A look at GM’s 10 biggest engines

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[ click to enlarge + ][ click to enlarge + ]GMPartsCenter.net recently compiled a comprehensive list of the 10 biggest engines ever made by General Motors, kicking off with Cadillac’s pre-war Series 90 V-16.

That Chevy’s 572 crate engine brings up the rear says a lot about the size of engines 2 through 9. The graphic at right ranks the engines in terms of cubic inches, but also shares statistics about rated horsepower, torque and some historical facts.

“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,” says Matt Mylan, Director at GMPartsCenter.net. “Engine performance has been roughly doubling every 30 years or so. That’s an incredible rate of growth,” says Mylan.

GM’s production of big displacement engines dates back to the 1930s, when high-end Cadillac models featured twice as many cylinders as some of their modern counterparts. Big displacement engines fell out of favor in the ’40s and ’50s, until the muscle car era brought them back into production in the 1960s. The same pattern repeated in the late ’70s and ’80s, with big displacement re-emerging once again in the ’90s.

“In 1938, the 7.1L V-16 Cadillac Series 90 engine was state of the art, producing 185hp,” Mylan says. “Three decades later, the Olds 455 was producing 400hp with 8 fewer cylinders. Three more decades, and Chevy’s 572 crate motor can produce 720hp, nearly twice power of the Olds 455.”

While most of the engines on the list are from the 1960s muscle car era, there are three modern engines on the list, including the GM 572 crate, the 502 crate engine, and the 8.1 liter V8. While the two crate motors are typically used in racing applications, the 8.1 liter was a staple on many GM trucks until 2010.

Known as the Vortec 8100, the 8.1 liter was offered in 3/4 and 1-ton pickups and vans, the Suburban, and even on the Chevy Avalanche.