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Despite decades of pressure on big engines as emissions and fuel economy legislation squeezes, they're still being made.
General Motors today will build its 100-millionth small-block V8 engine - 56 years after the first production small block - that stands as engineering defiance of a global trend to engine downsizing.
Chevrolet introduced the small-block in 1955 and the production milestone comes in the same month the brand marked its 100th anniversary.
The small-block engine has been used in GM vehicles around the world and is currently found in the Holden/HSV models, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac.
"The small block is the engine that brought high-performance to the people," said David Cole, founder and emeritus chairman of Center for Automotive Research. Cole's father, the late Ed Cole, was the chief engineer at Chevrolet and oversaw development of the original small block engine.
"There is an elegant simplicity in its design that made it instantly great when new and enables it to thrive almost six decades later."
The milestone engine being made today is a 475kW (638hp) supercharged LS9 small block - the power behind the Corvette ZR1 - which is hand-built at GM's Performance Build Center, northwest of Detroit. It represents the fourth generation of the small block and is the most powerful engine ever built by GM for a regular-production car. GM will preserve the engine as part of its historical collection.
The small block has been adapted throughout the auto industry and beyond. Newer versions of the original Gen I engine are still in production for marine and industrial uses, while "crate" engine versions available from Chevrolet Performance are used in their thousands by enthusiasts to build hot rods.
The 4.3-litre V6 used in some Chevrolet and GMC vehicles is based on the small-block, just missing two cylinders. All of these versions contribute to the small block's 100-million production milestone.
"This tremendous achievement celebrates an engineering triumph that has reached around the globe and created an industrial icon," said Sam Winegarden, executive director and group global functional leader of Engine Engineering.
"And while the small-block's enduring design has proven adaptable to meet performance, emissions and refinement challenges over the years, it has more importantly delivered them with greater efficiency."
The engines now feature aluminium cylinder block and heads in car and many truck applications to help save weight and contribute to better fuel economy.
Many applications feature fuel-saving technologies such as Active Fuel Management - which shuts down four cylinders in certain light-load driving conditions - and variable-valve timing. And despite the years, they still are powerful and relatively economical.
The 430hp (320kW) LS3 version of the Gen-IV small-block is used in the 2012 Corvette and jets it from rest to 100km/h in about four seconds, run the quarter-mile in just over 12 seconds and achieve a top speed of more than 288km/h while achieving EPA-estimated highway fuel economy of 9.1 litres/100km.
"The small-block engine delivers guilt-free performance," says Winegarden. "It is the quintessential V8 engine and a living legend that is more relevant than ever."
GM also announced this week that the fifth-generation small-block under development will feature a new direct-injection combustion system that will help enhance efficiency over the current-generation engine.
"The small-block architecture has continued to prove its relevance in a fast-evolving industry and the fifth-generation engine will build on the performance legacy with a significant advance in efficiency," says Winegarden.
GM is investing more than $1 billion in manufacturing facilities associated with producing new small-block engines, resulting in 1711 jobs that have been created or retained.
The Gen-V engine is expected in the near future and is guaranteed to have 110mm bore centres which has been part of the small-block's architecture from the beginning.
GM started on the V8 following World War II, after Chief Engineer Ed Cole transferred to Chevrolet from Cadillac where he oversaw the development of its premium V8 engine.
Cole's team retained the basic overhead valve design that was a staple of Chevrolet's inline-six engine - affectionately called the Stovebolt.
It was seen as one of the Chevrolet car line's selling points, reinforcing a message of simplicity and reliability. Cole challenged his engineers to tighten the new engine package to make it more compact, less costly and easier to manufacture.
Upon its debut in the 1955 Chevy lineup, the new V8 engine was physically smaller, 23kg lighter and more powerful than the Stovebolt six. It was not only a better engine for Chevrolet cars, it represented a better way of building engines, with a minimalist design that took advantage of streamlined production techniques.
After only two years on the market, the small-block began a steady march upward in displacement, power and technological advancement.
In 1957, a version equipped with mechanical fuel injection was introduced, dubbed Ramjet. The only other high-volume manufacturer to offer fuel injection at the time was Mercedes-Benz.
Mechanical fuel injection was discontinued in the mid-1960s, but the small-block debuted electronically controlled fuel injection in the 1980s and established a benchmark with the 1985 launch of Tuned Port Injection.
This electronically controlled port fuel injection system was advanced in its day and its basic design is still used on most passenger cars and light-duty trucks more than 25 years later.
The small-block's 110mm bore centres would come to symbolise the compact, balanced performance of the small-block.
It was the dimension around which the Gen III small-block was designed in 1997. In 2011, the small-block is in its fourth generation, powering Chevrolet's full-size trucks, SUVs and vans, midsize trucks and the Camaro and Corvette performance cars.
The first 4.3-litre (265cu.in) engine in 1955 produced up to 145kW (195hp) with an optional four-barrel carburetor.
Today, the LS9 6.2-litre (376cu.in) supercharged small-block in the Corvette ZR1 is rated at 638hp (475kW), making it the most powerful engine ever installed in a regular-production Chevrolet or GM vehicle.