The small-block Chevrolet V8, introduced for the 1955 model year, was an immediate hit. It did what GM wanted it to do — give Chevy an image as something more than just one of the low-priced three — but I’m pretty sure the General never anticipated it would still be around in 2012, a hundred million engines later. That mill was so successful over the years that eventually we started thinking of it as the first small-block V8, which would surprise your local Studebaker fan, who knows better.
That 232-cubic-inch engine (3.38 x 3.25) was first dropped into the 1951 Commander, the last of two years of “bullet-nose” Studes. Its power output was what we would consider modest — 120 horsepower — but that was 0.52 pony per cube, a figure you’d need the Chrysler Hemi (0.54), also introduced for 1951, to beat. And Studebaker didn’t stint on the details: this mill had a forged steel crankshaft, gear-driven cam, and mechanical lifters with self-locking adjusting screws. (Anyone who’s ever had to mess with shims will appreciate the latter.)
The ’55 Chevy V8, with more displacement yet less weight, started at 162 hp from 265 cubic inches, though a 283 version was also offered, which, when suitably hotted up, could deliver 283 hp. Studebaker had to respond. In ’55 they had bored out the 232 to 259, which in the top-of-the-line President Speedster was good for 185. Not enough for the Horsepower Wars, so for ’56 they stroked the engine to 289 (now a tad undersquare at 3.56 x 3.63). Two hundred ten out of the box, 225 with some tuning, 275 with the McCulloch supercharger offered in ’57 and ’58.
With the arrival of Studebaker’s one and only sports car, the ’63 Avanti, came the R-series engines, still 289, but starting at 240 hp in base (R1) form, supercharged (R2) to 290, and tweaked further (R3) to 335. A few R4 and R5 engines were built for competition, but supposedly were not installed in any cars sold to civilians. (An experimental R5, displacing 304 cubic inches and sporting twin blowers and fuel injection, reportedly made it to 575 hp.)
But Studebaker by then was not long for this world, and when they fled South Bend for Canada for the 1965 model year, they left their engines behind. If you wanted a ’65 or ’66 Ontario-built Stude with a V8, you could get one — but it would be, perhaps ironically, a small-block Chevy under that clean, uncluttered nose.
(With thanks to Bill Jackameit and Bob’s Studebaker-Info.org. All quoted horsepower figures are SAE gross; net figures, more strictly comparable to contemporary net numbers, would be less.)