The 10 Best Engines In Classic Corvettes Till The '70s
By Arun Singh Pundir on July 16, 2021
The C8 'Vette is cool, but nothing beats the classics. Here are the greatest Corvette engines from the first three decades of the model's existence.
What's better than the 2020-introduced mid-engine Corvette? A classic 'Vette, that's what. America's darling sports car has been getting better by the year and the generations but there is still an allure to the classic Corvette that many other classic cars cannot emulate.
The charm doesn't lie in the looks of the classic Chevrolet Corvette alone, but also in those rumbly, growly, husky engines, and the fact that Chevy tried to put the best of the lot when it came to the Vette.
The Ford has its Mustang, and while Chevrolet could never match up in muscle with the Camaro, no Ford sports car came close to the Corvette's popularity, from its 1953 debut to continuous production to date.
So let's pay homage to the first three decades of the Corvette's existence and list out the best engines it carried back then. These are the mills that made the Corvette what it is today, America's much-vaunted sports car.
1955 4.34-Liter V8
The 4.34-liter V8, as in the Chevy small-block 265ci V8 was introduced in 1955 in the Corvette and made 195 horses, to begin with. It may not sound like much today but at the time, this engine was ahead of its time.
It breathed better and was lighter in weight, making for a zippier Corvette. Plus, it allowed for better revs and was a lot more refined than the Blue Flame Six engine the 'Vette debuted with, in '53.
1956 4.34-Liter Dual-Quad V8
In 1955, with the V8 engine in place, Chevy needed to buck up to make its sports car the best selling thing around. So the very next year, in 1956, they changed the 265ci V8 and added in a dual four-barrel carburetor that could now jet 240 horses, with the optional high lift camshaft.
This version came marked by GM as "recommended for racing only" while you could go for a milder-cam for a road-spec 'Vette that jetted 225 horses. The Corvette was now on its way up in power, and the fanbase was expanding.
1957 4.63-Liter Dual-Quad V8
To up the game, again, the next year Chevrolet shifted the Corvette to slightly bigger displacement, with a 283ci engine, again equipped with dual four-barrel carbs. Once you have gone 2X4, there is no going back, right?
With two options again, the 270 horsepower version came race-ready, while there was a 244-horsepower Corvette for those who preferred a relatively sedate ride. The large air filter did take away from the looks of the engine a bit but hey, at least the 'Vette was flashy and fast.
1962-65 5.3-Liter "Fuelie" V8
"Fuelie" engines, as fuel-injected V8s were introduced in 1957 itself, on the 283ci small-block, enough for 283 horses as well. But it was only in 1962 when the 327ci fuel-injected engine came to play that the Corvette small-block began to sit up and aim for the best.
At the time the fuel injection was mechanic and nearly rudimentary in nature, but it managed to up the horsepower to 360 and give more RPM despite the carburetors. The Corvette was testing its limits and doing it well. Interestingly, the "fuelie" Corvettes do make for the rarest ones, especially for 1957.
1965 L78 6.5-liter V8
Finally from small-block, Chevy moved to Corvette up to big block telling the world that there was no replacement for displacement. The L78 was not only a pretty cool engine and rather flashy to boot, but it was also an overachiever. Rated at 425 horses, to begin with, it found use in plenty of other Chevrolet cars as well, even if their output dropped to 375 horses.
The best engine in the best of cars, the Corvette, gave its very best in output and performance. With this engine in the 'Vette, Corvette also proved that big blocks did not only belong in trucks.
1967-69 7.0-Liter Tri-Power V8
Tri-power because this big-block V8 came with three double-barrel carburetors, and in effect, this took the need of fuel injection with its intake manifolds and smashed it like Hulk. The central carb supplied the fuel and air till the throttle was truly opened, and then the other two carbs stepped in.
With a 400-435 horsepower output, the 427ci V8 gave plenty of top-end power to the 'Vette and also low-end torque for a smooth but super quick ride. This is the time the 'Vette also joined the horsepower wars…
1967-69 7.0-Liter L88 V8
The L88 427ci V8 was rated at only 430 horsepower, officially. Unofficially, and in reality, this was a lot more and could reach all the way to 500 horses, mostly made for racing with a 12.5:1 compression. This did not sell as much as a tri-power motor that was rated at 435 horses and cost less, but it was one heck of an engine.
Only 20 such cars were made in 1967, so this was not a Vette for everyone. Just for those with a need for speed and some deep pockets.
1969 7.0-Liter L88 V8 ZL1
If you take all that was the L88 but use aluminum to build the engine instead of cast iron, you get the ZL1. And this all-aluminum engine was 100 pounds lighter than the L88, thus the ZL1 Corvette was the car to buy if racing was all you wanted to do, along with winning, of course.
Only two such cars were built with the ZL1 option although the engine found use in other track and race cars. This was definitely the pinnacle of Chevy's V8 engines.
1970 5.7-Liter LT1 V8
While we'd like to mention the 390-horsepower 7.4-liter V8 honorably here, the LT1 5.7-liter V8 offered 370 horses and way better handling. It came riding on a four-barrel carburetor and it was in 1970, this special high-performance version came out with top power and low-end torque.
The LT1, along with some ZR1 chassis parts made this Corvette do just about anything it put its mind to, including racing up and down hilly terrains.
1971 7.4-Liter LS6 V8
This was the swan song of the big-block Corvette because the world was just turning into the '70s, and heading into the malaise era where every engine was strangled into sipping less gas and emitting less carbon.
Rated at 425 horses again, this Corvette was not so much "performance" as it was luxury, already stepping down from the 460-horses from the last year. It took more than 20 years for the 'Vette to regain this kind of power again, so think of this as a last hurrah.
Sources: CarandDriver, CNN