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How to Rebuild & Modify Chevy 348/409 Engines

How to Rebuild & Modify Chevy 348/409 Engines

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How to Rebuild & Modify Chevy 348/409 Engines

432 pagine
3 ore
Jun 15, 2012


From mild to wild, from stock to modified, the book covers everything you need to know about rebuilding and modifying the legendary 348-409 engines.
Jun 15, 2012

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How to Rebuild & Modify Chevy 348/409 Engines - John Carollo


It’s time for a new book on 348 and 409 Chevy engines. Actually, it’s the perfect time and that’s not a marketing ploy, it really is the truth. At no time before have we seen the proliferation of W-engine reproduction, aftermarket, and high-performance parts as now. Between the parts and the Internet, which was not in use much when the last W book was written, it is now possible and very easy for someone to use a computer to buy the parts to build a W engine without having to seek out and restore OEM parts, many of which are now more than 50 years old. Not every engine can make that claim and it’s even more amazing that you can build a healthy 409 off the Internet, but a 509 or even a 609 W motor as well.

And it’s not just the parts, either. The information on these engines is available more than it’s ever been. Website, forum, and magazine articles attest to the popularity of what has become yet another evergreen Chevy V-8 engine. I’ve done my best to include as much of that information to create a collection of 348/409 information as big as possible in these pages.

Sure, these parts and even this book are not for the hardcore 348/409 purists. Their worlds revolve around Chevy part numbers and there are many of those here. But sometimes pursuit of those parts reaches a dead end and reproduction parts fill the gap.

So what’s the cause of all this interest? The W motor just won’t go away. More accurately, its popularity just keeps increasing. Looking at this phenomenon closer, we are seeing new generations of W motor fans, not just those who were in it originally in the late 1950s and 1960s. With that comes new parts, information, and interest. And I can’t help but believe even those same purists are smiling at the new popularity their favorite engines are enjoying.

It’s quite incredible, really. An engine that was only offered for eight years is still very popular more than 50 years later—maybe even more so. One way that popularity is confirmed is by a collectible calendar Chevy put out in 2011 with large, highly detailed cutaway illustrations of 12 famous Chevy engines by the very talented David Kimble. To no one’s surprise in the W community, two of those 12 are W engines. The Holy Grail of W engines, the 427-ci Z11, is one of them and is reproduced here with the help of John Kryos from GM Media Archives who also went to bat for this book and helped with some historic art.

So, in your hands is a balance of history, technical information, and the highlighting of most of the new parts available for W engines. Use it to dream, design, plan, and build your high-performance 348/409 engine. We can now make them look better, last longer and run stronger than ever before. And just as importantly, we know why and how. But keep watching. These engines are not done by a long shot. More parts will undoubtedly come to be available and continue to evolve an engine Chevy thought was done years ago. In the meantime, have fun with the W engine as it’s revving higher than ever before!



As the 1950s started, most cars had engines with less than 200 ci, and it had taken 50 years to get to that point. When the decade ended, the top engine sizes had doubled to more than 400 ci.

With that rapid development, even law enforcement had to catch up as evidenced by Chevrolet’s touting of its 1959 Chevy Biscayne police model. It was capable of 135 mph with Chevrolet’s specially tuned, police-only version of the 348-ci V-8 engine.

Along the same lines, the only single carburetor Chevy offered on the new 348s was a 4-barrel. Gone were the single, 2-barrel applications, and you would never see their use on a 348 or 409. It was an idea that was both smart and needed. The 4-barrel on the bigger engine delivered far better performance, and it helped the daily driver run smoother by hitting the lower RPM and torque peak.

About 50 years ago, the W engine was brand-new metal rolling off the production line. Around 1963, technicians assemble the 409. Note how the parts such as pistons were laid out in clean rows for assembly. Also note the heavy-duty engine stands. (Photo Courtesy GM Media Archive)

A technical drawing shows the 348, the first W engine in all its glory. Chevrolet used this illustration to show potential customers just how different it was from the previous small-block Chevy. This head-on view clearly shows the noticeably different angle of the block’s deck and how it relates to the cylinders and pistons. (Photo Courtesy GM Media Archive)


Three specific elements came together to help create the Chevrolet W series engines. Stock car racing and drag racing drove the development of the American V-8 engine, and it influenced the design and manufacture of the W engine. The third was the ever-increasing demand of the car-buying public for newer, bigger, and better cars and engines. When the three factors converged, Chevrolet’s W engines emerged.

With size, power, and future growth being the common denominators, Chevrolet put together its list of goals for a new engine hot on the heels of its first overhead valve (OHV) V-8, what we know today as the small-block Chevy. It had to be bigger in power and displacement, but it also had to have room to expand to become even bigger yet. This engine would also see duty in trucks, and the criteria for that included physical size. An all-new design was created for the big-block engine that would see use in the now-growing larger cars and trucks. The result was the development of an entirely new design, the 348-ci engine, and the 348/408 family, released only three years after the initial V-8 of Chevrolet. Like the 265 and 283, the potent 348/409 Chevys also did not last long, as the 396/427 Mark-IV big-block was beginning development at the same time.

General Motors kept the overall design of its vehicles similar, so the new big-block engines couldn’t exceed the physical size of the small-block by very much. The 348-ci displacement was determined when previous configurations were shown to be too small. The engine Chevrolet’s new W was replacing was only 17 ci smaller than the 300-inch initial designs. When the W design was selected, it turned out to be very similar in overall size to the small-block. In fact, it was only marginally wider and longer than the small-block, but offered a slightly lower height and that could help racers. But looks were deceptive as the engine was reported to be 140 pounds heavier than the small-block. When coupled with the entirely new X-shaped chassis, the combination sent racers back to the drawing board to create entirely new chassis setups as well as learn how it would work on a race track.

Chevrolet’s first big-block offered some different elements, including its oddly shaped valve covers. One of the reasons for the new shape was the use of staggered valves (which were also larger than previous models). Under those distinctive heads, wedge-shaped combustion chambers were contained within the block and not in the heads. As a result, the pistons had an unusual half-dome design to accommodate the combustion chambers. An improved cooling flow that served the exhaust valves first sought out the source of the most heat generated in the heads. In fact, the W had more unusual features than standard ones.

The King Kong of all W engines is the Z11 427 that ruled the drag strips and helped add to the lore of Chevrolet racing. The non-production equipment included 3.65-inch forged-steel crank, forged pistons, aluminum large-port heads, two-piece aluminum intake, aluminum water pump, special Z11 damper, and factory-developed steel headers. A high-performance street 409 churned out 360 hp; the Z11 delivered 565 hp. (Photo Courtesy David Kimble)

The initial 348s were released in the 1958 model year as Turbo-Thrust, and offered 250 hp with a single 4-barrel carb. A factory optional, three 2-barrel carb induction system added 30 more horsepower. From there, the 348 was very much like many engines of the time and offered more options for more power combinations.

In 1959, yet another 35 hp was available to bring it up to 315 and in 1960, buyers could opt for a 335-hp version. In the final year of the 348, it hit the vaulted one horse per cubic inch mark with 350-hp availability. Racers quickly found out that adding dual quads took that version up to 355. A solid-lifter cam and an 11.25:1 compression ratio helped reach that horsepower. Owners considered the 348 to be a very reliable powerplant, but the 409 did not achieve the same reputation for reliability.

When it was introduced, the 409 was thought to be a 348 that had received bore and stroke work. While that’s technically accurate, the move from the 348 to the 409 was more complex than just a stroker crankshaft and bigger pistons. Although it looked the same on the outside, it was a new 348 that gave way to the 409. The 348 had thin cylinder walls that did not support the increase in bore size to 4.3125 inches, so the block was recast. The 409 used many of the 348’s characteristics, but used more race-like parts, such as the heads. While still being distinctively 409, they would fit a 348 block but only if the matching 409 intake was used. One of the big differences was in those heads as the 409 versions offered bigger pushrod holes and bigger valvespring seats.

One of the first 409s built sits in W-engine guru Lamar Walden’s showroom. Chevrolet changed these engines drastically only months after they were introduced, so finding and restoring one of the originals is no easy task. All the changes were for the better, as the engine became a legend.

From the factory, the first 409s featured a solid-lifter cam, 17.5:1 rockers, and a large-bore Carter 4-barrel carburetor on an aluminum intake that yielded the same output as a 348 with three 2-barrel carbs. It didn’t take long for the 409, a magical number seemingly from the start, to show up on the nation’s drag strips and stock car tracks. With racers using the new engine, speed secrets grew and the engine evolved rapidly.

In the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys song 409 made the 409 even more famous. The 409 may be the only engine to have a song written about its exploits.

Any design evolution problems the 409 suffered were quickly and effectively corrected. Areas of improvement included beefing up specific areas of the block and heads. In as few as three years, the 409 was quite removed from the first models, which were not much more than a progressive 348.

In appearance, the 409 stood out from the 348 in three distinct ways. It had the now-rare twin-snorkel air cleaner in which each intake tube pointed forward at a 45-degree angle to the centerline of the engine. Another distinction was the color of the valve covers. If your stamped-steel factory covers were silver, you possessed a 409- or 425-hp HO version. Another quick and easy identification of the new engine was the location of the oil dipstick. The new 409s now had the dipstick residing on the passenger’s side of the block.

The casing date can be found on the top side of the driver’s side of the block. As it is on a somewhat horizontal surface, it can be covered with dirt and grime. A wire bush should be able to clean it enough to read the date code.

The high-end 409 models included dual-quad carbs on an aluminum high-rise intake on the outside and domed pistons, high-output oil pump, thicker pushrods, forged rods, and an upgraded camshaft inside the block. The heads were improved with increased porting and stronger valvesprings. Compression ratios were at an impressive 11:1, with the top 409 models through 1964 creating an incredible 425 hp. From the showroom floor with little race tuning, 409 machines often turned 14-second times at the drag strip.

The first 409, a single 4-barrel RPO580 engine, created 360 hp at 5,800 rpm and 409 ft-lbs of torque. With a torque number that matched the engine size, Chevrolet advertising made it clear this was an engine to be reckoned with.

The W engine made history on the showrooms and race tracks across the country. This first 409 of a breed features a Carter 4-barrel carburetor and the distinctive scalloped heads.

The next year, two 409s (RPO580 and RPO587) offered a slight (.25) reduction in compression but an increased horsepower of 380 and 409 respectively. Chevrolet ad folks now had a horsepower number that matched the cubic inches, and it was over the 400 mark. The difference between the two was the RPO580 had a single 4-barrel carb while the RPO587 had two, 4-barrel carbs. The torque for both engines was the same at 420 ft-lbs.

Chevrolet changed the name of the 409 for 1963, using the L designation on the L33, L31, and L80 with respective horsepower ratings of 340, 400, and 425. The L80 was the only 409 to have two 4-barrel carbs. For torque, the L31 and L80 had 425 ft-lbs while the L33 had 420 ft-lbs. In 1964, the same three 409s were offered with the same horsepower ratings. It was the final year for the L80 that still came with two 4-barrel carbs. The final year for the 409 was 1965 with only two available: the L33 (340 hp) and the L31 (400 hp).

The number of options and growth of the 409 dropped off after 1963 due to two reasons. General Motors discontinued its support of official factory racing and its underground or back-door programs, likely because the government was looking into GM for possible antitrust violations. Another reason was the cubic inch wars were in full swing, and Chevrolet was already grooming the replacement for the W series of engines.

Detail shot of the exhaust manifold and side of the engine shows long oil filter, oil pressure sending unit, and generator used in 1962. Although the new engine was bigger and more powerful, it was not without its bugs and received a major overhaul by Chevrolet within months of being released to the public.

Racing History

The 348 and 409 did an admirable job in racing applications. From the high banks of Daytona to the Nationals at Indinapolis and plenty of tracks in between, W engines posted impressive results. In drag racing, the top ride was a 1962 Chevy bubble top with 409 power and a 4-speed. Racers bought brand-new cars, took the engines completely apart, honed the cylinder walls, balanced all the rotating components, reworked and fine tuned the carburetors, re-curved the distributor, and added all the legal aftermarket parts they could such as Jardine brand headers. Dyno Don Nicholson won his class at the 1961 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Winternationals with a 13.9 second/103 mph clocking.

This new air cleaner was used for the 4-barrel carb setup on a 409. The Chevy W engine used a tri-power setup with three 2-barrel Rochester carburetors, a Rochester 4-barrel, and a Carter AFB 4-barrel carburetor arrangement to supply fuel and air to the engine.

On NASCAR tracks, Chevy teams used the new 1960 and 1961 bodies with the 348 engine to drive its way to the winners circle. Rex White won the title in 1960 by earning six wins, three poles, 25 top fives, 35 top tens and was unable to finish only three times out of 41 races. White drove his own car, making him one of just six owner/drivers in history to capture a series championship. The next year, White finished behind fellow Chevrolet driver Ned Jarrett, who won his championship via consistency, winning only one race and four poles but nailing down 23 top-five and 34 top-ten finishes during the 47-race season. Emanuel Zervakis, also in a Chevy, was third in points with two wins and 19 top five finishes. Another good year was 1962 with Jarrett and White in the hunt for the title. Jarrett finished third with six wins and White finished fifth in the points with eight wins.

In 1962 Chevrolet was already at work on what would become the infamous Z11 package. The made-for-racing Impala Sport Coupe had plenty of weight-saving tricks on the body and chassis, but the real head turner was the W engine that was now sporting 427-ci. It still had the 409 bore but made the 427 mark with a longer 3.65-inch stroke. A new set of heads and intake and its 13.5:1 compression yielded an understated 430 hp and 435 ft-lbs of torque. About 50 of the Ford and Dodge killers were made in three batches.

The 427 was based on the 409 engine but enjoyed a few features of its own, such as its own redesigned heads, a matching higher aluminum intake with a separate lifter valley cover but yet the same carbs used on the 409. A NASCAR-style intake that drew air from the base of the windshield fed the carbs, now located under a big air box. The Z11 was created for the 1963 season, but was unfortunately discontinued in January 1963 when General Motors all but killed its motorsports programs. The few that were made before the ban enjoyed success.

This original 409 Super Stock engine appears as it did when it raced in the early 1960s. Drag racing sanctioning bodies had very strict rules to keep the playing field as even as possible. Strangely enough, .030-inch overbores were often allowed, which added cubic inches and made more power.

This 409’s small distinctive air cleaner used in drag racing. This air cleaner was installed on Chevy 409s in Z-11 Impalas.

Hayden Proffitt and the Chevy 409 both gained fame at the same time. He became a six-time national drag racing champion and one of the cars that carried him to fame was a 1962 Chevrolet Bel Air Super Stock drag car fitted with the legendary 409. Here’s a faithful reproduction of Hayden Profitt’s 1962 Chevy with the then-new 409. The original was stolen and then burned.

Old Reliable II, one of the most famous 409 cars, was driven by Dave Strickland. It was a 409-ci, 409-hp factory Super Stock.


The Impala of 1959 offered what General Motors called top-of-the-line amenities and performance, including a 335-hp, 348-ci V-8 engine. Sales of the new car increased to approximately 175,000.

In 1961, Chevrolet introduced the performance-oriented Impala SS as a dealer-installed kit that went on to sell more than 1 million models in the 1960s and enjoyed a 26-year run. Looking back, it is considered by many to be one of the first true muscle cars. A 409 that produced one horsepower per cubic inch powered it. Chevrolet only built 142 409-powered SS models that year.

The SS ushered in a new era of Chevy performance. The 360-hp 409 was one of five engine choices, and the car featured extra enhancements, such as power brakes and steering, sintered metallic brake linings, heavy-duty shocks and springs, a 7,000-rpm tachometer, and special SS trim and badging. Chevrolet sold 450 SS versions that model year.

Old Reliable II, one of the most famous Super Stocks in racing, is a 409/409 factory car. Larry Brinkley, the current owner and caretaker, has kept it just the way it was when it dominated the drag strips. Note the heater delete on the firewall, saving weight by not using anything unnecessary to racing.

The distinctive Z11 air cleaner came from NASCAR roots, where it was proven to add power over conventional air cleaners. The sealed airbox hooked up to a fitting on the firewall that took in air from the cowl at the base of the windshield

The 427-ci Z11 engine was part of the Z11 package that included an aluminum fan shroud and water pump. The package also included aluminum fenders and hood, bumpers, and brackets used to reduce the weight of the full-size 1963 Impala. Only 15 or so are known to still exist.

The swan song for the 409 was in 1965, but only saw limited use in the new Chevy Impala platform. The chassis returned to the perimeter style, but it was a new Chevy engine that pushed the W to the end of the line. Chevrolet’s new Mark IV with a cubic-inch rating of 396 was the new kid on the block, and the 348s and 409s were relegated to engine parts that now became a lot cheaper to buy.

This Z11 is one of the rare W motor cars of the early 1960s. Ronnie Sox drove the Good Ole Mr. Wilson Z11 in match races, and he went on to race his own Z11. One of the amazing things about Z11s is how they look strictly stock, but looks can be deceiving. These rare cars had aluminum bumpers as well as other parts to lighten them for racing.

Chevrolet made fewer than 50 of the Z11 engines for drag racing only. The engineers stroked the 409 into 427, increasing the size of the engine by lengthening the stroke of the rods and not overboring the cylinders. This small but important change added only 18 ci but got the engine into the desired 427 displacement.

Internal Specifics

Chevrolet’s W engines have a unique place in automotive history, and for a surprisingly large number of reasons. As part of Chevrolet’s goals to have a new and bigger engine that could be made even bigger in the future, the distinctive elements of the 348 and 409 engine designs are the heads and the block. Chevrolet’s 348 and 409 were primarily destined for production passenger cars, not to be all-conquering high-performance or race engines. Although the Z11 gained drag strip fame, that success was ancillary to Chevrolet’s priorities.

A freshly cleaned 409 truck block sits among some of the parts to be used in a Lamar Walden engine build. Both 348 and 409 engines were used in trucks for their torque and power outputs. Today, the 409 truck blocks are highly desirable for hot rod rebuilds and are difficult to find. About 50 years after W-engine production ended, solid rebuildable blocks command high prices and often sell for about $4,000 to $5,000.


The valve covers were bigger—much bigger—than on the small-block engine it was to replace. But then again, so was the W. Its noticeable valve covers were wider and even a little longer than the small-block’s. The reason was to cover the bigger heads. The covers were also

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