The legendary Turbo-Thrift Chevy inline six first appeared in 1962, on the new 1962 Chevy II. Actually, that first version, a 120 hp 194 CID was called “Hi-Thrift”. But the 230 inch version that appeared in the full-size 1963 Chevys, finally replacing the venerable 235 incher “Blue Flame” was called Turbo-Thrift, and the family is typically known by that name. These rather dull but durable engines were generally more Thrift than Turbo, as Chevy never saw fit to offer anything but one-barrel carbs and mild states of tune. But there’s always a caveat to any engine: it all depends on how much weight it was asked to pull.
So in order to find the briskest, we need the most favorable power-to-weight ratio. And that would be combination of the 1964 Chevy II 100 two-door sedan (2540 lbs) when teamed up with the optional 155hp 230 Turbo Thrift (and three-speed stick, naturally).
This engine was the closest Chevy got to building a performance version of the Turbo-Thrift, and was only offered in 1964 on the Chevy II and Chevelle. Rather oddly, it came standard with chromed a air cleaner and valve cover, something even the hot Chevy V8s didn’t come standard with. Its camshaft was slightly more adventuresome than the 140 hp version, but it was still was restricted by the little one-pot carb.
Still, this combination meant that the six had to pull only 16.38 lbs per hp, which is less than a ’64 Impala SS with with the 283 V8. Of course, if one was looking for more serious performance, the 220 hp 283 V8 was also available in the Chevy II that year, which really sparkled in the light Chevy II.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you were one of the 289 buyers (actual production number) who demanded a 1972 Impala Sport Coupe with the Turbo Thrift six, there wasn’t much sports on tap; more like gliding, if the conditions were favorable (downhill). By 1972, the 250 six was rated at 110 hp, but that was net; so let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say it still made 145 hp gross, as it had been rated in 1971. With a listed weight of 3864 lbs, that comes out to 26.6 lbs per hp. Strictly speaking, the ’72 Impala four-door sedan weighed seventy lbs more, but the idea of a six-cylinder ’72 Impala Sports Coupe is just more…sick. In a good way, of course.
That’s just passenger cars. The 292 CID version of the six was available in quite large medium-duty trucks, and surprisingly common, too.
And on the other end of the spectrum, no could make the Tutbo-Thrift scream like Kay Sissell, who started shutting down plenty of V8s on the drag strips back in the mid sixties. That included his single engine Altered Roadster as well as this twin-engined rail, Sixsession. Sissell’s sizzling sixes were legendary, and his shop will be happy to make your wildest (or mild) Turbo-Thrift dreams come true.