by Steve Alexander
Anyone who loves Chevrolet loves the iconic small-block V8 engine. But few of us know why and how this mechanical wonder came about. When Ed Cole took over as chief engineer at Chevrolet, he knew that in order to change Chevrolet’s image from grocery getter to high performance hot rod he would need a V8 engine. Before Cole started with Chevrolet, Ed Kelly had worked to develop a V6 and a 231 cubic-inch V8. But, Cole rejected both engines knowing he could design something better; more durable, faster, inexpensive and easy to operate. With vision, determination and hard work, he did just that.
There was intense pressure from GM chairman of the board Alfred P. Sloan to begin developing a V8 engine– primarily to save the Corvette. The car was in danger of being dropped due to lack of sales. Only 700 Corvettes were produced in 1955. Buyers were looking for more power than the 150 horsepower Blue Flame inline 6-cylinder could produce. Cole knew that Chevrolet had already tried to develop a V8 engine in 1917 (with disastrous results), so he knew he only had one shot to get it right. With growing pressure from above, when all developmental phases were put in place, Cole had 15 weeks to design an all-new V8 engine for the 1955 line. With help from motor engineer Harry Barr, Cole released his engine for tooling straight from the drawing board.
Ed Cole created a masterpiece with several outstanding features that made the 265 V8 not only ground breaking, but incredibly innovative. First, a lack of a common rocker shaft– each rocker arm was independent from each other. The intake manifold provided a common cooling source for both cylinder heads– which were die-cast with integrated valve guides. Hollow pushrods allowed for better oiling to the upper end. The crankshaft was made from press-forged steel and held in place with five main bearings of equal diameter. This crankshaft was designed so precisely that when tested, a torsional chart showed very low peaks. Adding a harmonic balancer eliminated any remaining torsional vibration. To add to the success of the new 265 V8, it was 41 pounds lighter than the underpowered six-cylinder engine. Another first that was developed to coincide with the 265 V8 was a new 12-volt electrical system that could provide more efficient generator output, better starter operation, and increased voltage for the higher compression V8 engine.
As time and development moved on, by 1957, the wonderful 265 V8 had been laid to rest and replaced by the highly popular 283 V8 engine. For all the innovations that were incorporated into the 265, because of limited time and rushing from drawing board straight to tooling, there was one major oversight. The early production 265 was produced with no way to filter engine oil. This sent engineers back to the drawing board for a quick and simple solution. With a crankcase vent pipe through the area that was to be used for the oil filter canister, engineers developed an add-on oil filter that bolted between the intake manifold and thermostat housing. This circulated oil from the block, into the filter canister and back into the engine by using copper tubing and brass fittings in the engine block and intake manifold.
The next time you crack the throttle on your small-block and hear the grumble and rumble from the exhaust, stop for a moment and thank Ed Cole for giving us something to love and make our own by adding all the parts our hearts and pocket books desire. Oh yeah, don’t forget about the one that started it all– the 265 V8 paved the way for all other small and big-block engines, including modern LT and LS generation engines. Remember, it’s not always the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog that comes out on top!