Since 1955, the Chevrolet Corvette has been powered by the Chevrolet V8 engine. Technological advancements have increased output from 195 hp in 1955 to 638 hp in 2012, but the fundamental architecture of the Chevrolet Small Block have remained the same; a 90-degree V8, with overhead valves actuated by pushrods, and a 4.4-inch on-center bore spacing.
When the Corvette was launched in 1953 its performance didn’t quite match the sporty appearance. The car was powered by the Blue Flame inline six-cylinder engine and a two-speed automatic transmission. Everything changed in 1955, when the new small-block V8 engine became available and was ordered by over 90 percent of Corvette buyers. Not only did the new and significantly more powerful engine breathe new life into the Corvette’s driving experience, it could be linked to a three-speed manual transmission that gave the driver an even greater connection to the car. The result made the Corvette a proper sports car, and enthusiasts responded. Sales nearly doubled from 1954 and by the end of the decade, they nearly tripled.
In 1957 the 283-cid V8 was introduced with Rochester mechanical fuel injection that helped the Small Block to produce 283 horsepower. In 1964 the 327-cid Small Block with Rochester fuel injection was rated at 375 horsepower. Also the first Holley four-barrel carburetor was used on a production Small Block engine. In 1969 the 350-cid Small Block was introduced in the Corvette. The standard engine was rated at 300 horsepower. For customers looking for more power, the L46 version was available with 350 horsepower. The first LT-1 debuted in Corvette in 1970. It was rated at 370 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque.
In 1982 the Cross Fire electronic fuel injection was introduced. It featured a pair of diagonally opposed throttle bodies feeding a 350 engine and rated at 200 horsepower. Tuned Port Injection was introduced on the Corvette in 1985, ushering in modern age of port fuel injection and increasing the Corvette’s horsepower rating 230. The new hydraulic roller lifters on the L98 Tuned Port Injection engine reduced friction for greater efficiency and performance, and Corvette’s output jumped to 240 horsepower in 1987. In 1992 Gen 2 LT1 was introduced in the Corvette, featuring reverse-flow cooling system, all-new cylinder heads and computer-controlled ignition timing, pushing horsepower to 300.
New Gen 3 Small Block debuted in the all-new 1997 C5 Corvette, carrying the LS1 name and featuring all-aluminum construction, deep-skirt block and 350 horsepower. Higher-performance LS6 engine with 385 horsepower powered the new, track-oriented Corvette Z06. Horsepower increases to 405 in 2002. In 2005 the Corvette’s new, 6.0L LS2 engine with 400 horsepower introduced the Gen 4 Small Block. Racing-inspired 7.0L LS7 engine debuts in the 2006 Corvette Z06 with 505 horsepower features including forged titanium connecting rods, high-flow cylinder heads, titanium intake valves, dry-sump oiling system and more.
The 6.2L Small Block debuted on the 2008 Corvette with 430 horsepower. In 2009 the New Corvette ZR1 received 638-horsepower, supercharged LS9 Small Block. It was the most powerful production-car engine ever built by GM. In 2013 the Corvette history continues with the new Gen 5 Small Block engine.
Here are some engines that have appeared in the Chevrolet Corvette.
1957 283 “Fuelie” – Almost 30 years before the widespread adoption of fuel injection, the Corvette offered it on the newly enlarged 283-cubic-inch small-block, resulting in 283 horsepower. The one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch benchmark is still considered a noteworthy performance achievement for modern engines.
1969 350 – The small-block’s displacement grew throughout the Fifties and Sixties, but when it settled at the 350-cubic-inch mark in 1969, an icon was born. Many enthusiasts equate the small-block with the classic 350, which remained the Corvette’s standard engine through 1996.
1985 “L98” Tuned Port Injection – Although electronically controlled fuel injection was introduced on the Corvette in 1981 (the early “Fuelie” engine featured mechanical fuel injection), it was the 1985 introduction of the L98-code engine and its Tuned Port Injection system that launched the modern era of performance. Its basic port-injection design is used on the 2013 Corvette and almost every other gas-powered vehicle sold in America.
1997 LS1 – The third generation of the small-block debuted in the C5 Corvette. Completely redesigned, it introduced a new aluminum “deep skirt” cylinder block, high-flow aluminum cylinder heads and more – all while retaining the basic 4.4-inch bore-center design of the original small block.
2006 LS7 – Co-developed with the C6.R racing program, it is the highest-performance naturally aspirated production small-block in Corvette history, rated at 505 hp, with a 7,000-rpm redline. Hand-built at GM’s Performance Build Center near Detroit, the engine was introduced in the C6 Corvette.
2009 LS9 Supercharged – The most powerful automotive production engine from Chevrolet with 638 supercharged horses helps pushing the Corvette ZR1 to a top speed of 205 mph.