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Thread: Great engines of the '70s and '80s

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Great engines of the '70s and '80s


    The engines in most new cars work superlatively -- but for the most part aren't especially memorable. They do their jobs with clockwork reliability -- running without complaint for 150,000 miles or more. But you don't turn the radio off just to listen to their burble -- or raise the hood, just to look at them. Few engines of the past 30 years rise to that standard. But those that do -- well, we can still hear the echo of the exhaust pulses in our head -- and recall the sweet spot in the RPM band where the cam would come on and the secondaries opened up, just like it was yesterday.

    You don't need to be a gearhead to understand. Most everyone immediately recognizes the thrashy, spitting sound of an old air-cooled VW. We turn to look -- and smile, remembering. Anyone who was young in the '60s knows the distinctive wail of a 289 Hi-Po Ford -- the heavy bass rumbling of a big-block 396 Chevy exhaling through two and a half-inch chambered pipes.

    But not all the Great Ones died with the '60s. Even during the dark days of the 1970s and early '80s -- when high performance cars had been beaten to the verge of extinction by emissions regs and one gas crisis after another -- there were a few brave standouts that kept hope alive:

    * 1972-79 L-82 Chevy 350: While the solid lifter-cammed, high-compression LT-1 that powered the 1970 Z28 Camaro (and was available in many '70s-era Corvettes) has claimed much of the limelight and worship of engine afficionados, the hydraulic cammed L-82 small-block is equally deserving of applause. It was a survivor -- making it through to the late '70s, while the fussier LT-1 was dropped after the 1972 model year. And it was a better all-arounder, with a moderate compression ratio that tolerated regular unleaded -- and a cam with plenty of mid-range torque that didn't mind working with an automatic transmission. It also had the essentials, including high-flow cylinder heads -- and always made at least 200-hp (and as much as 240-hp) even in the miasma of the mid-1970s, when that number was absolutely heroic compared to emissions and mileage-neutered V-8s that struggled to produce 120. The L-82's availability on the options sheet kept the Corvette credible after 1975 -- when its standard engine, at low ebb, was a 165-hp wheezer unfit for Nova duty and execrable in a car that claimed to be "America's sports car."

    * 1973-74 Pontiac SD-455: What made the early '67-'81 Firebirds and Trans-Ams special was their unique, Pontiac-built engines. Nothing wrong with Chevy V-8s by any means -- they are excellent engines. But the cold hard fact is that after 1981 all "Firebirds" were just tarted up Camaros with slightly different exterior panels and trim. Functionally, they were identical to their Chevy cousins. But 1981 and earlier Trans-Ams and 'Birds had their own personality, due in large measure to the high-torque, big-cube (7.4 liters, baby) Poncho V-8s under their hoods -- of which the 290-hp SD-455 was the ultimate representative. Built for just two model years -- before federal emissions control and drive-by noise regulations made its continued existence impossible -- the '73-'74 SD-455 was, arguably, the last true muscle car engine. It featured a pair of Ram Air IV big valve, round port cylinder heads, a hairy street racer camshaft and a specially calibrated (and unique to the SD engines) 800-CFM Rochester 4-barrel carburetor on a medium-riser, dual plane intake. Like the awesome firepower of the Iowa-class battleships and their magnificent 16-inch guns, we shall not see the likes of the SD-455 again.

    * 1978-'79 Dodge 360: Long before there was a Lightning F-150 or Ram SRT-10, Dodge created the ancestor of all modern "muscle trucks" -- using a short bed flareside half-ton pick-up as the basis, powered by a stout police interceptor 360 that gave many of the fastest cars of the '70s and '80s a scare -- as well as a serious run for their money. The 360 used in the Lil' Red Express -- as the package was called -- traced its origins all the way back to the old 340 Wedge small block of AAR 'Cuda days -- and managed to produce more than respectable power (225-hp) at a time when power was far from respectable. Dodge added to the already pugnacious character of the truck by fitting twin big rig chromed smokestacks and slapping on a fire engine red paint job to let the world know just what you were packing. And because it was a truck, the Lil' Red Express skated by emissions and noise regulations that crippled passenger cars. No catastrophic converter, no fuss, no muss! Breathing through twin Hemi mufflers with a crossover pipe, it sounded like nothing else on the road. But the glory was short-lived and after '79 the Lil Red Express was retired -- supplanted by more "socially responsible" models, like the K-car.

    * 1982-86 Ford 5.0 HO: In 1982, "the Boss" returned -- not Springsteen, the five-oh Mustang GT with the first genuinely hot, factory V-8 in years. Though it started out with just a two-barrel and only 175-hp, this was Big Stuff in the early '80s -- when "high performance" meant 16-second quarter mile times -- and lots of stripes and fake hood scoops. Ford beavered away as the years passed, adding first a 4-barrel Holley carb (hello!), then a dual snorkel low-restriction air cleaner and, yes, even tube headers. By mid-'85, the 5.0 was genuinely potent, now at the 225-hp mark and destined to rise. The best part was that most of the hot-rodding down and dirty that worked so well on 1960s-era Ford small blocks was equally applicable to the 5.0 -- and coaxing 300-hp out of a basically stock engine was relatively easy and cheap. Even law enforcement jumped on the bandwagon -- using quiet-looking LX hatchbacks without all the GT's flash, but with the one thing that mattered for pursuit work -- that screaming Ford small block.

    * 1984-87 Buick 3.8 turbo V-6: "Lord Vader, your car has arrived" was the advertising line GM used to market its wicked Buick Regal Grand Nationals -- all-business intermediate coupes that were always painted lustrous black, with chrome "3.8 turbo SFI" call-outs on the hood bulge announcing to the world the fierce little beast that lived underneath. The pushrod 3.8 V-6 had been around since the mid-70s, where it began life as a grocery getter that got good mileage. Then some inspired joker in GM engineering decided to fiddle with it -- adding a turbocharger and soon other goodies, including port fuel injection, a roller valvetrain and, on the GNX, an intercooler and even bigger turbo. By '87, the engine was genuinely fast and furious -- powering not just the Buick Regal Grand National and the even more ferocious GNX, but also the 20th anniversary edition of Pontiac's Trans-Am -- the first and only V-6 Trans-Am ever made. GM rated the engine at 270-hp, but that number is considered under-rated by people in the know. Anyone who doubted a six-cylinder TA (and believed the 270-hp figure) was quickly disabused of this notion as the hair-dried hellion shrieked past at full boost.

    END

  2. #2
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    Re: Great engines of the '70s and '80s

    Eric,

    Excellent picks there, have to agree with all of them. That '78 & '79 360 in the Lil Red Express was a very good performer. Do you remember the hotter cam version that was tested by some of the auto magazines back in the day, that one was said to be 300 horsepower or more. Mopar pulled the plug on it before production and went with a milder cam version of their high performance 360 instead which still produced more horsepower than the advertised 225 factory horsepower.

    Actually Pontiac rated the 3.8 liter sfi intercooled turbo in the '89 20th Anniversary Trans Am at 250 horsepower which was ridiculously low as you mentioned.

    I will have to add the '77-'79 Pontiac W72 400 to your list which was factory rated at 200 & 220 horsepower (200 for '77 and 220 for '78 & '79) and of course had its horsepower underrated, NHRA rated this motor in stock form at 260 horsepower, some will even say this NHRA figure is conservative. Even though the Chevy L82 was a great performer the W72 beat it hands down. As a comparison Hot Rod tested a bone stock '79 W72 Trans Am which hit the 1/4 mile in 14.6 seconds at 96.6 mph, and the best test I have seen for the '79 L82 Corvette (rated conservatively at 225 horsepower) was 15.3 seconds @ around 92 mph (also the Corvette was a few hundred pounds lighter than the big almost 4,000 lbs W72 Trans Am). The '79 L82 had a hot cam for it's day and it was reason for its 9.0:1 compression which for 1979 was a very high compression motor. By comparison the '79 W72 had a factory claimed compression ratio of 8.1:1 (however some dispute that it was slightly higher).

    Also I would have to add the '85 - '92 350 TPI V8 which was available in the Corvette, Firebird Formula, Trans Am, Trans Am GTA, Z28, and Iroc-Z. This motor which debuted on the '85 Corvette and made its way into the 1987 and later f-bodies, was the first V8 motor in a few years to offer great performance and lots of low end torque.

    With all that being said the re-emergence of the high performance V8 started in the 1980s after the massive drop in V8 performance in the 1970s. The real irony of the 1980s was that the hottest high performance motor from America was not a V8 but the Buick turbo SFI 3.8 liter intercooled V6 which powered the Buick T-Type, Buick GN, Buick GNX, and the Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am. GM laid this motor to rest after Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am production ended. It was just like GM back then to conquer the competition and then cancel there best performing motor.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Great engines of the '70s and '80s

    I am kicking myself for having left off the W72 T/A 6.6 engine...!

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    Re: Great engines of the '70s and '80s

    Eric,

    Hey no problem, you already had another post which you mentioned the W72.

    When you get a chance checkout this pdf by John Witzke "aka Mr. W72", he's the Poci W72 Technical director and a heck of a nice guy. He has researched this package for years and compiled this pdf with all the information about the '77 - '79 W72 400 package. Here's the pdf:

    http://www.78ta.com/HTMLobj-16215/W72TECH06.pdf


  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Great engines of the '70s and '80s

    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Man
    Eric,

    Hey no problem, you already had another post which you mentioned the W72.

    When you get a chance checkout this pdf by John Witzke "aka Mr. W72", he's the Poci W72 Technical director and a heck of a nice guy. He has researched this package for years and compiled this pdf with all the information about the '77 - '79 W72 400 package. Here's the pdf:

    http://www.78ta.com/HTMLobj-16215/W72TECH06.pdf

    Cool - will do!

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