As almost every auto enthusiast knows, the iconic Chevrolet small-block V-8 engine was introduced for model-year 1955. Since then, millions more Chevys – and a countless array of hot rods and race cars – have been powered by variations and linear successors of that milestone engine.
After decades of nothing but ‘stovebolt sixes’, its arrival fundamentally changed the perception of the brand forever after.
But, contrary to common belief. The ’55 was not the first V-8 Chevy. That came in 1917, with the introduction of the 1918 Chevrolet Model D.
It was powered by 288 cubic-inch (4.7L) V-8 with overhead valves – still relatively uncommon at the time – designed by Chevrolet engineers before the company merged with General Motors in 1918.
The engine was rated at 36 horsepower at 2700 rpm and featured nickel-plated valve covers – although the pushrods were exposed in the vee of the engine, which also housed the starter motor. A gear-driven generator also drove a clutch-activated fan directly and the conventional belt drive operated only the water pump. Other advanced features for the time included a counter-balanced crankshaft, to enhance the V-8’s smoothness.
Alas, that first Chevy V-8 failed to achieve commercial success. Fewer than 5,000 V-8 models were built – 194 of them reportedly in Canada – and the engine was dropped after just one year.
The 1918 Chevrolet Model D Chummy V-8 shown here – with its novel pour-passenger roadster body style – is part of the General Motors Heritage Center collection.