Why I have grown to hate the Small Block Chevy..... an essay
When reading this essay please don't get the idea that I'm bashing one of hot rodding's legendary power plants. I'm not. The small block Chevy is one of the most popular V8 engines ever built. It is reliable and has almost unlimited potential. Then why, you ask, do I hate this engine? The answer is very simple; there are just too damn many of them.
To be clear, the focus of this essay is on Street Rodding. That category which is generally considered to comprise pre 1949 vehicles. These cars and trucks are generally where engine swaps are most common and the builder has almost total control over the choices he makes. When talking about muscle cars or street machines the assertions of this essay won't always apply and that should be kept in mind when reading this paper. I am not condoning swapping out a 350 in a Nova for a Buick Nailhead. Although different, that swap wouldn't make much sense. However when it comes to Street Rods, the SBC has become not much more than a mundane "also ran."
I don't blame Chevrolet for this at all. I blame the people who are building street rods and the way they perpetuate the use of this engine as the solution to all problems and quite simply the "only" way to go. The popular claim that, "It's reliable and cheap to build," just doesn't hold water. Yes it is reliable, however it is NOT the only small V8 out there, and it is no more reliable (and only marginally less expensive to build) than any number of other domestic V8s. A good choice yes, the only choice?.. not by a long shot.
Let me ask you a question? When you go to a car show don't you get tired of seeing the same power plant in almost every street rod you walk by? I sure do. To me there is nothing more boring than another "cookie cutter" street rod powered by a small block Chevy. I have to ask what is wrong with the builders of these cars. Are they so unimaginative that they just have to use what everyone else does? Where is their originality, creativity, and individuality? These people certainly don't seem to lack these qualities when contemplating the paint scheme or the interior accoutrements so when choosing the engine for their street rod why do they "settle" for what can only be described as just another small block Chevy?
When it comes to choosing a reliable engine Ford and Chrysler along with many others have been building and selling reliable V8s for longer than I care to remember. Ford's venerable 289-302 family or Chrysler's 318-360 small blocks are just as reliable and have just as much potential as any SBC every built. So why do people flock to the SBC like moths to a flame? The answer to this question is not what most people want to here. It's because people by nature are just plain lazy.
Now that I've raised the blood pressure of every SBC owner out there let me explain what I mean. When building a street rod (and we're talking about pre-1950 vehicles here) most people for some unknown reason perceive that it is vastly easier to drop in a SBC than going through a little extra work figuring out how to get that Ford small block to clear the front cross member or spending a little time fabricating engine mounts for a Buick Nailhead. These types of problems are not insurmountable and with a little thought they can easily be overcome, but because most people are by nature lazy they take the easy way out and choose the SBC. By choosing the SBC for some reason the perception is that it's easier to do and there are fewer problems to solve. Yes, it probably does save some time and effort but it is not the only solution to the problem. The argument that the SBC is easier to install in most rods just doesn't stand the test when you think about some other V8s. The Chrysler 318 family for example also has a rear sump pan just like the SBC and this engine can be installed in any rod just as easily. This also holds true for several other domestic V8s. True a little thought and possibly a little extra work will have to go into engine mounts but the price of being an individual and a leader is almost always worth the extra effort.
OK so we have now established one reason the SBC is so popular. People by nature are lazy. Now let's look at another reason. People are, for the most part anyway, cheap. Being cheap however is a relative term. For the teenager that is building a 15 year old Camaro on a very tight budget (based on how much he earns flipping burgers after school) this means that every penny has to count and choosing the SBC is almost a necessity. However to the guy who's spending $10 to $20 grand or more on his prize street rod the slight difference in the cost of building a SBC compared to anything else is negligible. The fact that a set of pistons for the SBC costs $40 less than the same set for a Ford or Chrysler small block means nothing to this person. Then why do they "go with the flow" and choose the SBC? Because people also tend to be sheep. That's right; for the most part we are just a bunch of followers.
Anymore it seems to take a special person to break the mold and choose something different. Why else are there so few street rods with real engines like Nailheads, Flatheads, Hemis, BB Chryslers, BB Fords, Olds, Pontiac, AMC and yes even 348-409 Chevys? Because people are way to willing to follow the leader and just do what everyone else is doing. To me this is, to coin a term from the '60s, nothing more than a cop out! If all you want to be is a follower all your life then more power to you, but to the few people left who have the unique ability to think "out of the box" then the SBC is about as boring as they come.
Finally, I'm not blaming anyone for choosing to build a SBC. It is reliable, cheap to build and can deliver lots of horsepower. I've built my share of 302s, 350s and 327s too but one day I opened my eyes and realized that I no longer wanted to be a follower. I no longer wanted to blend into the woodwork and I was willing to take the time, use the brain power and expend the extra effort that it takes to be an individual. I know we are all by nature lazy and building cheap is almost always a necessity, but being a follower is really more of a choice than anything else. Do the hobby a favor and the next time you're considering building a street rod don't be afraid of being creative, or imaginative. For once be an individual and think "out of the box". Choose something other than what has become over the years a "cookie cutter" engine. Of course on the other hand if the entire reason you're building a street rod is to blend in than by all means go with the SBC. After all it is by far the best way to disappear into the crowd.
Last edited by Centerline; 01-29-2006 at 02:01 PM.