By on December 23, 2009

The end of an era (courtesy:buffalonews)

The last Chevy big-block, an L18, rolled off the line at Tonawanda, NY last Friday, bringing the era of the big-block V8 to an end. Tonawanda produced over five million big-block V8s since 1958 [via Buffalo News].

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22 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Last Of The Big-Block Chevys Edition...”

  • avatar

    I’m not 100% certain, but I think it says “Have A Nice Layoff” around the smiley face on the pan.
    Too sad to be funny.

  • avatar

    In the article, plant manager Steve Finch was quoted as saying that a big-block V8 was used in the Corvair.  Huh?

  • avatar

    That’s it??? No more BB’s in anything? Not trucks or motor homes?
    I had to check and was surprised to find that Chevy’s biggest 3500HD truck only has a 6-liter small block with 360HP and 380 ft-lb. Sounds anemic.
    I’ve got a 1969 Camaro with a BB 454 in it, 425 HP and 500 ft/lbs in a fairly mild tune. What a sweet, fat motor to pull me along with a relaxed, effortless thrust wrapped in an aural beauty of deep, loping rumbles. Thank you, Tonawonda workers. I’m going to drive it to work today in honor of you.

  • avatar

    Dammit. We used the marinized  BB 454 (aka Mercury Racing HP 525 EFI) for boat racing. A good one dynoed at more than 550 HP. With a Whipple blower added, it could go to 700 HP, with a drastically shorter lifespan. The big brute will be missed.

  • avatar

    I don’t think things are as bad as they seem. What I believe the real story is that there will no longer be a big-block “production” engine coming from Tonawanda for the 25 & 35 series trucks.

    The non-production engines, the 427, 427 ZL-1, 454, 502 and 572 will still be available through GM Performance parts as crate engines. I think those are made in Mexico along with the old SBI small block (350 C.I.) .

    From an accuracy perspective, 1958 isn’t the right start date as that’s when the “348” when into production and that’s not a real big-block; it shares no architecture with the “Mark” series rat motors. The 348 (1958-1961) and its larger brethren, the 409 (1961-1965), both referred to as “W” motors, were basically truck motors. The 409 put out a lot of grunt but had little durability.

    The first “production” big block was the 396 and it was introduced in January 1965. In ’66 it grew into a 427 and then in ’70 the 396 became a 402 and the 427 spaced out to 454. The 502, a siamese version of the 454, was introduced in 1999 and a tall deck 572 came along about 2002 or 2003. These motors, known as Mark IV, Gen V and Gen VI (depending on date and version) are known by their canted , diagonally positioned valves. They were frequently referred to a “porcupine” heads or “semi-hemi’s” back in the day.

    Sorry for the length of this post.

    • 0 avatar

      No need to apologize… I would/should have handed this one off to the far more knowledgeable Mr Niedermeyer Senior, except that he’s away from the computer right now. Thanks for filling in the details!

    • 0 avatar

      How dare you make such a long post with such good info! Shame on you!

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Carpenter

      Actually, the early big block “W” engines were initially truck only engines, and displaced 322 cubic inches.  These were taken out to 348 cubes for the top option in 1958 Chevies because the bodies were so darned big and heavy compared to 1955-57 cars (and obviously, earlier Chevies). 

      The “W” engine (so called because of the odd shape of the valve covers) later became the famous 409 of song fame, as well as race track fame; and it was built as a 427 in experimental form.

      The “W” engine WAS distantly related to the later 366 (truck) /396/402/427/454/502 engines. If I recall, the bore distances are the same and the crankshaft journals started out the same (i.e. it could be built on the “old” engine transfer lines to save costs).

      Truck engines are always down-rated for horsepower for longevity reasons.  Torque (accelerative power) over a long RPM range is much more useful for medium-heavy trucks with gasoline engines.  Numbers can be deceiving!  A hotted up “higher power” engine in the truck application would make very little additional progress in speed compared to the correct truck motor – but would use substantially more fuel!   

    • 0 avatar

      Correct if I’m wrong but were the 348 and the 409 not considered big blocks? Made long before 1966.

  • avatar


    Thanks for that beautiful synopsis of the  rat motor.
    It took me through a delicious memory trip through all those cars which had one stuffed between the fenders.
    PS. Mexico?? wtf.

  • avatar

    My father is likely sheding a tear today.  The most powerful car he ever owned was a 396SS Chevelle.  That manual transmission monster was what my mother drove to work while she was pregnant with me, no wonder I’m an enthusiast.  She said it would still fishtail away from a stop sign in 3rd gear when she had to drive in winter weather.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “I had to check and was surprised to find that Chevy’s biggest 3500HD truck only has a 6-liter small block with 360HP and 380 ft-lb. Sounds anemic.”

    That’s why a the Duramax is offered. Still that’s all a friend runs in his 1 Ton wreckers and says its a great engine all around in that application. Pretty sure I can still order a big block from MerCruiser to put in my sterndrive powered cruiser or go-fast. 

  • avatar

    educatorrdan         Like your father I too am sheding a tear. I bought a new 67  ElCamino SS396  325 hp –what a machine–my first child was also brought home in this vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      First car I broke the speed limit in was 396 El Camino SS.   It belonged to my buddy’s dad,  when I was 15 we would push it out of the driveway in the middle of the night and go joy riding in it.  Lordy that thing was fast, we’re lucky to still be alive.  If the speed didn’t kill us, his dad certainly would have if we ever got caught.

  • avatar

    I’d imagine that the 380 ft-lb. of torque comes on at a pretty low rpm in that truck engine. Good lord, when I think of the things we hauled back in the day with a ’41 Ford…well, it did have a Merc engine with maybe 260 cubic inches.

  • avatar

    Looks like they have a micro-graffiti problem in Tonawonda…

  • avatar


    You are certainly welcome! The pre-1992 small block, also known as SBI (small block one) has been produced at a foundry in Mexico for awhile. My understanding is that the “distributor-carburetor” based engines of the past all come from the Mexican foundry while Tonawanda is for “production”engines.

  • avatar

      “Chevy’s biggest 3500HD truck only has a 6-liter small block with 360HP and 380 ft-lb. Sounds anemic.”

  • avatar

    A sad day indeed and I wonder if this a wise move. Probably the cheapest thing you can put in a heavy duty truck is gasoline. The rat motor was a proven torque monster that could  take any kind of abuse you could throw at it and still run forever. Modern diesels are not nearly as forgiving. First, there is the extra initial cost, often upward of $10,0000. Then there is the enormous cost of repair after warranty. I have not seen much of a cost benefit of a Durmax (or Power Stroke of Cummins) over a big block gasoline motor.
    A friend of mine tows heavy stuff. He tried all the diesel pick ups and came to the conclusion that one does not want one after the warranty is up. He now tows heavy equipment on a 5th wheel low bed with a Silverado 8.1 litre. Sure, it uses 30% fuel than a Durmax but in four years and 150,000 km it has not missed one day of work.

  • avatar

    Unless my memory and GM Parts experience is failing me, the early prior to ’58 truck only 322 engine was based on a Buick design, and shared no parts (or appearance) with the ’58 and on – ‘W’ 348 or later 409s used in MD trucks, Chev car and Canadian Pontiacs.

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