Thanks to Eddie Hostler and the Mopar Engines and Chrysler Engines books.
How do you identify these engines? On the passenger side of the block, underneath the distributor, is a bit of smooth steel which has a number code stamped in it. The first line has a letter for the year (D = 1968) and the three digits for displacement (e.g. 440). The date — month and day — are on a line below, sometimes with an HP denoting High Performance. If you don’t find the “tag,” try just to the right of the distributor, where it sits on RB engines.
The B series engines were the first to be designed by the new corporate engineering department, which took over engine design from the divisions to end the complexity of having so many variations of the same basic package.
The department was faced with the question of whether to go with the heavy, expensive Hemi chambers, with the polyspherical heads, or with the wedge-shaped chambers used by most other automakers. In the end, they decided the cost and complexity of the Hemi was not called for, and discovered that the poly heads had little advantage over the wedge shape, and went with the wedge. The early B engines had five main bearings and hydraulic lifters.
The 'B' series wedge engine was introduced in 1958 with 350 and 361 cubic inch versions; the 361 would last until the end of the series, albeit for trucks only. In its early years, the 265-horsepower 361 was optional on many vehicles, and standard on, among others, the Dodge 880.
The new engine had a single rocker shaft, and stamped steel rocker arms; compared to the corporation’s first V8 engines, it was light, simple, and cheap to build, yet still tough and sturdy.
It took several years and considerable experimentation for the new engine to establish a reputation, partly because it replaced a successful series of hemispherical head ("early Hemi") engines. Still, it was created from the start to handle increasing amounts of power, with drop-forged steel connecting rods and a forged crankshaft along with a very deep-skirt block. Maintenance and repair were eased by the external oil pump, dry intake, and front-mounted distributor, along with an easily changed water pump.
The 350 was classified as a big block engine; all parts except for the pistons and water pump appear to be fully compatible
with the 383. Plymouth versions were originally called Sonoramic Commando; Dodge versions, Super Red Ram and D-500; DeSoto versions, TurboFlash. The Plymouth version of the 350 was called the Golden Commando, and had 305 hp; the DeSoto version, Turboflash, produced up to 295 hp; and the Dodge version, called the D-500, went up to 320 hp. The 361 was essentially a bored 350.
Both the 350 and 361 had a fuel injected version in 1958 only. Very few of the "fuelies" were made, and only a handful - at most - remain since most were brought back to the dealer to get carburetors fitted.
Even though the 1958 engines were relatively tame, they were ready for more, with relatively large ports (1.95” intake, 1.60” exhaust) and engineered-in growth capability. After a single year, the 350 and 361 were greeted by the RB-type 413, a raised-deck version of the same engine. At that point, the 350 was dropped.
In 1959, the 361 was bored out, creating the modal Mopar performance engine for the next decade: the 383. The big bore allowed for larger (2.08”) intake valves, and the relatively short stroke helped it to be a free-revving engine as well as a free-breathing one. Pushing out a maximum of 330 horsepower (gross) and 460 lb-ft of torque in 1960, the 383 trumped the 392 Hemi, which had never beaten 435 lb-ft. The 1960 383 engines boasted the same basic ram induction system as the Chrysler 300F’s 413 RB engines (named SonoRamic Commando when sold in Plymouth form).
Richard Bowman noted that the 361 DeSoto Turboflash version of the B engine went from a 10:1 compression ratio in 1960 to a 9:1 compression ratio in 1961, without losing performance (it had 265 gross hp in 1961) because the compression change was accompanied by enlarged intake valves. This let owners use regular gas instead of premium.
Carburetion in 1961 was supplied by a two barrel Stromberg model WWC carburetor (model number 3-188). This carburetor had a rubber-tipped needle valve in the float bowl, making the unit less sensitive to flooding by enveloping small dirt particles and still maintaining a good seal; and it had a two-stage set-up jet for better fuel flow at cruising speeds. In 1960, a carburetor with a three-stage metering rod was used.
1961 was the first year for the closed crankcase ventilation system used on all cars sold in California, designed to painlessly reduce smog. A flexible tube connected a valve and a specially calibrated carburetor; the carburetor had a fitting just below the throttle blades into which the crankcase vapors were drawn by suction. From here they were drawn into the intake manifold for burning, leaving fewer vapors to be discharged into the atmosphere. All cars now use this system.
In 1966, the truck 361 was rated at 186 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and included induction-hardened crankshaft journals, trimetal main and connecting rod bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, sodium-filled exhaust valves with Roto-Caps, and a chrome-alloy cast-iron block. Despite the illustration, engines were not chrome-plated and fully painted.
The performance story of the 'B' engine begins with the introduction of the Dodge 383 cubic inch B-engine, coded as D500, with 330 hp using a cross-ram induction manifold with twin four-barrel Carter carburetors. This engine was both a factory and dealer option, for all models.
Deane Allinson wrote: Dodge had a 383cid (D500) 330hp cross ram induction manifold with dual 4 barrel Carter carbs in 1959 for the 1960 year models. They were both a factory option and dealer add-on for all models (usual for Dodge). The 330 hp rating is actually a low figure. The crossram setup was most usually seen on the Polara's standard 383, though the Phoenix 361 also had a cross ram setup. I have also seen a 1960 Polara wagon with a factory coded 383 D500.
The B series 383 joined the lineup in 1962. This workhorse engine was rated at 343 hp with two four-barrel carburetors, making it the most powerful B series 383 ever produced. (Jerry Gulino pointed out that a 345 hp 383 engine had been used in 1959, in the Super D-500 2x4s. The Ultimate Guide to V8 Engines says that the 383 went up to 350 hp in 1959).
The A-864 hemi was introduced in '64 in the "light weight" Plymouth and Dodge models as a race only package, to be replaced by the A-990 hemi in 1965 (also as a race only engine).
The performance aspects of the 'B' and 'RB' engines faded from 1972 on, though not as suddenly as casual observers may expect, because net horsepower ratings were adopted in 1972 as well. This resulted in a substantial drop in rated horsepower as the effects of using an air cleaner, water pump, alternator, muffler, and other “accessories” were included. The company did provide both gross and net numbers for some engines in 1971, providing some perspective. The measurement difference was responsible for a “drop” of 50-65 horsepower.
There were some real drops in power in 1972 as compression was dropped to reduce emissions, a cheap way to meet new pollution standards. There was also a new B engine, the largest ever made, a large (4.34) bore version of the 383 B engine with many internal parts differences. The stroke was the same as the 383, 361, and 350, but the bore was a hefty 4.34”, the largest bore of any B or RB engine (albeit only slightly larger than the RB 440).
According to Rick Ehrenberg of Mopar Action, the original idea behind the 400 was to standardize all B and RB engines with a 4.32” bore; that would have resulted in a 396 engine, and, according to Mr. Ehrenberg, the marketing people felt an even 400 would sell better. The engine produced power similar to the 440, albeit with less torque at higher revs; the top-performing version of the 360 beat it in horsepower but fell short in torque.
From 1973 to 1978, emissions equipment continued to become more complex, as engineers worked minor miracles to get carburetors to work more efficiently under all conditions. Fuel injectors were suggested, according to Allpar interviews, but rejected due to cost (which was most likely far less than the cost of the extra warranty work and lost customers). The 1975 addition of Electronic Lean Burn, the world’s first computerized spark advance system, helped somewhat. Cast crankshafts started to replace the forged crankshafts of prior years.
In 1978, the 400-cubic-inch V-8 engines gained dual concentric throttle return springs in addition to a torsion throttle spring. Exhaust-valve seats were induction-hardened on all engines to allow satisfactory use of lead-free fuels. In the hardening process, seats reach a temperature of 1700°F and are then allowed to air-cool. This hardened the valveseat surfaces to a depth of .05" to .08" which gives them greater resistance to wear than unhardened seats. The exhaust-valve stems were chrome-plated for increased resistance to wear.
The heat valve in the right exhaust manifold diverts hot gases to the floor of the intake manifold which helps to vaporize the fuel mixture when the engine is cold. This results in faster warm-up and improves driveability after a cold start. During warm-up, a thermostatic spring allows the heat valve to open to the exhaust pipe-so gas flow through the intake manifold crossover passage is decreased.
All 1978 Chrysler V-8 engines had an adaptor to receive a magnetic probe for timing the ignition magnetically. The adaptor is a little steel sleeve attached to the bracket that has the traditional timing marks-you can still set the ignition with a timing light. However, ignition timing was set magnetically on all engines at the factory for accuracy. The magnetic timing adaptor will also help those who have the equipment to time Lean-Burn engines magnetically.
The performance aspects of the 'B' and 'RB' engines faded from 1972 on until the last one was produced in August 1978, ending the history of Chrysler Corporation big-block engines. The engines were, by then, selling slowly enough that the last vehicle built with one was made in 1979 — a pickup truck.
Over 3 million 383 engines were produced through 1971, and over 3/4 of a million 440 engines have been produced which makes parts readily available. The 'B' engine and can be identified by the cubic inches stamped on the right side of the block deck adjacent to the distributor. The RB engine has the engine size stamped on a pad at the left front of the engine adjacent to the front tappet rail. All 'B' and 'RB' distributors are at the right front of the engine. Parts replacement information (such as undersize crankshaft) is located next to the engine size.
'B' series wedge engines have virtually complete parts interchangeability with few exceptions. Gary Howell noted that the RB required a wider intake manifold, and that the B engines all used a 3.38 stroke crank.
The last year of the 361 in cars was 1966, but it lasted at least until 1972 in trucks, according to Jim Smith, who said his father had a Dodge bulk feed truck with that engine. A 1968 school-bus brochure which lists the 361 as the largest engine, pumping out 186 horsepower with a two-barrel carburetor. “shadowrider” wrote: “I worked on the V8 assembly line at Trenton engine from 1976-78 and we were still assembling the 361 (and 413) along with the 400 and 440s until 1977 when this line was shut down. These engines (361 and 413) were going into heavy duty trucks and Winabagos.”
Chrysler wrote about the 400: “The 4-barrel carburetor, large intake and exhaust valve ports and large diameter exhaust pipe give this engine the excellent breathing necessary for good engine performance. This means responsive acceleration at cruising and highway passing speeds. A deep-skirt engine block and rugged cast ductile iron crankshaft contribute to the durability of this engine. Main bearings are durable aluminum-on-steel construction.”
The 383 "RB" (Chrysler) had its head deck raised, and was stroked to the famous (or infamous) 3.75 inches that covered the RB 383, the 413, the 426, and with the thin wall casting techniques, the 440. It had the same stroke as the 426 "HEMI."
In the "RB" family, the major difference is the bore size. The 383 was a 4.03 inch bore. The 413 saw a 4.18 inch hole which was an easy leap to the NASCAR limit of 426 cubic inches by boring the block to a 4.25 inch diameter. At the time, that was about the limit for this block.
In 1966, thanks to development of precision thin wall casting techniques used to make the 1964 small 273 ci V-8, this same RB could be pushed out to 4.32 inches which gave us the 440.
While Chrysler at the time had its eyes on the racing development of the 413-426 family, it wasn't asleep. Lynn Townsend saw the need for a small engine for the "small car" lines at Chrysler. It took two years, which isn't too shabby a development time. The 273 was a great little V-8, with lots of potential that was only touched by engineers.
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