Flags Across the Harvest #11May 15, 2019
Good things come in small packages.
Being the Hot Rod Farmer, I got engaged in a car… a Wixom, Michigan-built Lincoln LSC not 300 feet from a corn field.
I asked for Charlotte’s hand in marriage right after her return from a bicycle trip to the Rocky Mountains with one of her brothers.
I hid the ring in a teddy bear that I presented to her as a welcome home gift. At first, I thought she was not going to find it, but she did.
That little band of gold when fitted with a compressed piece of what many consider aged coal was small, but it cost more than a real nice small-block engine… of any brand that you find favor with.
Diminutive in size when compared to an engine part, over the years and time and time again it has proven the wisdom of the statement: good things come in small packages.
A good wife is truly a gift from God. And since she weighs only 100 pounds it further substantiates the claim!
Carrying that theme into the automotive community I always was drawn to a small V-8 engine. Each of the Big 4 had one at the time.
If you are struggling to recall them, I will jog your memory of those that displaced less than 300 cubic inches.
There was the AMC 290, Ford 260, Chrysler 273 and the Chevy 265 among others. These tiny power plants were only around for a few years before they were upped into their more well know displacements of 304, 289, 318 and 283 cubic inches, respectively.
In many ways these little V-8s got lost in the shuffle and faded into posterity with little or no fanfare or mourning by the community; like the forgotten warrior from early in the battle or the old corncrib that succumbed to the hands of time. Gone but never missed until decades later.
I believe it is time we honored these internal combustion pioneers.
There is much to like about the baby V-8s once you get to know them.
An obvious attribute is being lightweight and easy to package in a variety of body styles due to their small size.
That too made them very easy to work on, a big plus to those that swing wrenches.
What really hooked me on them is their willingness to rpm and an aversion to detonate when compared to their larger brethren and especially a big block.
To create a big inch engine, it requires a large bore and long stroke. This means that the flame when expanding must travel farther to reach the cylinder wall and the stroke produces a long exposure time.
A good way to look at this is in simplistic terms —- the longer it takes the more time for something to go wrong.
Detonation is known as abnormal combustion and a big engine provides more of an opportunity for a rogue flame to be produced.
In contrast, a small V-8 gets it done without too much risk of exposure due to the small bore and short stroke.
Given the same combustion chamber design you can run a good deal more compression ratio with a small bore and short stroke combination than can be achieved with a big boy.
If combustion is your thing then the symphony of a small V-8 with just enough camshaft will fill your heart with joy.
These babies will rpm like a turbine and sing a beautiful soprano as the tach needle pins to the right.
If you ever heard an NHRA Competition Eliminator run through the gears, you know what I am talking about — a 10,000 rpm pushrod engine makes the sound of angel’s wings to someone like me.
In contrast a big V-8 is powerful but in a much different jack hammer-type of way.
All is not perfect in the land of the Lilliputians though.
There is a lack of torque and ultimately power since you are dealing with less cubic inches, but a smart engine guy can get around that.
The recipe to embarrass the big boys with your sewing machine engine is simple: light car, big gears and loose torque converter.
The lack of bottom-end torque means hooking from the line is easy, whether at the track or an un-politically correct street race.
There is not enough power at the bottom end to spin a sticky tire but once the revs come up… hold on. The guy with the big block next to you will either have to feather it out of the hole or put on a smoke show.
There are few things more fun than a 200 something cubic inch V-8 kicking butt on an engine that is almost twice its size.
Even if you don’t whop him you will be close enough to make him use some choice four letter words during the race.
Sadly, most small V-8s suffered a fate unworthy of them. They were in fine health but tossed uncaringly to the junk heap with scorn to be replaced by something bigger.
They languished in the mud of a scrapyard hoping for the rescue that never came. Their destiny was the chopper and eventually the blast furnace.
Many of us have the rust of their demise on our hands and our conscience.
If I could do it all again, I would rescue every one of them but now it is too late. We can only honor them with a memory.
As a happily married man I know without a doubt that good things truly do come in small packages.