Chevrolet’s 409

If you were young back in the early 60s, the lure of fast cars and high horsepower likely caught you. After all, back then, America was all about flashy cars with powerful engines as an entry into adulthood. Chevrolet knew this to be true, having sold a heck of a lot of high horsepowerV-8s in the years 1955-1960. Chevrolet also new that there was a “horsepower war” out there – GM brother Pontiac, Ford, and every single Chrysler product were preaching more, more, more each and every day.

As a kid, you poured over each and every magazine and newspaper article you could find to see who was offering what hot engine option and just how hot it was.  By 1961 it was apparent that the Chrysler B and RB blocks were making some serious grunt with 383 and 413 cubic inches and multiple carburetion  and Pontiac had announced the release of their 421 CID block in response. Ford was upping the ante by increasing their 352 CID  “FE” with a rumored 391 CID replacement.

Chevy had thought they had the bases covered with their “W-Series” big block that had been introduced in 1958 at 348 CID. They’d increased the  grunt of this block up to 350 ponies, and thought that was enough. But an adage of the time that circulated was “There’s no substitute for cubic inches”, (Sports Cars Illustrated February 1957), and in a flash their competition was moving way ahead of them. Then suddenly Ford announced that their new 390 CID V-8  would be their standard big block for 1961 . . . and the stage was set. Chevy had to do something.

That “something” was the 409 . . . “Son of a Gun!”

Selling the 409

In Professional Racing

It didn’t take long for Chevrolet to counter Pontiac, Ford and Chrysler with the 409. Early 409s were only offered with a 4-barrel carburetor and 360 HP, In 1962  the dual 4-barrel 409 HP option would appear. In 1963, the engine went to 425 HP.

The cars were handed out to the most formidable drag racing teams with plenty of factory backing.

When we climbed aboard the hottest stock drag racer in the country and took a firm seat for a quarter-mile spin, something sensational was bound to happen. We weren’t disappointed. No one in his right mind would be. while clocking a 13.9-second ET and a top speed of 103 mph as a passenger – this in a car dead stock according to the stringent rules of the NHRA.the Motor Life magazine testers.

A Drag Test of the 409 in 1961

Though the 409 CID V8 was released officially in December 1960, few drag racers, let alone any regular buyers saw the engine installed in a car until the Spring of 1961. This article deals with the change over in a NHRA stock car from a 350 HP 348 CID V-8 to the 360 HP 409 CID.  The 10 HP difference was a mirage, as the 348 was likely over rated and the 409 under rated.

This stocker was the Don Nicholson/Bill Thomas car, that had won Super Stock at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona CA with the new engine. As you will see from the information in the article, the 409 sported a lot more than 59 cubic inches in its guts – a much more aggressive camshaft, larger valves and more efficient heads were the key pieces that resulted in the big increase in performance. Read the whole article in PDF by clicking the HERE!

Don’t forget to get more details on the 409 HERE.

Documented  Specifications
of the W-Series V-8

Chevrolet submitted these specifications to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association who placed them is research files that were retrievable in paper. We have captured those that are currently available.
(A typical cover sheet is shown at right).

Where AAMA Specifications are not available, we have enclosed the original Chevrolet internal specifications compilations.

The Chevrolet 409’s Best Advertisement:
The Beach Boys Song: “409”

“409” is a song written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Gary Usher for the American rock and roll band the Beach Boys. It was originally released as the B-side of the single “Surfin’ Safari” (1962). It was later released on their 1962 album Surfin’ Safari, and appeared again on their 1963 album Little Deuce Coupe. “409” only stayed one week on the Billboard Hot 100, at number 76, in October 1962, but it remained in the minds of every young hot rodder for far longer than that.

“409” was inspired by Gary Usher’s obsession with hot cars. Its title refers to a Full-size Chevrolet fitted with their 409-cubic-inch-displacement “big block” W-series V-8 engine. The song’s narrator concludes with the description “My four speed, dual-quad, positraction four-oh-nine.” This version of the engine – at 409 hp, achieving 1 hp per cubic inch – featured twin “D” series Carter AFB (Aluminum Four Barrel) carburetors (the “dual-quads”). It was offered in the 1961-1964 model years in all full size Chevrolets: Impala SS, Bel Air, Biscayne, and as replacement engines for any smaller V-8 engined car.

The Chevrolet 409’s Big Brother:
The 427 CID Z11 Drag Package

A special 427 cubic inch version of the 409 engine was available for the 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe when ordered under Chevrolet Regular Production Option (RPO) Z11. This was a special package created for drag racers, including some aluminum engine and body parts and also had a cowl-induction air intake system.

Unlike the later second generation Mark IV 427 “Rat Motor”, released in 1965, it was based on the W-Series 409 engine, merely using a longer 3.65″ stroke.

The Z11 used a high-rise two piece aluminum intake manifold and dual Carter AFB carburetors that fed a 13.5:1 compression ratio. This produced  a very under-rated factory 430 HP and 435 ft. lbs of torque. Fifty RPO Z11 cars were produced. GM Documents show 50 Z11 engines were built at the GM Tonawanda engine plant, and that 20 partial engines were made for replacement and over the counter sale.

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