invention, that never fail to re-prove themselves. Among these are television, microwave ovens and of course, the small-block V8 that has become the biggest part of our GM heritage.
Chevy’s development of the original small-block in 1955, their “Turbo-Fire,” 265 V8, was certainly not the only innovation in automotive during the decade, but it was that innovation that, according to Center for Automotive Research founder David Cole, first brought higher performance to the average auto consumer in America. Cole explains, “The small-block is the engine that brought high-performance to the people…there is an elegant simplicity in its design that made it instantly great when new and enables it to thrive almost six decades later.”
Cole’s father, the late Ed Cole, was the supervising engineer at Chevrolet in 1955 and oversaw production of the original small-block V8. Cole and his design team were trying to optimize the 6-cylinder only lineup that filled Chevy’s showrooms and dealerships during the Postwar era. An efficient and powerful alternative to Chevy’s “Stovebolt Six,” the original small-block motor was 265 cubic inches, which translates to 4.3 liters in metric terms. Since that time, few changes have been made to the now 57-year-old, small-block V8 design. In fact, the small-block’s oil filter has remained in its same position on the motor since the 1956 production year, and the 4.4 inch bore that Cole and his design team specified in the ’50s has also been maintained.
In terms of late model performance and tech, many GM enthusiasts would argue that there are few similarities between the conventional small-block and the current LS engine family. It’s true that the LS series has introduced many high-tech components into the small-block performance scene, such as variable cam timing, the use of an all-aluminum block and cylinder deactivation. But even though this is the case, the LS motor still revolves around some principal cornerstones of conventional, small-block construction; the LS engine family uses in-block camshafts and pushrods just like a conventional V8, along with other moving parts.
The LS series, in fact, reinforces Chevy’s small-block tradition. November 29th of 2011 marked the construction of GM’s 100 millionth small-block V8, as seasoned mechanic and contributing writer for Wheels.ca, Brian Early was asked in November to help assemble the supercharged, 6.2l LS9 motor that would represent GM’s ground breaking milestone. The LS9s are currently assembled, along with the LS3 and 7s, at GM’s Wixom Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan.
For a mere $5800, ‘Vette owners are given the option by GM to help assemble the LS9 mill that will be featured in their brand new ZR1, though most LS9 motors are assembled by one individual, called “Experimental Assemblers” by the Wixom Performance Center. Each unit is individually assembled and hand-built, in the same way that an AMG motor would be for Mercedes-Benz. The supercharged LS9 that marked GM’s 100 millionth small-block, however, will not be in use in any ZR1 Corvette. In fact, Brian Early has specificied that this LS9 will never run, being built for display purposes only. This is unlike any other LS engine that are produced in Wixom, which are test-fired on natural gas and balanced on site by GM.
It’s only a shame that we will never get to see this fire-breathing, LS9 under the clear hood of a new ZR1. However, as GM has already indicated a fifth-gen small-block is under development. Not much has been said about the fifth-generation motor. GM has confirmed that the latest generation of small-block will benefit from direct injection. The new V8 will also most likely be a pushrod motor, as small-block V8 history reminds us that the LT5 motor found in the ’90-’95 ZR1 Corvette was the only DOHC small-block ever built from the factory. GM has also indicated that some of these motors will be built from the St. Catharine’s plant, as the Gen IV motors are currently. According to Brian Early, GM has not said much about the small-block’s future other than this!