Shortly after Ed Cole took over as Chevrolet chief engineer, GM board chairman Alfred P. Sloan asked him about his plans for the department. Although they included tripling the engineering staff, Sloan just waved him on. Quipped then-GM president Charles Wilson to Cole, "I'll bet that's the first time you ever had your plans approved without submitting them."
To alter Chevrolet's time-honored image from builder of mundane people-movers to performance-car specialist, Cole knew he would need a V-8 engine. His predecessor, Ed Kelley, had toyed with the V-6 and a 231 cubic-inch V-8, both of which Cole rejected. But, he didn't have much time to consider alternatives. When all the development phases were accounted for, there would be just 15 weeks in which to design a new powerplant for the 1955 model line. With the help of Kelley and motor engineer Harry Barr, Cole made it.
"I had worked on V-8 engines all my professional life," Cole said later. "I had lived and breathed engines. Barr and I were always saying how we would do it if we ever design a new engine. You just know you want five main bearings - there's no decision to make. We knew that a certain bore/stroke relationship was the most the most compact. We knew we'd like a displacement of 265 cubic inches and the automatically established the bore and stroke. And we never changed any of this. We released our engine for tooling direct from the drawing boards - that's how crazy and confident we were."
Of course, even a ground-up engine has to be designed within certain parameters. Since it was intended for Chevrolet, the new V-8 had to be relatively inexpensive to build and efficient in operation. It need not be a poor engine - and it was anything but - yet it had to be a model of simplicity and production economics, which it was.
Chevy 265-cid V-8 Engine Overview
One of the outstanding features that made the 265 such a watershed development was the lack of a common rocker shaft. Each rocker arm was entirely independent of the others, so that deflection of one had no effect on the others. Each was assembled over a valve stem and pushrod, retained by a fulcrum ball, and lock nut. Regardless of whether mechanical or hydraulic valve lifters were used, the valves were lashed by turning the lock nut. In addition, this arrangement reduced reciprocating weight, which allowed higher rpm and cut down on raw materials. The intake manifold provided a common water outlet to both heads. The heads were die-cast with integral valve guides, and were completely interchangeable. The valvetrain design was shared with the year's slightly larger Pontiac V-8, which was designed along the same lines.
A short stroke meant connecting rods - just 5.7 inches center distance for a stroke ratio of 1.9. Pressed-in piston pins eliminated the slitting of the rod and the need for a locking bolt. Five main bearings of equal diameter carried maximum loads in their lower halves. "By reducing the maximum oil film loads, through omission of the oil groove in the lower half", noted the SAE Journal, "the capacity of the main bearings is increased approximately 100 percent, and wear is reduced."More weight was saved by circulating the oil through hollow pushrods, providing splash lube to the rockers and valve stems. This meant that separate and costly oil feeder lines were unnecessary.
Further details included "autothermic" pistons with three rings, slipper-type aluminum units with a circumferential expander for the single oil ring providing axial and radial force to control oil burning. Instead of alloy iron, the crankshaft was made of pressed forged steel because of its higher specific gravity and modulus of elasticity. Newly developed forging processes allowed Chevrolet to reduce overall crank length. A chart of torsional vibration showed very low peaks without sharp points throughout most of the range; adding a harmonic balancer eliminated remaining torsional vibration.
The exhaust manifolds were routed near the top of the cylinder heads, with exhaust passages pointing upward and out, and the entire length of the ports was water-jacketed. "This minimizes the transfer of distortion loads back to the valve seats," the Journal noted, "and dissipates heat uniformly from the valve area. Chevy switched to a 12-volt electrical for the 265 that provided more efficient generator output, better starter-motor operation, and adequate voltage for the powerplant's higher compression.
Because the new engine had better heat rejection properties than the "Blue Flame Six," a smaller radiator could be used, which reduced rate and frontal radiator area. Overall, the V-8 was actually 41 pounds lighter than the six. This was in keeping with the concept of the '55 Chevy which was, as Ed Cole said, "built around lighter components."
Milestone Engines: Chevy 265-cid V-8
In 1974, Special-Interest Autos magazine asked Cole if there was any major breakthrough in the 265's design. Possibly, Cole said, it was "when we decided to make the precision cylinder blocks - the heart of the engine - by using an entirely different casting technique. We used the green-sand core for the valley between the bore. That is, for the 45-degree angle center, 90 degree total, we used a green-sand core to eliminate the dry-sand core, so that we could turn the block upside down. We cast it upside down, so the plate that holds the bore cores could be accurately located. This way, we could cast down to 5/32nds jacketed walls."
In the same SIA article, Harry Barr pointed out certain advantages of the Chevy 265 over the '55 Pontiac V-8:"...their design was heavier than ours. But they developed a sheetmetal rocker arm that we thought had possibilities. It hadn't been decide yet, but we jumped into that, and gave it to our manufacturing group. They determined that they could make stamped rocker arms with no machining whatever - just a metal stamping.
"We also lubricated it differently from Pontiac...with the oil coming up through the tappet, up through the hollow pushrod into the rocker arms, then over to lubricate both the ball and the pallet of the rocker arm...These were all new ideas, and very good as far as automation was concerned. You never had to screw anything - just press these studs in."
Actually, the 265 was Chevy's second V-8, the first being the disastrous 1917 design. But this one was near-perfect. Overhead valves, high compression, light weight, and oversquare dimensions (3.75 x 3.00) made it efficient and powerful. Some 43 percent of 1955 Chevy's were equipped with it - amazing for a make which hadn't offered a V-8 within recent memory. Horsepower was 162, or 180 with "Power Pack" (four-barrel Rochester carburetor and dual exhausts, available on all models except wagons). In basic form, the 265 was both more potent and more economical than the rival Ford 262 or the Plymouth 260, and outsold them easily. It had plenty of development room, too. For 1956, Chevrolet offered 205 - and 225 - bhp versions using four barrel and dual four-barrel carbs, respectively.