Curbside Classic: 1994 Chevrolet Caprice – With L99 265 Cubic Inch “Baby LT” V8 – Suddenly It’s 1955

Who would have guessed in 1955 that the then-new 265 cubic inch Chevy small block V8 would still be built so many decades later? With only a minimum of changes, creating the ultimate plug-and-play engine? Over one hundred million times?

Starting in 1991, the Generation II 5.7L (350 CID) LT1 versions first arrived, for the Corvette. And in 1994, this latest family with reverse flow cooling and other changes made its way into the B-Bodies. But in a somewhat curious tribute to the original 265 inch version from 1955, the standard version also had 265 cubic inches. And in both cases they were only built for three years.

When I ran its license plate of this Caprice to get its exact year, I was pleased to find out that it has that 4.3L L99 “Baby LT” V8. With the benefit of 40 years of development and its very effective new LT heads and modern fuel injection, it was rated at 200 net hp @5200 rpm and 245 ft.lbs. @2400 rpm, which for 1994 was pretty healthy for its size.

So how does that compare to the 1955-1956 265?

The ’55 265 V8 started out pretty mild, with 162 gross/137 net hp. But the Powerpak 4 barrel version upped that to 180 gross/160 net hp. Starting to get closer to the Baby LT already. And its net torque was 240 lb.ft. @2600 rpm, or just 5 less than the L99.

But by mid-year, the first of several generations of “Duntov” camshafts was available, and that upped hp to 195 gross/180 net, and 250 lb.ft. net torque. Closing right in on horsepower and more torque, although at a higher 3000 rpm.

In 1956, dual four-barrel carbs were on tap, and when combined with the Duntov cam, it was rated at 240 gross hp. Unfortunately there’s no readily available net rating for that engine, but we can extrapolate from the 1957 283 with the same dual four barrels and hot cam. It was rated at 270 gross/230 net hp. Using the same ratio, that would yield a net rating of 204 hp for the top dog 265.

Let’s just call it a (bow)tie. But it’s a bit surprising, given the 40 year time span, that the original 265 was about equally powerful as this latest one, with a number of generations of better heads and fuel injection.

Ann then there’s the elephant whale in the room: the ’94 weighed almost a half ton more than the ’55. (4,036 lbs vs. 3,145 lbs).

Obviously, the L99 was smoother idling than the lumpy Duntov-cammed 265. And of course, cleaner. The LT generation had a number of significant changes, most of all a reverse flow cooling system that kept the heads cooler and the whole block at a more even temperature. That means the head and block are not interchangeable with the classic SBC, but the internal components mostly are. And the heads were also improved for better flow and higher output, and of course there was modern fuel injection. After 40 years, the SBC was ready for its first substantial re-do, although the LT1/L99 were fairly short lived, and replaced by the even more advanced LS.

The L99 had the same 3.736″ bore as the 305, and used the same pistons. But it had the same short 3.00″ stroke that the 265, 283 and 302 V8s used, but its bore was an even 3.75″. But I did find it a bit surprising in 1994 to see this engine come out…what, a new 265? Especially with that short stroke, as the trend had been to longer strokes and less oversquare, and even undersquare engines. With modern heads, especially multi-valve ones, the benefit of a more oversquare engine were diminished, and longer strokes generally created the fatter torque curves that were desirable.

The 4.3 L99 was the standard engine on ’94-’96 Caprices, including police cars, and the 260 hp LT-1 was optional. All the B Body cars had iron heads, while the Y and F Bodies had aluminum heads.

The 4.3 L99 was EPA rated at 16/24/19 combined, while the 5.7 LT1 was 1 mpg worse, with a 15/23/18 combined rating.

We’ve covered these quite a few times before, and I’ll add the links to some at the bottom here. I was never a big fan of this redesign, but I get what GM was going after, once the Taurus redefined the genre. And I think I prefer the original version with the lower rear wheel openings, but again, I see why that affectation was getting stale pretty quickly. These certainly have very healthy rear wheel openings.

So that’s the story of the Baby LT. A 265 cubic inch oddity made for three years, which also happens to be how many years the original 265 small block was made. A tribute or a coincidence?


COAL: 1995 Caprice Wagon – The Holy LT1 Grail  by jerseyfred

CC 1995 Caprice Classic – Engineer’s Choice  by P. Shoar

CC 1994 Caprice Classic LS – Last of the Best  by T. Klockau