MYSTARCOLLECTORCAR HAS TO ASK: IS THE CUMMINS DIESEL THE NEW SMALL BLOCK CHEVY?

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The most famous internal combustion engine on the planet is the legendary small block Chevy (SBC), a versatile engine built in various forms by the Bowtie people since the mid-1950s.

The new age LS engine is a radical departure from its SBC predecessors in terms of overall engineering, but it is still a small block Chevy because of its displacement, so it qualifies as a small block in GM’s grand scheme of things.

Chevy has grown its reach in the small block world because their engines are abundant, affordable and can be built into monsters with aftermarket enhancements. The SBC’s popularity has also provided ample sources for adaptor components that can fit the iconic engines into other automotive makes, models and years.

The last point is a source of heated controversy for many Ford and Mopar owners:  a small block Chevy may lurk under many non-Chevy hoods.    

Consequently, it would be difficult to knock the SBC off the top rung of the ladder, but the Cummins diesel engine is an unlikely challenger for the title.

Diesel engines have a long association with big rigs and construction equipment because they can provide the massive amount of torque required for hard-working machinery. However, diesel engines were also built for service in some smaller vehicles, including Chevy when it offered a Detroit diesel engine in its pickup trucks for 11 years (1982-93) after it experimented unsuccessfully with its own 350 Olds diesel in a few models.

The day of the diesel engine gained huge momentum when Dodge offered a Cummins engine option for its 1989 pickups. The brute force power of these iconic diesel engines was obvious at the time and Dodge stayed with the Cummins concept to this very day, although they eventually changed the truck’s name to Ram along the way to 2024.

The impact of the Cummins diesel was not lost on the vintage vehicle hobby, particularly since so many of these workhorse engines are available to the public. MyStarCollectorCar started to notice the Cummins engine in our first year (2009) when we first spotted the famous diesel engine as a power choice for various rat rods during their early days as rock stars at shows.

People were already drawn to the outrageous stripped-down design of a typical rat rod, but a Cummins diesel engine took rat rods to an even more outrageous visual level. Cummins diesels look tough and can walk the walk because of their sheer power.

Cummins diesels have become even more powerful over the years and can more than hold their own in the brute force department as it applies to engines. The evolution of the Cummins diesel has not gone unnoticed by more-power car guys, so it is no surprise MyStarCollectorCar has spotted an increasing number of them under the hoods of vehicles that range from Cadillacs to pickup trucks.

Additionally, aftermarket Cummins transplant components have become more available to car guys who want to wedge one into their vintage rides.

The net result is an oddball challenger to the SBC’s long reign as the go-to engine choice for car guys.

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section. 

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