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Old 01-29-2006, 01:35 PM
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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.

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Last edited by Centerline; 01-29-2006 at 02:01 PM.
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Old 01-29-2006, 01:42 PM
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Cheap and easy to find

Gotta love thoe SBC's. Do you know of someone looking to buy a 1964 310 Wildcat Nail Head Buick drive train?? I just happen to know where one can be found.


Tazz
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Old 01-29-2006, 01:50 PM
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Centerline, I commend you.
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Old 01-29-2006, 02:15 PM
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When the 231 v6 went in my cutlass when I was younger, instead of swapping a 350 engine in it, I bought a junkyard Olds 260 v8, Too bad I never could figure out how to get it running right, and may have been further ahead going with a 350. The 350 that I had in a chevelle malibu classic had very little compression left, but would start and run everyday sitting outside though freezing winters.
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Old 01-29-2006, 02:22 PM
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Couldn't agree with you more centerline. sbc=hiiigghhhlllyyy overrated but in certain situations like you mentioned before with someone trying to build up a car and money is being supplied from a minimum wage job, then yea it's perfectly fine to go with that. Whenever I get another car, I've been thinking about wanting to drop in an inline 6 just to be different and get some niiice torque out of it too
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Old 01-29-2006, 02:37 PM
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I agree. Personally I am running a Studebaker. Everybody thinks its a y block or Cad. One hotrod guru even had the temerity to tell me I didn't know what engine I had. So even if you're outside the box, most everyine is trying to herd you back in.
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Old 01-29-2006, 02:58 PM
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You dont hate blown sbc's in Gremlins do you? HG
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Old 01-29-2006, 03:30 PM
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I think some of this has to do with how the aftermarkets primary focus is on the SB Chevy. If a person looks through a Jegs or a Summit Catalog and checks out their heads, 3/4s of the heads will be for SB Chevy's. About 1/8 of the section will be BB Chevy heads and the rest will be Fords,AMCs and Chrysler heads. I totally agree about getting tired of going to a show and 98% of the rods are running SB Chevys. I don't even waste my time looking at the power plants anymore, just because of this. The things that draw my attention is uniqueness, god help me if I was ever made a judge at a car show. Another thing that is getting old is going to the race track and everybody there thinks you need a SB Chevy or 5.0 Mustang to go fast. I commend people who think outside of the box, but this is just my two cents worth.
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Old 01-29-2006, 03:38 PM
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When attending car shows I REFUSE to even vote for a Ford anything with anything other than a Ford engine in it.

Realistically it costs within the same range to build a ford 351W and C6 as a Chevy 350 and TH-350 or 400.

A little more for a Dodge 360 and 904, but the forethough to "be different" just isn't there.

I swapped out a near dead 305 and TH-350 for a Cadillac 500 and TH-400 in my 1982 C-10 because I got the Caddy for free and the 305 would have cost me to do anything with.

The looks I get and questions that come with them, when I tell people I am putting an Oldsmobile 350 with TBI fuel injection, and TH400 into my 1991 S-10, I tell them the SBC thing has been overdone. I personally have about 10 small blocks of various sizes around here, along with three straight 6's, a couple V-6's, another Cadillac 500, several dozen B&S small engines, 1 Tecumseh, 1 aluminum and two cast iron Kohler's.

The engine in my wifes GMC Jimmy is a Chevy 4.3 V-6, and my Impala has Gen III 3.8 Buick V-6. The Impala has TON'S more power than the Jimmy.

Whatever happened to DARE TO BE DIFFERENT?

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Old 01-29-2006, 04:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HemmiGremmie
You dont hate blown sbc's in Gremlins do you? HG
Nope, but a hemi would have been better.
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Old 01-29-2006, 04:38 PM
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Centerline, I can definitely agree with you on this issue. I do alot of work with a local street rod club and most of the rods are powered by sbc's. I used to have 2 392's that I offered to build for someone building a hot rod and there was no interest. I heard "too expensive", " too heavy", "too hard to get parts for", etc. I am building a flathead for a customers street rod project and I can't wait for him to get it completed. By the way, if anyone has a line on some Ardun heads, I'm interested. I also have a Pontiac engine going together with Ram Air V heads and a blower for a drag car.
I have been a judge at their annual show and it does get old looking at the same thing year after year. I always look for something different and unique. Take a look at my avatar. That's what I'm looking for for my next project. A wet Arias block and heads. Something different. Expensive, but different.
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Old 01-29-2006, 04:42 PM
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I disagree with you, Centerline. I don't think people build Chevy engines because they are "easy" or "cheap", it's because they just like them. Let's face it, it is America's sweetheart, and has been since 1955.

The same way that rodders loved the flathead Ford, or the way bike builders love Harley engines.

It's popularity will meet it's demise someday, but we all might be pushing up daisys before that takes place.

I think that you've just got a bad case of hemirhoids, Centerline. It's okay that you love hemis, but let's face it, more people love Chevys.

You are in the minority.

Nairb, resident, United States of Chevrolet.
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Old 01-29-2006, 05:01 PM
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People use sbc's in street rods for the same reason people start smoking cigarettes.
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Old 01-29-2006, 06:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ghetto Jet
People use sbc's in street rods for the same reason people start smoking cigarettes.
They both give you cancer? lol
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Old 01-29-2006, 06:40 PM
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Dont get me wrong. I love...LOVE Hemi's and grew up a Mopar man. My first screwin came from a guy I was buyin a 66 Sattelite with a 440 in it.

I got pissed, told him to stick it, got a deal on a nice Chevelle and the rest is history.
I to get bored with Basic built SBC's, but I get bored with basic built, 440's, 390's, 392 Hemi's, 351 Windser, ect...
I look at everybodies journals and if you take pride in yer work, I'll be happy for ya, but to get me excited it better be blown or injected or tunnel ramed.
Anything other than the norm no matter what size motor it is.
Lets face it, Blown is bad in any form. HG
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Last edited by HemmiGremmie; 01-29-2006 at 06:44 PM. Reason: added
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