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Classic Big Block vs. Small Block Engines

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It’s one of those hot button topics that really revs up a classic car conversation: big block vs. small block engines. How do they differ? Which is better?

Well, buckle up. We’re going to drive straight into this debate so you can decide for yourself. Let’s start by looking at what makes a small block engine different from a big block engine.

Small Block Engine and Big Block Engine: What’s the Difference?

Although auto manufacturers don’t typically label their cars “small block,” these cars’ engines are overall physically smaller than those of big-block cars. Specifically, the pistons are smaller with shorter bores, strokes, ports, and valves, which means less displacement and less power than a bigger engine.

A smaller engine size also brings a lower vehicle engine weight. Auto manufacturers usually capitalize on this aspect and add other lightweight car features like a lighter frame, aerodynamic body styling, and other options to trick out the vehicle for maximum performance.

By contrast, big block cars are bigger, heavier, and capable of more driving force. They’re the heavyweights of the auto world, delivering enormous punches of power when their drivers hit the gas.

The weight of a big block engine, which often sits over the car’s front axle, creates a significant load for the car to propel down the road. This means the vehicle’s entire system must be designed to support, accelerate, and brake a heavy load without sacrificing a smooth ride.

The History of the Small Block Engine

In the mid-1950s, Chevrolet introduced a revolutionary engine — the small-block V8 — for its classic Corvette and Bel Air models. This small wonder quickly gained the nickname Mighty Mouse and began to revolutionize auto design across the world. Among its many groundbreaking features were crossflow ports, wedge-shaped combustion chambers, and hollow oil-pumping pushrods in the cylinder heads.

Addressing a persistent problem with previous engines, the small block Chevy V8 had a set of five head bolts around each cylinder for more reliable sealing. It also featured a single-component intake manifold with superior heat management that was totally new in auto design. Plus, the entire engine could be cast upside-down using a green-sand casting method that reduced the overall vehicle assembly cost and boosted production line efficiency.

On top of all these stunning new features, the small-block V8 weighed in at a full 50 pounds less than the old Stovebolt Six that had dominated engine design for decades. As you can imagine, this created an instant following among hotrodders and racers. Compared to older and heavier cars, driving a small-block V8 was practically like taking flight in a tiny airplane.

The History of the Big Block Engine

Big block engines evolved a few years later than small block engines and contained some of the same features in a heavier and higher-powered block. These engines weren’t originally intended for muscle cars, although they’re often associated with mid-century sports cars and early models of high-powered supercars.

In the late 1950s, a big block engine was simply designed to deliver the brute force it took to move the era’s bulky trucks and oversize touring cars. But right away, Chevy, Ford, and other automakers realized they could put the same style of big block engine into a mid-size sports car and offer a driving experience that paired power with performance. The classic Ford Mustang shows this kind of big-block spirit.

Over time, as new innovations arose in auto body aerodynamics and engine system design, the big block retained its popularity. Here’s the reasoning: When other features can make a car lighter and more maneuverable, why not stick with a huge, powerful engine? That’s why the big block has a large and enduring cult following.

So, Which Is Better: Big Block or Small Block?

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, both the big block and small block have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s hard to say one is better than the other. It’s up to you!

A small-block engine is undeniably smaller, but that doesn’t mean it’s underpowered or slow. It depends on the vehicle and its other built-in features. Every car is the sum of its parts, meaning any car can be slow if it’s built that way.

Small-block cars are usually designed with lighter-weight frames and an array of other performance boosters that make up for the lower engine power. Generally speaking, this makes them zippier and more responsive than big-block cars, which some would say makes them more fun.

On the other hand, there’s really nothing else like the exhilaration of driving a beastly big-block muscle car. Get that monster up to top speed, and you’re riding an unstoppable force of raw metal power. Granted, “unstoppable” can be a bit of a problem when it comes to little things like braking and turning, but that’s no problem for a savvy driver.

The bottom line is that the engine should match the car, which should always match its owner. If acceleration and handling are your top priorities, a small block might be the way to go. But a big block maximizes a muscle car’s torque and horsepower, which is far more important for plenty of classic car owners.

Whichever you choose, make sure you cover it with classic muscle car insurance that respects its value. That way, your favorite car is always fully protected and ready to hit the road whenever you are.

The Legacy of Classic Auto Insurance

Whether you need to protect a classic car with a big block or small block engine, you’re in the right place. We care about all classics, big and small!

Classic Automobile Insurance Agency is a family business built on a love of classic cars. We take every opportunity to bring you unique learning opportunities like our hugely successful Project C10, powered by American Modern. Having owned a variety of collectible vehicles ourselves, we understand the special protections your iconic ride requires.

Whether you bought it at an auction, drove it off the lot, or restored it to perfection in your garage, we have a plan for you. We’ll build you a customized auto insurance program that is designed specifically for owners of collectible cars while providing the top-notch customer support you expect.

Visit our website at to get an instant quote online, or call 888-901-1338 and see how we can help safeguard your dream car.

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