The Beginnings of the Big Block Engines
When Chrysler introduced their first OHV V8 hemispherical engines in 1951, they advertised the new powerplants as the “Firepower V8s” and claimed them to be the “most powerful, most efficient engine ever developed.” Yet, even though the “Firepower” Hemi engines could provide good power, it wasn’t long before Chrysler realized that the engines were costing them money. (They were expensive to build). Four years after introducing the Firepower engine, Chrysler started making the Polyshpheric engine as a lower-cost alternative. Later they would redesign the block and swap heads to create the A-line family of V8s.
But then, GM came out with its small block V8 in 1955 and started developing a big block motor. Chrysler realized that the engine race was on and that they needed to develop a better A-type engine, but they also needed to develop a Big Block engine that could compete with anything Chevy or Ford brought to market.
In 1955, the initial team tasked with creating the B-series V8 engines was led by Robert S Rarey, a Plymouth engineer involved in developing the Gen 1 Hemi engines. Unlike in the fifties, when each division built its version of the Hemi engine, the new engine project was a corporate effort where all brands under the Mopar umbrella would share the engine equally.
The design of the new engine was nothing short of remarkable. The new wedge engines would have 4.48 inches between the cylinders (at the time, the largest V8 Mopar had ever made). This would allow for an increase in the bore without impacting the cylinder walls and compromising the engine's integrity.
Before long, Chrysler had developed a wedge engine with a cast iron block and iron heads that could be used in general production models. They released the 350 ci and 361 ci big block V8 engines. (They were virtually the same engine, except the 361 had a slightly large bore (1/16th of an inch). Plymouth called attention to the larger engine by naming it the Commando V8 (305 hp). DeSoto named their B engine the TurboFlash, and Dodge called theirs the Super RedRAM (Both were rated for 295 hp). Unfortunately, these two engines failed to capture the public's attention, and Chrysler found itself with a new engine no one wanted.
The 383-B Series Engine Appears To Save The Day.
It didn’t take long for Chrysler to try and get more power from their new 350 and 361 V8 engines. The 361 was bored out to 4.25 inches the following year, becoming the 383 V8. The 383 B had 330 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque with a compression ratio of 10.1:1. The higher-powered engine was offered as a ‘59 engine option, and just to help customers remember it, both Dodge and Plymouth assigned new names to the 383. Dodge called it the Magnum, and Plymouth called it the Golden Commando. Chrysler referred to the engine as the Golden Lion in the 1959 brochure for the New Yorker.
As the development of the big block engines progressed, Chrysler decided to build a raised block engine to help support its full-sized cars and trucks. In 1959, a 413 Max Wedge engine came on the scene (offered on the 1959 Imperial), and when the demand for the 383 B-series (lower block) engine began to take off, Chrysler produced a 383 RB (raised block) to try and meet the demand. The 383 RB engine would only last a couple of years, but it can be easily confused with the typical 383 V8 (B-series) that powered many Mopar vehicles for the next twelve years.
The 383 Makes The Rounds
Over the next few years, the 383 B would make the rounds into almost every car in the Mopar lineup. The engine's versatility meant the 383 could provide exactly what customers needed from their driving experience. (This was an engine you could just as quickly take to the track to win a race and then cart the family to church on Sunday). Over 3 million 383 B engines were estimated to have rolled off the assembly lines from 1959 - 1971.
In 1968, Mopar released a high-performance version of the 383 V8, which produced extra horsepower (335) and additional lb-ft of torque (425). The new performance motor was helped using components from 440 Magnum. The 440 was the last RB wedge engine built by Mopar and was offered as an option on most muscle cars. Dodge added the “improved 383” to the Charger and the ‘70 Challenger. Plymouth put out a variant of the Golden Commando engine in the Barracuda and ‘Cuda as an option for ‘69, and with the third generation redesign in 1970, offered it as the standard engine for the ‘Cuda model.
How fast was the 383 V8? Well, a ‘70 ‘Cuda could fly down the straightaway in 5.7 seconds 0 - 60, just a couple of tenths of a second slower than the 426 Hemi. The best part for customers considering the purchase of a high-performance V8 was that the 383 was standard, which meant that they did not have to pay extra to get a car that could run almost as fast. (The 440 Six-pack - $250 or the 426 Hemi - $871).
The 383 Gets The Hook
The model year 1971 would be the last year for the 383 B-series V8. Chrysler introduced the 400 ci B-series (a stroked version of the 383 with a 4.32-inch big bore). The company used almost every component of the 383 in fashioning the new engine.
Like most V8 engines, the early seventies brought the death knell for large motors and muscle cars. In 1972, how horsepower was calculated and reported changed, significantly hurting the power outputs of large V8 engines, which now had to report “net” numbers rather than “gross.”
In addition, the buying public was moving away from larger gas-guzzling cars toward smaller, more fuel-efficient imports. An oil embargo would seal the deal less than a year later as compression ratios and horsepower ratings continued sliding lower.
The 383 V8 Today
The Mopar 383 is a favorite among restorers of classic and hot rod cars due to their reliability, better fuel economy (than large displacement V8s), and the availability of parts. There is a large aftermarket community and support for classic builders working on a 383 project.
The availability of crate engines is also prevalent. The average cost of a 383 V8 B-series engine is around 3 - 4 thousand dollars, depending on where you purchase it. Since the engine was abundant during the sixties, many junkyards might still have a 383 rusting under the
hood if you look for one. (Be careful - a 50-year-old motor will probably mean a lot of rebuilding, but if that’s your thing, go for it).
Restorers should always ensure that they order parts for the B-series motor and not the RB (raised block) engine built in ‘59 - ‘60. It is always good to check twice, so you only have to buy once.
The Specs of the Mopar 383 V8
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane