In a world of smaller displacement, younger generations seldom can put their foot into a big displacement powerhouse. Newer technology, computer advancements, and emissions laws have all changed how the modern day car operates. However, It could be argued, such iconic big displacement namesakes laid the foundation.
“There are a lot of electric vehicle fans who like to criticize the internal combustion engine for being ‘old technology’ but their evolution is impressive and shouldn’t be scoffed at,” said Matt Mylan, GMPartsCenter.net Director.
A new graphic from shows the 10 biggest engines in GM history, starting with a pre-war Cadillac V-16 and ending with a Chevy 572 crate engine. The graphic ranks the engines in terms of cubic inches, horsepower, and torque.
Mylan believes each are significant in their own way.
“In 1938, the 7.1L V-16 Cadillac Series 90 engine was state of the art, producing 185 horsepower. Three decades later, the Olds 455 was producing 400 horsepower with 8 fewer cylinders,” Mylan said. “Three more decades, and Chevy’s 572 crate motor can produce 720 horsepower, nearly twice the power of the Olds 455.”
GM’s big displacement production dates back to the 1930s, when Cadillacs featured massive V-12 and V-16 engines. Big displacement engines fell out of favor in the ’40s and ’50s, until the muscle car era redefined them. In the late ’70s and ’80s, it was a similar story for big displacement, with a resurgence once again in the ’90s.
“Engine performance has been roughly doubling every 30 years or so. That’s an incredible rate of growth,” Mylan said.
While most of the engines on the list are from the muscle car era, there are three modern ones: the GM 572 crate engine, the 502 crate engine, and the 8.1L V8. While the two crate motors are typically used in racing, the 8.1L was a workhorse offered on many GM trucks until 2010. The 8.1L, or Vortec 8100, was offered in 3/4 and 1-ton pickups and vans, the Suburban, and on the now defunct Avalanche.
What is your favorite big displacement GM engine?