For those of us who came of age in the 40’s to 50’s and didn’t have a lot of money to buy a performance automobile of the day found that we could build a car out of used junkyard components for not a lot of money that would be quicker, faster and handle better than the Packards, Cadilliacs, Oldsmobiles and Lincolns of the day. Up until 1955, the engines of choice for the backyard hot rodder were either a hot rodded Ford flathead V8 or a relatively stock OHV V8 from an Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadilliac or Chrysler. All of which produced between 150 to 250HP and when placed in a early Ford coupe or roadster weighing around 1500 to 2000 pounds would give you an eye popping ride for not a lot of money.
In 1955 Chevrolet introduced the 265 cuin small block V8 that was cheap to manufacture, light weight and was stuffed into damn near every car and truck that Chevrolet built from 1955 into the 1990’s. It’s production was halted in 2003 with the introduction of the LS series corporate V8s. Within a couple of years the SBC became the engine of choice for the active hot rodder. By the 1970’s a whole industry had grown up supplying performance parts and equipment that could bring the daily driver V8 up to 800-1000HP.
Today the hobby remains much the same. When I decided to build my 1956 Dodge station wagon, I pulled the old worn out stock engine and transmission and replaced it with a 5.7L Dodge Hemi from a 2005 Durango roll over for $3000 for the whole car. Other popular swaps these days are the GM LS engines and Ford Modular V8s. All are light weight alloy fuel injected engines that produce from 300 to 450HP stock.
Anyway, since I got back in the hobby in 2002, I have been photographing hot rods and customs at car shows around the country. This is a collection of some of the more representative hot rod engines that have been in use since the mid ’50s.
The Heart of the Hot Rod!