Editor's Note: When Velocity's own Sam Wackerle isn't here at work, you can catch him chasing another record, building another project or crawling through the junkyard. Certifiably a car nut, Sam wanted to share his unique vehicular view with a weekly list, The Velocity Stack.
We all know that the Chevy Small Block V8 has permanently etched its name into the history of hot rodding since it’s introduction in 1955. The equally revered Big Block and LS series V8s followed in its footsteps, but believe it or not, Chevy made, and continues to make, engines in configurations other than a V8 that are pretty good. The Gen IV and Gen V LS engines are leading the pack for restomodding and all around engine swapping, but let’s take a moment to see the other options Chevrolet can provide.
Vortec 4200 Straight Six
The 4.2-liter, straight six pushes out between 270 and 291 horsepower depending on the year and starts making very usable torque all the way down at 1600 RPM. For what it’s worth, it was in Ward’s Ten Best Engines from 2002 to 2005. Right off the bat Chevrolet’s modern straight six sounds pretty good to me, but there’s a secret hiding in these motors. With the majority of the engine being aluminum, with dual overhead cams and 7 main bearings, there’s horsepower waiting to be tapped from these motors. There hasn’t been an influx of support from the aftermarket for these engines, but there are a few pioneers pushing them to their limits. Wouldn’t it be perfect to replace your Stovebolt?
The 4.3 Chevy is a potent power plant and revered in the rock crawling world. It has simple to understand fuel injection, it’s reliable and it can be squeezed into the smallest of engine compartments. Don’t be surprised to find them in Datsuns, Miatas, MGs and other compact 2 seaters. Plus there’s a ton of them available in junkyards and old trucks. The 1992 to 1995 CPI (Central Port Injection) years are the most desirable for their simplicity and power. Most of those years are pushing out just under 200 ponies and 260 lb feet of torque. That may not sound like much in a hot rod, but in a geared down Jeep CJ, or a tiny two-seat convertible, it’s a tough and tight package. Best place to find them is in 4th generation c/k1500 trucks like the one pictured.
Ecotec 4 Cylinder
With a little research and some massive boost, the Ecotec 4 banger can produce ridiculous amounts of power and live to tell the tale. We’re talking 1400+ horsepower from a tiny 2.0L engine. You’d expect such a small engine to only be embraced by the JDM fans who are used to pushing small displacement engines to their limits, but the Chevy Ecotec has been setting records by the most scrappy American iron enthusiast at the Salt Flats and other racing events since it’s potential was first realized. The next time a person pulls up next to you at a red light with a Saturn Ion or Chevy Cobalt, don’t be so sure that your tried and true V8 will smoke them. It’s a new, exciting and boosted world out there.
292 and 250 Straight Six
This is a bit out of left field, but that’s the appeal. An LS can be a good looking engine if you hide a few wires and paint a few bits here and there, but the 292 is a unique piece right out of the box. There are a lot of myths out there about getting horsepower from the straight six stump-puller. They can make power, but it requires forethought. You can’t buy a bunch of go fast pieces from the local auto parts store. A Chevy 292 needs to be caressed. Maybe you take it out to dinner first and get to know it. Put in the time and you’ll have a unique and surprisingly fast piece. Not to mention, it’s hard for haters to hate when they have a mouth full of your dust.