Immense, thundering V8s powering low-cost, often ostentatious cars defined the US Muscle Car era. Cubic inches were king but to track the origins of this most significant motoring genre we need to travel to the 1950s and the dawn of Big-Block power units.
As North American vehicle designs grew larger, heavier and more elaborate they needed more power maintain and enhance performance. As engine bays expanded in size they were able to accommodate larger and heavier engine blocks. These massive lumps of cast iron incorporated plenty of ‘meat’ so their ability to generate prodigious power could be unleashed with just a little attention from the boring machine.
The year of 1958 is pivotal in the development of Ford and General Motors’ big-block engines. This occurred for a range of reasons including GM’s release of a physically larger Chevrolet range. Ford joined in too with a wider and heavier four-seat Thunderbird.
Also in the background was Chrysler with its own expanded and more powerful Hemi V8 that was proving unstoppable on the flat-tracks and ovals of Nascar competition.
As the years rolled by big-block engines expanded with no end apparently in sight. Then the rule-makers at Nascar decreed that only engines displacing less than 428 cubic inches (7.014 litres) would be eligible. Ford and General Motors responded with evocative competition engines that came in just one ‘cube’ below the limit.
The journeys on which those engines took their respective brands are fascinating and diverse. Nascar was pivotal but so too was the Le Mans circuit in France, North American ‘big banger’ sports car racing and a string of legendary production models. Let’s look at Ford first.