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ZL-1 Big-Block Revived After Tooling Rescued From Scrap Yard

GM will sell duplicates of the engine, beginning in spring, for about $20,000.

LAS VEGAS – Muscle-car enthusiasts have attentive eyes to thank for an all-new iteration of a classic and rare big-block V-8 soon to be available from General Motors Corp.

Beginning in spring, GM will sell for a cool $20,000 a modern interpretation of the highly prized, all-aluminum 427 cu.-in (7.0L) ZL-1 V-8. GM will make only 427, and expects to sell every one within a year.

The Anniversary 427 will be rated at 430 hp and 450 lb.-ft. (610 Nm) of torque, just like the original that bowed in 1969. GM made only 200 of the engines over the next several years.

Sixty-nine of them were used in Camaros and two in a pair of ‘69 Corvettes. Today, those cars trade hands for at least $1 million apiece, says Jamie Meyer, product integration manager for GM Performance Parts, on the sidelines at the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. show here.

After these classic engines were produced, the tooling for the block was put aside, collecting dust for some 30 years, until a sharp-eyed member of the GM Racing team stumbled upon it in a Michigan scrap yard, Meyer tells Ward’s.

“Someone who knew what they were doing was going through the scrap yard, recognized what the ZL-1 tooling looked like – you’ve got to appreciate that – and said, ‘We need to pull this out of the junkyard and see if we can fix it,’” Meyer recalls. “And it’s actually taken us several years and several hundred thousand dollars to refurbish that tooling so we can build 427 of our anniversary engines.”

Every engine will be serial numbered from 1 to 427 and will come with documentation of authenticity, as well as emblems for the car. “They will be very collectible crate engines, regardless of what car you put them in,” Meyer says.

If GM can sell each engine for $20,000, why not sell more than 427?

“Because the tooling actually wears out,” he says.

The engines will be produced in Michigan, but Meyer declines to identify the specific plant.

He doubts GM will develop new, more robust tooling to produce the 427 in higher volumes; such an endeavor would cheapen the premium nature of the special-edition mills. “But we may make the block available for quite some time, so someone can build their own,” he says.

The engine will be available for sale through the GM customer Web site and GM Performance Parts dealers.

Meyer expects the engines to be used primarily in remanufactured ‘69 Camaros. “People may want to relive what they missed in 1969 and build a ‘69 Camaro that has a ZL-1 powertrain.

Here at the SEMA show, the engine is on display under the hood of Project X, a fabulously restored ‘57 Chevy owned by Popular Hot Rodding magazine. The car played a supporting role in the 1980 comedy, “Hollywood Knights.”

Whatever car gets the 427 Anniversary mill will need a reinforced suspension as well as “a big transmission, a big clutch and a good rear end,” Meyer says.

The engine will come equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor, distributor, oil pan and water pump. Accessories available from GM include air conditioning and a front accessory drive kit.

GM also updated some design features of the engine block, such as the addition of screw-in galley plugs. The casting also was strengthened in key areas.

Based on the enthusiastic response from SEMA gearheads this week, Meyer is convinced the production run of 427 engines will sell quickly. “I don’t think I’ll have 427 engines on my hands for long,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll have them for a year.”

GM developed the original ZL-1 as a lightweight weapon for use in road racing, and the first few were handed out to racing teams supported by Chevrolet. The innovative aluminum block offered a 100-lb. (45 kg) weight savings over the conventional iron big-block casting.

In addition to the 427 ZL-1, the GM pavilion here is packed with high-powered specialty products, including some for the environmentally minded. Many of GM’s 28 vehicles here run on alternative fuels, including E85 ethanol.

Among the crowd favorites is Jay Leno’s E85-capable 600-hp Z06-inspired C6RS Corvette, as well as 500-hp FlexFuel Chevy Hot Rod, inspired by a ‘34 Chevy coupe.

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