In 1961, Chevrolet introduced the new “W” engine, an enlarged and truly performance version of the 348-CID engine that had gone before. The 409 was the stuff of legends and was available in big bodied Chevys from 1961 through early 1965 when it was replaced by the first of the Mark IV big-blocks. Immortalized by the Beach Boys, who created the song “409” to sing its praises, the 409 was true to the hype of the car offered in a number of horsepower levels and with camshafts and carburetors appropriate for the ponies it generated.
When it debuted on Dec. 17, 1960, the 409 package was available on the Impala SS model with 360 HP (single Carter four-barrel carb). In 1962, Chevy upped the ante with a 380 HP version sporting the same induction system. In addition they offered a 409 HP edition matching the one horsepower per cubic inch effort they delivered in 1957 with their fuel-injected 283 engine. The 409-HP engine wore a dual aluminum four-barrel intake manifold with twin Carter AFB carbs. But the best was still yet to come.
In 1963, the 409 peaked with the highest horsepower rating it was to achieve, a 425-HP decal adhered to the air cleaner covering the twin Carter carbs, 11.25:1 compression pistons and solid lifter camshaft. Not to overlook those owners uninterested in having to set the valve lash every Saturday morning to ensure the highest rate of tune, a 340-HP engine with a hydraulic cam shaft continued to be offered from 1963 through 1965. There was a 409 for every taste.
For trivia buffs the 409 “W” engine had an even larger displacement and often forgotten race engine cousin that was to catch many a headline starting in 1963 when it was offered as a Regular Production Option (RPO) code. The 427 Z11 engine was to 409 fans what the original 426-Hemi engine was to Mopar 392-CID engine nuts. This 427-CID aluminum engine was a 13.5:1 compression beast that used a two-piece, high-rise aluminum intake manifold and allegedly produced only 430 HP. Clearly a ruse to throw off the competition, only 57 of these rare Z11s were ever built, but they were to cement the 409 legacy in the minds of Chevy racers and speed freaks forever.
The Muscle Car TV 409 shown here takes off where the legend ended in 1965. Today there is a host of new parts and pieces that every 409 fan — and those looking for a new way to motivate their classic Chevy — can appreciate. For the record, the “W” notation referred to the upside down “W” shape noted in the valve cover — amazing but true.
The engine shown here was designed for the “Muscle Car TV Red Sled” project car and uses the latest technology, including aluminum cylinder heads, forged aluminum custom pistons, dual quad aluminum intake with Edelbrock carbs, and lots more. When run on the “Muscle Car TV” dyno, the finished product cranked out peak performance figures of 497 HP and 525 lb.-ft. of torque, which is better than the original rating on the 430-HP Z11 with far better street manners, including the ability to use street fuels instead of the 100-plus-octane race gas needed for the 13.5:1 compression race engine.
As is clearly the case with this 409 engine, some things get better (and nastier) with age.
Rod bolts, main bolts and accessory kit
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1.7:1 Magnum roller rockers
Hydraulic roller camshaft
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Iridium spark plugs
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Doug Thorley headers
Ceramic-coated Tri-Y headers
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Eagle Specialty Products
Steel 4340 crankshaft
6.125-inch connecting rods
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Performer RPM cylinder heads
Performer dual quad air gap manifold
Edelbrock 600-CFM carburetors
Aluminum valve covers
Large oval cast air cleaner
Oil filler tube
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Lamar Walden Automotive
Machining and assembly
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Unilite ignition and coil
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Stage 8 Locking Fasteners
Header bolt locks
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Spin-on oil filter adapter
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Spark plug wire set
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Tags: 1961 chevrolet, 409 build, Chevy 348, Chevy 409, Chevy W engine, courtney hanson, Edelbrock, horsepower tv, little 409, Mallory Ignition, powerblock tv, red sled, Stage 8 Locking Fastners, Taylor Cable, Trans-Dapt