(first posted 10/12/2012) Chevrolet dropped a bomb in 1955 with its all-new small block V8, one that blew the Ford flathead V8 and other engines out of the water, off the salt flats, and left the competition behind in just about every other venue. It was light, compact, but most of all, it had massive power potential thanks to its superior breathing capabilities.
Only two years later, Chevrolet rocked the world again, with both a larger 283 cubic inch version but also with fuel injection, a mechanical system that promised instantaneous response, high power, efficiency, and enabled the mighty mouse to rev cleanly to 7000 rpm. It was by far the most advanced American engine and it turned the 1957 Corvette into the quickest production car in the world.
The “Ram Jet” Rochester mechanical continuous-port injection system actually wasn’t designed by Rochester. It was the brainchild of a team of GM engineers who undoubtedly received encouragement from Zora Arkus-Duntov and Ed Cole. The prospect of exploiting the benefits of fuel injection in increasing both performance and economy must have seemed tantalizing to them–and the result of their work certainly achieved those goals.
If you’d like to know just how it actually works, Chevrolet published a well-illustrated training brochure that explains it very thoroughly, but in a way that is quite accessible to anyone with a basic understanding of engines and fuel delivery systems. The whole brochure is accessible here (oldcarbrochures.com)
Certainly, the ability to achieve 20 mpg in easy highway driving was appreciated by those who’d paid the substantial $550 premium for fenders displaying the iconic fuel injection badge. Another benefit of the fuel injection was an overwhelming power band with no flat spots that simply was unparalleled anywhere else in the world–except, perhaps, in the direct-injected engine of the Mercedes 300SL at double or triple the price. Still, the fuel-injected Corvette was the quickest production car in the world, handily out-accelerating the 300SL.
The 283 fuelie could rev cleanly to 7,000 rpm, yet idle (reasonably) happily at some 900 rpm, which in 1957 was simply unheard of. And the performance numbers it produced in a 1957 Corvette are still impressive, unless we’ve become totally jaded by 5.7-second 0-60 times (300SL: 7.4 – 7.7 seconds). In a period R&T test, the ‘Vette peeled off a 14.3 second 1/4 mile time (300SL: 15.5-16.0 seconds). Let’s not forget that was over a half-century ago, and such numbers would be hard to beat by any vintage Corvette, even during the golden big-block era, never mind the long, dark ’70s and early ’80s.
Despite an official ban on racing activities, the ’57 fuel-injected Corvette quickly racked up an enviable record on the race track, with back-door support from Chevrolet.
The Rochester injection system could be a bit finicky, and it did have a number of well-known weaknesses, most of which were reduced or eliminated over its nine-year production run. In the hands of those unwilling to learn its secrets, the beautiful cast and polished aluminum crown was all too often tossed aside for carburetors, typically the dual four-barrel setup used on the 270 (gross) hp production version. And how many would regret that decision in later years, when a genuine fuel-injected Chevy or Corvette would become much more valuable.
The jalopyjournal‘s comment thread on the Chevy fuel injection includes a number of fascinating anecdotes and experiences from former (and current) Ram-Air owners (and is also a source for a couple of the images here). It paints the same picture as so many a new technology: Many mechanics (and owners) were stumped by the Rochester’s quirks and foibles, and encouraged tossing it aside for carbs. But those that mastered it were rewarded by superb driveability, economy and, of course, performance; as long as one knew what parts to keep on hand, it could even be quite reliable.
The same story played itself out with the early Bosch fuel-injected VW Type 3s: That system often was converted to carbs, but those that mastered it were also well rewarded.
The modest number of ’57 Chevrolets actually equipped with fuel injection dwindled in 1958, when the new 348 cu in W-block engine represented the equation for the next few decades: Ever-bigger displacement, and topped by a carburetor(s).
But in this ad from 1959 the 290 hp 283 backed by the four-speed manual and heavy duty suspension were still being promoted as a “sports car…for five!”
The Corvette kept the FI torch blazing brightly through 1965, right up to the brilliant 375 (gross) hp, 327 cu in (5.4-liter) version, perhaps the ultimate Chevy small block. I’ll never forget the day one pulled in to fill up with 260 at the Sunoco station where I worked Saturdays back in my high school days. When I opened the hood to check the oil, I was almost overcome by the combination of all that fine-looking alloy and the crackling heat it was throwing off on a hot day. Now that was a moment of veneration.
But the availability of Corvette big-block engines that began in 1965.5 sounded the death knell for the fuelie 327, even though its lighter weight (and better handling) would have made it my choice had someone offered me a C2.
Clearly, the Rochester FI was too expensive for its time, with a cost-benefit ratio that hardly was attractive to anyone but racers and the cognoscenti. But killing it wasn’t a forward-looking decision: This (somewhat tacky) 1957 promotional video touting the new Ram Air’s benefits mentions its ability to reduce smog. In reality, that was an issue GM (and the rest of Detroit) ducked as long as possible, but it was ever-tightening government standards that finally brought back proper fuel injection, a process that took a lot more time than it should have.
Neat, I’d always heard the the injection units were problematic, and a dead end until electronic technology caught up a few decades later.
I owned and drove one for three years in the 70’s. It was flawless and trouble free.
Finiky is putting it midly, most people did toss them out, I recall a story from an old guy, he found one in an alley dumpster!
Its not a deadly sin if its not ready for prime time, too expensive and not popular, Chrysler tried fuel injection around this time too, I think all their cars were converted back to carbs, maybe one survives today?
There’s a big difference between the GM and Chrysler’s ambitious electronic unit, which literally would not work, and all (except one) had to be converted back to carbs.
The Rochester FI was mechanical, and was very capable of functioning well and even fairly reliable, in the hands of mechanics (or owners) who took the time to learn how it worked. Many didn’t. But those that did loved its capabilities.
The Rochester just needed more development time and money. Undoubtedly, it was put on the back burner almost immediately, except for some changes during its lifespan.
GM should have stayed with FI technology, refined it and improved its reliability, which would have been fairly easy to do. And it should have made it standard in Cadillacs, as a matter of principle (along with some other earlier commitments to disc brakes, etc) That would have given them the volume necessary to bring costs down, which of course they eventually did.
I concur completely. We saw a couple in our shop over the years and they were far from complex. If you could read the schematic and follow a few diagnostic procedures they were not hard to make run at all. The real problem was grease-monkey types who could not resist the temptation to turn screws and change springs.
My long experience tells me that mechanics tend to be very conservative types. When anything new comes along, the old stuff is automatically better and most would not take the time to learn how said new stuff worked. Really, anything bolted in a car has to be simple enough that mechanics can service it and that kind of leaves Saturn V tech in the lab.
I wonder if Frederic Donner’s rising to the chairmanship of GM in 1958 – the first Chairman to have come from a financial background rather than engineering – might have had anything to do with their backing away from FI technology so quickly?
Possibly, but I suspect the bigger and more immediate reason was that in April 1957, Bill France, Sr., banned fuel injection (and supercharging) from NASCAR, which was followed six-seven weeks later by the AMA agreement. If fuel injection had still been legal for NASCAR, the system’s cost would probably have been easier to justify as a loss leader to reinforce Chevrolet’s performance image. Fuel injection probably still wouldn’t have sold in large numbers, but there would have been much more incentive to develop it and to keep it around in the passenger car line, rather than simply on a handful of Corvettes.
So much for racing improving the breed. Funny thing, the Detroit breed of automobile went to hell a number of product generations after that.
Bill France was very good for NASCAR but in my view very bad for the development of the American motorcar in more ways than one. The same can be said for the Indycars’ sanctioning body. Together, they killed all innovation in the 60s, innovation which might have been found its way into road cars.
I’ve had my 59 impala FI for 43 years. Still happy with it.
Yeah, they “ran away” from it 7 years later in 1965, near the end of Donners 1958-1966 term, also, during Donners years, turbo charging, FWD, independent rear Corvair, Tempest and Corvette.
Which were also quickly dumped in favor of a return to warmed over Thirties technology – live rear axles, overhead valve engines that could barely rev to 5,000 rpms, and still no mechanical fuel injection.
40 years later, GM is still selling cars that are a midrange “B” at best for the most part. I can’t think of any reason to buy a new Malibu over a Hyundai Sonata or a Toyota Camry unless said Malibu came at an insane discount.
Supposedly the Chrysler units would pick up stray electrical signals and send the car into full-acceleration mode, which certainly sounds like fun for an unsuspecting driver.
Interestingly, there is a restored 1958 DeSoto Adventurer with an original factory fuel-injection unit. If I recall correctly, it is the only 1958 Mopar still equippped with its original fuel-injection unit.
The person who originally bought the Adventurer had it removed quickly, but it was stored at someone’s house (either the home of the person who owned the car, or the dealer’s house).
Somehow, the equipment ended up here in Harrisburg, Pa., where it sat in someone’s attic for decades! When the car was being restored, the new owner managed to track down the original equipment and bought it for a princely, but undisclosed, sum. The beautifully restored DeSoto was on display at the Carlisle All-Chrysler show a few years ago.
There is a great piece on this car on Allpar.
I met the guy who restored it at Carlisle a few years ago. He was a former electrical engineer that drilled the problem with the Bendex system to wax covered transistors that could not exist in the elements. The control box was mounted behind the grill, and was not sealed very well moisture and dirt did it in. The setup was amazing to see in person, there was a second distributor connected to the main distributor that sent the signal to the fuel injector to squirt gas in to the intake runner. Each cylinder had its own injector. There was an electric fuel pump in the fuel tank and an access panel in the trunk to access it. There were two throttle bodies.
The complete system was stored in the attic of the former DeSoto District Manager for the western PA region. He gave his family explicit instructions to not throw the unit away after he died. They held on to it and sold it to the DeSoto’s owner during the restoration, i think they hooked up in Hershey or something.
This was an option on the Fury 300D as well. The DeSoto and Plymouth used the same system for their B wedge engines, and the Chrysler had a unique intake for the Hemi, it was the last year for the first gen Hemi.
The throttle body and distributor with the second distributor is in the pic attached.
I think he must have meant wax capacitors. Never heard of wax transistors. (I also remember seeing an article on that Desoto where components that clearly were capacitors were called out in the text as transistors.)
Rambler also planned to use the Bendix electronic fuel injection system on the 1957 Rebel with 327 V8. Problems with the system prevented it from reaching production, but owners manuals for the car were printed with a detailed description of how the fuel injection system worked. (With 4-barrel carb the Rebel was the 2nd fastest production car of ’57, beaten only by the fuelie Corvette.)
Shot of the control box in the grill.
Car makers found out the hard way and fast how tough it is for electronics under the hood. Temperatures, moisture and vibration as bad as military-spec, but at far higher volume and far lower prices. Lots of electronics geeks built their own electronic ignitions in the ’60s and they rarely lasted long.
I trust all the components of this Ultimate DeSoto’s FI controller have been upgraded to modern parts. Thanks for the super photos!
And they did the exact same stupid thing 20 years later, putting the Lean Burn computer under the hood on the air cleaner. Talk about your slow learners.
Not to mention electronic fuel injection debacle No. 2 with the 81 Imperial.
Reminds me to give thanks for my brainless but bodacious ThermoQuad.
The Mopar Fuelie emblem
Little droplets spelling F U E L coming in, injection zooming out. Fabulous!
You’re absolutely right. Chrysler’s electronic FI was the one which was not ready for prime time due to then-current technological constraints. Although it was the way of the future, it required a good 10-20 years before it became practical. GM’s mechanical unit, on the other hand, was mechanical and simple. If Bosch’s earlier units are anything to go by, I’d say GM’s units were as good or better.
Yes FI systems required careful servicing and competent mechanics, but that is the price to pay for latest tech. While not practical for Chevrolet except in the halo Corvette, Cadillac should have had them from the start. Increased service costs due to FI would have been negligible in a premium car, while the engineers could have got time and money to make it cheaper and more robust for eventual GM-wide deployment.
I am continually amazed by the fact that GM had world-competitive tech in the fifties but chose to squander its legacy. When today I compare 40s-50s GM build quality with European makes, the difference is like night and day. Only Mercedes cars seem more preserved, but that is often due to living a sheltered life. Beater MBs, while rare, are as bad as the worst GM products.
Finally GM has come to its senses and is using the same tech in Chevy and Cadillac, but it may be too late for Caddy now.
I believe that the Bendix/Chrysler system was acquired by Bosch and became a starting point for its system.
A detailed D-Jetronic Fundamentals page says,
“The D-Jetronic system developed by Bosch in the early 1960’s was the first mass-production electronic fuel injection system. It was primarily based on patents that Bosch licensed from the Bendix corporation. Bendix developed the basic idea of using an inductive element coupled to manifold vacuum as a component in a loop circuit (“multivibrator”) to develop the basic injection pulse width. The system was first used on the 1967 VW Type 3 motors. Bosch continued development of the system, and it was last used in the D-Jetronic form in about 1976.”
“Prinzip der elektronisch gesteuerten Einspritzanlage”:
Bendix called their system the Electrojector. I recall reading that in the mid 50’s, two engineers drove a ’53 Buick from Buffalo NY to Baltimore MD with the first prototype electrojector system installed.
The “brain” was a big box that sat on the passenger side front seat, so the second engineer had to ride in the back seat.
I tried to get my girlfriend’s ’68 VW Squareback’s Bosch D-Jetronic working in the late 1970s. A miserable experience, ultimately futile. (Both the VW and her.)
These first electronic FIs were analog, and even if all the components were still working after 10+ years, they’d gotten all drifty, noisy and temperature-sensitive.
I got the chance to drive a FI ’64 corvette in ’83. Did not idle very well, but overall ran good. And by god yes, GM should have kept it and refined it; they could have beaten Bosch at their own game. But, this GM we are talking about…sigh
I believe there is one surviving DeSoto Adventurer (1958) with the Bendix Electronic Fuel Injection system and one ’57 Rambler Rebel.
Few people know about the FI 1957 Rambler Rebel 327 V8. Or that Rambler had a 327 V8 years before Chevrolet. Or that it was the 2nd fastest car in 1957. So much for old fuddy duddy Rambler.
Whole different engine. It’s like saying Studebaker had a 289 years before Ford did. The only thing the two engines had in common was their displacement.
I remember attending several automotive swap meets back in the early 1980s and seeing these FI units (in varying states of completeness) for sale – even back then they were expensive, but far more plentiful than they are today.
From a horsepower and financial standpoint, it was a no-brainer for GM to abandon that technology at the time. Had they stayed with it, however, they would have dealt with the dawn of the emissions era in a much more elegant way, and probably would have had greater success with their sucessive FI iterations (the Cadillac system being the next one tried IIRC). Mechanical fuel injection components require precision-machined parts, and that’s something that the American industry at the time just didn’t know how to do (while the Germans did).
The latter point was a big issue. That was one of the downfalls of the Lucas Mk 2 injection system used by Triumph from 1968-1975: it required a lot of precision manufacture, particularly in the metering unit diaphragm springs, that was not terribly practical for either manufacturing or service.Triumph ended up recommending that the metering unit be completely replaced, rather than rebuilt or repaired, if anything went wrong with it, which didn’t make the system very popular with owners.
Triumph also discovered that mechanical injection was not necessarily an advantage in terms of federal emissions standards, which is part of why they never offered the injected engine in the U.S. market.
Didn’t Nissan copy this motor cutting in it half in the first 4 cyl brought here?
Left Bank = Nissan Motor
Right Bank = Datsun Motor
If I recall the parts were interchangeable.
I really don’t understand why people think that German industry could work to higher precision than US industry. If the US auto industry was working to lower standards, and I see no evidence of that, it was for cost purposes. I can not believe that fuel injection had to be made to higher tolerances than an automatic transmission. If German technology was more precise than US technology, it is because they were willing to pay for it.
The problems with the Rochester FI had nothing to do with manufacturing tolerances, but with ancillary parts like a drive-cable, etc..It also should have had a solenoid to shut off fuel flow to avoid hydro-locking a cylinder under some start situations, the result being a bent rod. But the basic unit had no serious shortcomings.
It just needed some committed refinement and improvements. Given how new it was, its issues were not unreasonable, and all were quite readily fixable.
As a almost 30 year veteran as a marine mechanic, I have seen many engines full of water, and not one bent connecting rod. The cast aluminum piston will fail first. A couple of tablespoons of fuel, in a cylinder, will not bend a rod.In fact, it will try to push the intake valve up into the port first. And on Chevys, with their cheesy starter motor mount setup, will break the bolts before breaking a piston.
Call you wrong on the bent rod. I worked at the Corvette Shop in Redford MI then when they moved to Southfield MI. The 82-84 Vette with the CrossFire Throttle body with the hood design would leak rain water into the engine and when you would go to start, it would hydro lock and WALA!! bent rod. We replaced about 5 short blocks.
Best way to deal with the cable was to delete the housing. I did and used a small dab of epoxy to hold the drive core into the distributor.
Three years and not a single problem.
There were a number of domestic makes experimenting with fuel injection around this time but only Chevrolet had a successful (relatively speaking and for its time) production run. Passenger car fuel injection actually continued to be available thru the 1960 model year if I’m not mistaken, although it was never offered on the 348, just the 283. As noted above you could get it on a ‘Vette ’til ’65.
The “cross-fire” units offered in the early ’80s didn’t offer a lot of hope in this area either, but when the TBI/TPI units came along…wow. Throttle-Body Injection is a marvel of simplicity and offers great driveability and fuel economy. Tuned-Port Injection throws in a generous amount of sex appeal and a little more power.
I guess if you could figure out the foibles of those early mechanical FI engines they were great performers. I’ll take mine with hydraulic-lifters…one less thing to adjust.
Make it roller lifters and you are really talking. Flat tappets should be illegal!
Praise the Lord and pass the ZDDP additive.
Bra’s should be illegal too…
I sure loved how roller lifters helped improved SBC and V6 performance. When the final 1st-gen 350 finally gained the swirl-port Vortec heads and a roller cam, the off-the-line response improved dramatically.
The first Chevy FI engines came in two different states of tune. There was a 250 hp version of the FI which had the hydraulic cam and the 283 hp version had the solid lifter Duntov cam. Both engines cost the same, which is probably why the hydraulic lifter FI engines did not sell as well as the performance versions. When the hydraulic cam FI engine was dropped after 1961, there were only about 100 of these being made and sold, a truly rare car nowadays. All of the 327 FI engines were equipped with solid lifters from 1962-65.
I believe the Chevy fuel injection was marketed as “Ramjet”, not “Ram Air”.
Thank you. Ram Air is a Pontiac thing.
My bad; got my Rams crossed up. Fixed.
Rams crossed, not to be confused with cross-rams?
Article still says Ram-Air in the first paragraph.
Also, the Ramjet option debuted at $484 in 1957 and remained at that price thru 1962. A small price drop in ’63 made the system $430 (when the larger doghouse design was substituted), but then the price jumped to $538 for ’64 and ’65.
What is the center tower for? The cutaway in Laurence’s article shows it’s air intake, but why so long? Tuned for resonance? I haven’t noticed such structures on other engines, FI or otherwise.
I’ve seen long-ish air intakes on FI cars. They are usually cylindrical and plastic-y, but this was 1957. A picture of Chevrolet Spark M200: Note the black cylinder parallel to the engine.
Interesting. Chevy FI before and after 55 years.
The Tower is part plenum and part intake runner. I may be over simplifying this but.. The long and fairly straight intake runners improve airflow and create the “Ram Air” effect.
Yup, and the ability to do that was one of the advantages of fuel injection. You could use a longer-duration and/or higher-lift cam profile for more power on top and use the ram effect of the long intake runners to beef up the mid-range.
My ’78 Rabbit had relatively long intake runners. I would imagine that it was to improve low-end torque.
I have a hard time believing the myth that a lot of hacks just threw these units in the trash if they couldn’t figure out how to fix them. We are talking about $550 which is something like $3K in todays money. You never hear the myths about Mopar hacks ditching a hemi because they were “supposedly” cold blooded. I grew up believing that a Corvette was a reward and not just transportation like they are today. Something that was to be taken out and enjoyed whether that be a nice Sunday drive or a day at the strip or an open track event. And I bet a lot of buyers in those early years saw them the same way. I’d even venture to say that only the well connected Chevy dealer even sold FI Vettes back in those days. No need to worry about Gomer working at a little farm town dealer screwing up your FI because,just like today, you would have had to travel to the big city to buy one.
And since I’m part of the Vega Jihad here’s a pic of Chevys first EFI unit. 10 years before PEFI was common. I don’t consider TBI to be “fuel injection”. True FI should have the fuel injected directly into the intake runner or combustion chamber.
And how can you even talk about 57 FI Chevys and not even mention the factory built Black Widow race cars?
I would agree that the guys who shelled out the $550 would not just chuck the system, but by the time the car was on its second or third owner and it wasn’t running right and Verl at the gas station couldn’t fix it, THEN the system would come off and get replaced by a junkyard carb that everyone knew how to work on. Funny how times have changed. Now, nobody (at least without white hair) knows how to work on a carb. FI is no problem at all.
Computer chips made FI practical and eventually cheap.
I was about to say chips also made FI impossible to fix or adjust, but if I’m not mistaken you can get performance chips now.
Actually, quite a few did swap the FI unit for carbs very early on. Read the thread at HAMB I linked to in the story for a lot of stories on that.
I’ll bet your right JP. In the mid 70’s a local foundry had a mountain of scrap cast iron engine parts 30 ft. high. One trip in there I spotted 3 Pontiac 3 deuce manifolds, some with damaged carbs. I’m sure swapped out for a simpler 4 barrel. Wonder what the Pontiac restorers pay for them now. Of course there were more sold than Rochester fuelies however it was common practice.
We’re not talking about why the FI was bad in the Corvette (it was excellent), but about why did GM not refine and ramp up the system into other high priced cars like Cadillacs.
About the hacks who threw away the FI, they were mostly fourth or more owners who did not have the time, inclination or skills to deal with it. Kind of like folks swapping 350/400s into everything from BMW 7s to Jag XJ V12s. Not a case with the first (wealthy) owners.
As someone who has driven a FI Corvette, I would not call it excellent. By 1983, when I drove that ’64 ‘vette, its age was showing. Carburetor equipped rigs ran better in ’83 than this Corvette did. Feel free to remove the rose colored glasses. This car was bought new by my classmates father. It had about 70K on it if I remember right.
I believe you when you say that this 19-year-old, 70,000 mile, fuel-injected Corvette didn’t run as well as carbureted ones of the same era.
But – and I promise you that I’m sincerely asking, not arguing – do you think that may have had something to do with the fact that a ’64s carburetor would have been rebuilt by that point, while the same year’s fuel injection system would have been fairly unlikely to have enjoyed a rebuild by a qualified technician?
Even if your friend’s father babied that thing to death, it still seems that there were more guys out there in 1984 who knew how to rebuild a carburetor, than to rebuild a relatively rare fuel injection system. But then again, I don’t know the circumstances of the car’s owner, and now he cared for it.
If a FI ’64 327 was running worse than an ’84, then that FI system was not working right. Period. The FI system in these had legendary instantaneous throttle response.
There could be a number of reasons for the sub-par performance of the 64 with the FI. Age is one. The car had solid lifters, and how many people want to regularly adjust the lash on those to keep the engine running the way it should? If the car was only driven infrequently, there could have been a buildup of crap internally which needed to be eliminated by some spirited driving. The 64 FI engine also had 11.25:1 compression, and what kind of gas was around in ’84 which could handle that?
Never said the throttle response was bad; it just didn’t idle good. At it’s age and mileage, it might well have needed some maintenance. But it was fun for this 17 year old kid to drive. And yes, cars in ’84 idled better than that 64 Vette, but did not run better. That 327 at full song was amazing, and could have used a 5th gear or taller axle gears but the 327 was very happy at redline
A Black Widow or an exact replica would be the only 57 Chevy I’d ever consider owning.
Outside of that give me a 55 any day.
There are more types of fuel injection than port and throttle-body. The Corvette FI is port fuel injection, but it is a contuous injection. That is the fuel is flowing from all the injectors all the time. It’s just the amount that varies depending on demand. You know that because the injectors have nothing to control the flow like solenoid valves like modern cars use, or the second distributor in the DeSoto or the distribution pump in some early Bosch units. There are potential issues with this, such as fuel puddling in the manifold runners.
Modern fuel injection systems only spray fuel immediately as the the intake valve opens. That’s what Honda was trying to make a big deal about as they promoted the PGM-Fi (Programmed Fuel Injection). This is the way all the modern systems work (those that are not direct fuel-injected).
By the way one of the ways a port fuel injection system helps is that when the fuel charge evaporates to form fuel-air vapor, it cools the charge more than when a carburator vaporizes the fuel.
Many sources say that the 327 was the definitive Chevy small block, the Holy Grail for that perfect combination of bore and stroke. And yet the 350 (and the 400 for the early 70s) seems to be the default small block for the past 43 years. Interesting.
The 327 was a great engine no doubt, but it was a little soggy on bottom end torque compared to a 350 all other factors being equal. It makes a difference in a pickup or a fat-assed Caprice. The 327 was really sweet at higher RPMs though, making it a perfect Corvette engine. I seem to recall that the 350 had an easier time meeting the tightened emissions regulations that began to creep in by 1970 or so as well.
I only know what I’ve heard about Rochester FI, it was pretty much a specialty item even by the late ’70s but the hi -perf 327 engine that was developed to sit underneath it could also be ordered with a 4 barrel carb and aluminum intake. It made 365 BHP with fairly wild solid lifter cam or 350 BHP with slightly less wild hydraulic lifter cam. These engines were maybe a $200 option instead of 5 or 600 for the FI engine, which was a pretty big difference in those days for not a lot of extra performance. That’s probably why FI was never a big seller.
That’s an interesting idea about using it on Cadillacs, that might have made all the difference.
While I completely agree that Cadillac should have gone to fuel-injection just for prestige and bragging rights, I don’t think that would have helped Chevy a lot. There would not have been many parts in common between the two units. The manifold would of course have to be different and I’d guess that the plenum & air flow meter would have to be different due to the greater air flow of the large displacement Cadillac engines. They might have had to use a different fuel flow valve as well.
I don’t think that needing separate components is the issue (part of tuning really), but if they had with another 10 years’ development then surely when emissions controls came in they (GM) would have been ready to go? Rather than all the clunky work-arounds they ended up using.
I agree with Paul’s last sentence – it is symptomatic of the stagnation in advancement across the board at GM, a complacency that is seen in so many areas.
If Cadillac adopted F.I., 4-wheel discs, & radials as std. earlier on as prestige features, it might’ve helped shut down Mercedes snobs at cocktail parties. But no, they invested in cosmetic nonsense instead.
They’re referring to the Rod Ratio of the 327. A good performer will have a Ratio of 1.7. I think the 327 is around 1.762.
I may be hallucinating but I think the rod ratio was the same for the 265/283/and 327 engines. Changed for the 350. At one time I knew about stuff like that because I thought I would build something special for an old car. Now just “off the cuff” memories.
Hot Rod, or one of the rags made a long rod 350 that performed really well. 350’s are the default engine because since about 69 they are the only decent V8 chevy made. 307’s and the little 26_ were boat anchors.
It’s been a long time for me too. I started looking at minute details like that when I was building the 427 for my Chevelle waaaaay back.
I had to look up the ratio for the 283. It’s 1.90.
Rod ratio same for 265/283, but not for 327, which has .250 longer stroke and same length rods (5.70 in) as all small block Chev’s except for the 400.
I will take/build a 327 any day over a 350 if I was a Chevy guy. Lots of engineering reasons why the 327 rocks; not gonna explain them here as it is well beaten territory, and I am a Ford guy. 🙂
This engine illustrates the different mindsets in place at GM and Ford at the time. GM (and Chrysler) took the high-tech, engineering-centered approach with their fuel injection systems. GM’s slightly more conservative approach worked out a lot better than Chrysler’s, as detailed above.
Ford, however, took the same cheap route that others had taken, going back to the 1930s, by bolting a Paxton supercharger to the 312 in the 1957 Thunderbird (and, I believe, in some of the other Fords as well.) This was the same treatment that Studebaker gave the 1957 Hawk with a blown 289. Ford claimed 300 horses, while Stude claimed 275 out of its smaller engine.
Chevy only claimed 250 horses out of the injected 283, but they got them with more finesse than by just jamming more fuel and air through the intake. Ultimately, it seems that cheap cubic inches did in both approaches.
There were two versions: 250 and 283 hp. The definitive version with high compression and Duntov cam made the bigger number. The 250 hp version was an alternative to the 220 and 245 hp 283s with a tame hydraulic cam and modest compression.
Yes, Ford needed to do something, and the blown 312 was it. The fact that it only made 300 hp clearly showed the limitations of the Y-block: it had very tortured ports, and just wouldn’t breathe at higher rpm. Made tough truck engine, though!
Was there anything else wrong with the Y-block that new heads wouldn’t have fixed?
Rather than bother with that, Ford just went with the newer FE engine, which built on what Ford had learned (or blown) with the Y block. The FE had more displacement growth potential, while the Y block was maxed out.
But to answer your question directly, the answer is No. The Argentinians eventually gave the Y Block modern heads and it made gobs of power. But the block was very heavy, and that too was a reason for not keeping it and shipping the tooling off to Argentina.
We covered that here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/cc-global/cc-global-ford-argentina-fairlane-with-292-v8-the-y-block-gets-a-high-performance-second-act-in-argentina/
The Y didn’t have the best lubrication system either.
It is pretty amazing to think that the 289/302 is what really replaced the Why? Block, not the FE. The FE was bigger from the start, at 332 inches.
7000 rpm in 1957? Mmmmmm……
That aside, how many period cars were actually able to go that high/higher? I’m not talking about on-offs or experimental cars. Even with the 8-cyl engine?
That is incredible — I was wondering the same thing. I’d love to hear one of those wide open.
That was directly from Road and Track’s actual test of one. The 283/283 made peak rated power at 6000-6200 rpm. Almost any engine will rev about 1000 rpm higher than its rated power peak. And when shifting an engine for maximum acceleration, one wants to go about that far above the power peak, so as to not let revs drop too low in the powerband in the succeeding gear. It’s a myth/mistake thta shifting at peak power is the optimal shifting point. That’s why the red line on a properly calibrated tach is/should be above peak power by some 800-1000 rpm. It certainly is in my Acura TSX (7,000 rpm), and every other car I’ve had.
As far as Cadillac and FI back than…..I wonder if there was any demand for it on a Caddy? There was the tri-power 331 used in 55-56 and the dual-quad 390 in 59-60. I’m guessing there weren’t a whole lot of those built. I did a quick search and could not come up with even one of those for sale in the interweb so my suspicions are correct. So I’m assuming radical induction was not even in the cross hairs of your typical Cadillac buyer back than. But that might also have something to do with the fact that Cadillac wasn’t exactly the choice of car for your average racer or enthusiast back than too. The motors might have been but the cars weren’t.
Also low numbers for the Rochester FI offered by Pontiac back in 57-58 too. I’m guessing cubic inches,along with price might have been the reason that option was killed. Just like Chevrolet.
Didn’t Cadillac offer fuel injection on certain models during the 70s?
Yes. Cadillac had it on the mk 1 Seville. That car had a fuel injected Olds 350 V8. Fuel Injection was never offered in an Olds with an Olds V8.
Cadillac also offered a 425 ci. fuel injected motor in the DeVille in 1977 or 78.
And prior to that, in 1976, Cadillac offered fuel injection as an option on the 500 cubic inch (8.2 liter) engine.
This is from the 1976 Cadillac brochure…
I forgot about that option, And never realized the Weather Band (162.xxx Mhz) radio even being an option! Cool!
I had a ’76 Fleetwood 60 with electronic injection on the 500 cubic inch V8.
It was to be ready for installation on the ’75’s, but development problems delayed it for a year.
Fantastic write up on a classic engine; the perfect complement for today’s 57 Corvette. Being born in 57 myself, I’m kind of partial to what GM and Chevy was doing in that year!
Had GM kept at it, refining it, putting it in more vehicles, getting a better return on investment, I believe the first and second Oil Embargo’s created by our frenemies in the Middle East would have been seriously blunted had a vast majority of our cars been injected. That development could possibly have seen an earlier entrance of electronic fuel injection in our mainstream vehicles. Who knows? The bean counters at GM won the battle, carbs won out and the American motoring public lost the most.
I believe the 327 FI Corvette engine was Duntov’s favorite and it makes sense after reading this wonderful article written by Paul. Zora always wanted the Corvette to be on the cutting edge of sophistication, power and refinement. I imagine the 300SL was his Holy Grail, not the Ford Thunderbird……
Interesting writeup on a system that was truly ahead of its time. I saw a Fuelie ’57 Bel Air convertible at a show a few years back; it was displaying a placard that it was one of only 68 convertibles with the FI motor. Rare and quite interesting!
I do think it would have been a very interesting direction for Cadillac to take.
Oldsmobile may have been a better candidate for developing early FI on a mass scale. Long considered the “experimental” division, many of it’s buyers may have warmed to it. Being the “middle-middle” it could have applied it to the more luxo “Cadillac” end in the 98 AND the more sporty “Chevrolet” end in the 88.
You could be onto something. There is a third way besides mechanical and electronic. Fluidic control. And the best fluidic computer in the world was HydraMatic. Olds engineers undoubtedly could have used gas flow and air flow directly for switching and modulation.
Wow! I hadn’t even thought of that!
Reading this gets me very fired up regarding GM’s squandered opportunities (more than I care to count, but this is a biggie). Of course they had the talent and resources to develop FI systems that were truly cutting edge–it is just such a shame that they weren’t deployed more broadly much earlier. Just as Mercedes-Benz would do, Cadillac could have easily baked in the price premium in the name of excellence–after all, back then Cadillacs were supposed to be expensive, not “attainable.” It would have given Cadillac another halo at a time when the brand was still revered as a global leader, and perhaps prevented (or at least slowed) the decline into mass-market mediocrity that basically killed GM’s biggest golden goose.
but that guy in the ad with the 59 Impala does not mention the car having
heavy duty susp. OR special (metallic ?) brakes !!! good luck against that 59 fury
What I never understood was that The “Detroit 3” not only dragged their feet with fuel injection, but developed the most complex and bizarre carburetors with electronic control and variable venturi control, and Chrysler’s Lean Burn system. Some off those carburetors were insanely expensive to repair or replace.
One would think that at some point fuel injection would have made better sense much earlier on than when it was accepted.
Wasn’t that the truth. The M4ME ‘feedback’ Quadrajet, and the Motorcraft Variable Venturi come to mind. Honda was equally as guilty of holding on to carburetors too long. Some of their 3 barrel Mikuni creations were equally hideous.
re: “Verl at the gas station”:
I read this article the first time around, and I was working with a mechanic who was a “Corvette guy”. The guy was a hoarder and a junk fiend, but he had some really nice 60s Chevys in his garage. He was telling me about someone who went to Something High who owned some really nice early sixties Vette. And I said “I just learned you could get those with fuel injection.”
“THEY WERE JUNK!” his finger told me. “Get rid of it and put a carb on there.”
Then (perhaps realizing that my car was fuel injected) he explained “Fuel injection really needs a computer, gotta have an air-fuel mixture table, electronics couldn’t handle it back then…” I have other complaints about this guy as a mechanic, but he obviously knew his stuff and he’ll go to the grave without dealing with a Corvette FI unit.
He may have “knew his stuff” and God knows I don’t… But if fuel injection “needed” computers, How did they apply FI to Diesels by the 1920s, or piston aircraft engines of the 1940s? Whirlwind, (early British digital computer, 1940s) was larger than my apartment! LOL!
Konrad Zuse notwithstanding, the Germans didn’t need computers to make F.I. work on the Me-109.
(Zuse built a programmable computer in 1941 in isolation from other nations’ developments).
At the risk of offering up a disloyal, heretical rejoinder (and incurring PN’s wrath):
The FoMoCo small block 221/260/289/302 and the Mopar small block 273/318/340/360 engines are, In My Opinion, just as good/if not better than the small block Chevy engine.
Anyone recall the Technical Service Bulletins from GM advising mechanics to slowly pour a can of BonAmi kitchen cleaner down the carburetors of fresh-off-the-assembly-line 265 engines, to roughen up the cylinder walls, to help slow down the massive oil consumption of the engines?
From what the “old timers” of the 1950’s have told me in my dim youth; the quirkiness/touchiness/finicky nature of these early fuel injection engines was greatly minimized in this article.
Are you sure it was Bon Ami? That’s a powder cleanser known for not being overly abrasive.
Perhaps it was more abrasive in 1955 than today?
That, or perhaps only a mild abrasive was needed.
Here’s a cool video of a a restored 1957 283 FI engine being cranked and running on a test stand:
Nice exhaust burble.
There was a time in my life when I was quite good at working on Mercedes CIS fuel injection. You younger guys, because you’ve never experienced these things, need to understand that electronics PLAYED NO PART in the functioning of these systems, hence the name MECHANICAL fuel injection, NOT EFI. To focus on just ONE part, consider the pump which apportions fuel to each cylinder. A complex 3-D cam lives inside the pump. It moves fore and aft with rpm, driven by centrifugal force, and is rotated axially by a linkage connected to the gas pedal. A follower on that cam moves a toothed rack that rotates the pump’s plungers, varying the volume of fuel they deliver. A handful of mechanical compensating devices alter the follower’s geometry even further, based on factors like coolant temperature and barometric pressure.
The whole thing looks like Leonardo da Vinci tried to design an artificial heart while loaded on grappa. With the access panels off, it’s virtually impossible to look away.
Fascinating details abound. Take the plungers. They run in steel barrels with micron-level clearance. No seals separate them from the oil in the pump’s sump. Their fit alone holds back the 400 psi of fuel they can produce. All this for a vehicle where production inconsistencies meant body panels didn’t always fit when swapped between cars. When left with no other choice, engineers can accomplish great things.
I put one in my ’61 Impala convertable way back in ’66. Only problem I had was I should have kept an extra pump drive cable on hand. Other than that I did take out a few left motor mounts, a couple of mid driveshaft carrier bearings, and severed one axel shaft spline end. Great Times!!!
While I agree that the additional power and advantages of fuel injection would have been a neat feather in Cadillac’s cap, especially during this era, I think there are some good reasons it didn’t happen, too.
Much of the improved power and crisp response was a result of the ram air setup, along with the fairly aggressive cam. Additionally, I believe the Rochester unit has trouble ‘sensing’ low air flow, which contributes to the rough idle.
Some of the system’s shortcomings might’ve been tamed by putting it on a larger, lower RPM V8, but it’s hard to say if it would have been smooth, mild, and reliable enough to suit the desires of the wealthy people who drove Cadillacs.
At the time, the carbureted engines they were running were somewhat primitive, but still torquey and glass-smooth; well suited to the big cars they had to haul around. Gaining a few MPG and lowering smog would not likely justify the added expense, in the eyes of the wealthy people that drove these luxury cars.
I’m a huge fan of these early mechanical fuel injection systems, and I wish they’d been more widespread in use, but perhaps that wasn’t a bad call on GM’s part.
Here is a historical question. My parent’s friend, Percival Stuart Tice, was an automotive engineer who had 67 patents (1912-about 1940) on aspects of fuel injection and apparently carborator/fuel injection hybrids. My mother told me that GM waited until his patents expired and called his widow in 1957 to say that they owed nothing for the patents since they expired.and they would be in the 1957 Corvette. Does anyone know more about this story.? I am not an automotive engineer so I cannot fully understand the Tice patents or the discussion on carborator/fuel injection combinations that appear above and on other sources and in the Tice patents. Tice also built macro photography devices for my father for pictures that appeared in his textbook.
”off the slat flats”
I think meant ‘salt flats’, 😉
Yes. Fixed now. Thanks.
This system is wonderful and reliable when set up properly – lightning throttle response and the 360hp 327 in my ‘63 C2 shown here goes all the way to 7k with no flat spots, even up in the mountains. Very fuel efficient, too, easily achieving 20+mpg. Idle is not so great, and hot starting requires a special technique, but that was true when new.
Such a shame this was too expensive compared to the big blocks (which are also wonderful in their own way)….
Thank you for your insight. 20 mpg solves the mystery about the lead-sled Tucker ’48 with its promised 35 mpg at 35 mph if it had fuel injection and a 589 cid engine! – sadly a load of BS (especially considering a lightweight ’48 Beetle would be flat-out getting 35 mpg at 35 mph). Still, we can dream…
The Tucker 48 weighed about 4200 lbs considerably less than a Lincoln, Packard, Hudson, or any other similar sized vehicle of the same era. A large engine properly tuned and geared can get decent fuel milage when driven sanely. Given that the aerodynamics of the Tucker was considerably better than most of the other other cars from the era 35 MPG could be possible at steady speed on level roads during perfect test conditions. Real world numbers for the Tucker were 20 MPG which was much better than most other luxury models at the time (8-12 MPG for non OD equipped models)
Reducing power to levels only required to cruise a vehicle will reduce acceleration but help fuel economy. The Tucker was geared to at over 130 MPH so the engine would only be running about 1/2 speed at normal highway speeds.
This is an interesting experiment with a lawn mower carb on a 302 getting 40+ MPG and top speed over 70 MPH. in a car of about 3000 lb weight.
I Had a 390 in a 68 Galaxie that could get as high as 35 MPG (imp gal) when cruised sanely on the highway at speeds in the 60MPH range. I did some tuning for efficiency improving more than power output. The gearing was fairly high as 70/100+ mph was attainable in 1st/2nd gear. Probably had a 2.75 rear end.
YMMV. Substantially, so, from some of the more hyperbolic claims, like the Tucker’s.
Could fuel quality have been a factor in FI’s hiatus? I remember a lot of clogged injectors in the 80s, something rarely heard of now.
Fuel quality was definitely a major, major hurdle. The gasoline of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s was much dirtier and more prone to forming tenacious gum and varnish deposits. Combine that with primitive injectors and you’ve got a good recipe for a bad situation even without considering the immature state of the other involved arts. Perhaps, as Paul said up above some years ago, the Rochester (-type) injection system could have and should have had more research, development, and aggressive commercialisation by GM. They would’ve been the only automaker with enough muscle, and in a position to flex it, to make the oil industry clean up the gasoline (just as they were the only automaker with enough such muscle to get universal unleaded gasoline availability mandated to pave the way for catalytic converters).
I took one from a wrecked Vette & put it in a ’61 Impala Convertible. Ran flawlessly until I sold it 2 years later. Only issue was when the drive cable for the high speed pump broke. Hard time finding one.
In Australia the situation by the 70s for brand-name fuels was very different due to detergent commencing being added in 1954 (by Caltex). Using BP I never remember the carburettors on my cars or lawnmowers ever being gummed up, the same with the fuel injectors on my friends’ cars.
The one issue I had was in the 90s with a BP service station in Sydney topping up its premium fuel with 20% ethanol but not marking the pump as such – the result being instant summer vapor lock as I drove away (barely) after refuelling.
Upon a complaint to Head Office I was advised that only 80% of such fuel needed to be sourced from BP; the other 20% was up to the business itself! After complaining, however, I never had that issue with BP fuel again, so something must have been done.
By the way, there is now another original ’50’s Fuel Injected Mopar courtesy of Jay Leno.