History of the Chevrolet 502

by Rob Wagner

Perhaps no other big block Chevrolet V-8 engine had been ignored more during its factory production run than General Motors’ massive 502-cubic-inch power plant. Chevy’s 454 got all the attention at the dawn of the 1970s at the height of the muscle car battles waged against Ford, Dodge and Plymouth. But it was the 502 that survived well into the 1990s while the other big blocks faded from the GM factory lineup.

Origins

The Chevy big block V-8s were launched n 1965 with the 396-cubic-inch version derived from the 1963 Daytona race engine. The street-legal engine was developed to compete against the Pontiac GTO’s 389 V-8. The 427 followed in 1967 to power the Chevrolet Impala Super Sport. The 454, generating 390 horsepower, arrived in 1970. The 502 (8.2 liters), however, never saw the light of day as a factory power option for muscle cars, according to Chevy2.net.

Big Block Popularirty

The popularity of the 502 in later years was clear. It belonged to the Chevy big block V-8 family and it was the biggest. Big blocks started with the 366, which saw production through 1995. More popular was the 454. The 454 was produced through 1991. Like the 502, the 454 powered trucks but at a lower horsepower output. Yet, unlike the 502, the 454 was not sold specifically for fleet vehicles.

Fleet Engine

Beginning in the late-1970s Chevrolet brought out the 502 V-8. Its job was not to be used as a performance engine but as a workhorse. It was placed in fleet vehicles, such as large trucks and vans, and some police cruisers like California Highway Patrol chase vehicles. These engines stayed under the radar, but quickly garnered the attention of performance auto customizers who saw the 502 as the ultimate street fighting powerhouse. Production of the factory 502 ended in 1995.

Performance Benchmark

In the mid-2000s, two performance engines unrelated to the 502 were developed. In 2006, the Corvette Z06 was equipped with a 7-liter (426 cubic inches) V-8 generating 505 horsepower. Ford developed a 5.4-liter (329 cubic inches) V-8 to generate 550 horsepower for its Mustang GT500. These engines helped establish a new benchmark in horsepower output at 500. Parts and custom shops began selling 502 replacements (the so-called "crate" engine) capable of 500 horsepower, at a steady clip.

What You Get

In keeping with the 500-horsepower standard, custom shops offer the 502 with as much as 510 horsepower and a minimum of 470 foot-pounds of torque, the twisting force developed to give the vehicle quick acceleration. These “crate” engines feature a 4-bolt main engine block, forged steel crankshaft, aluminum fast burn Edelbrock oval port heads, 14-inch chrome air cleaner, power forged pistons and 4-barrel Edelbrock carburetor. Cost is about $10,000 and it can be installed in just about any GM or Ford vehicle. The Ram Jet 502 is a fuel-injected version with a 4.47 X 4.00 bore and stroke generating 502 horsepower and 565 foot-pounds of torque. Popular applications are the 1955 to 1957 Chevy Bel Airs and ’32 Ford Coupe hot rods.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.