Take it from me, choosing an engine for a hot rod is more difficult than one might imagine. I suppose this doesn't have to be the case as anyone can drop a small block Chevy crate motor onto a frame & end up with an inexpensive & reliable mill with modern performance. That said, I decided not to take the easy way out with this decision.
For me, the engine choice is far too important. The chosen power plant will be the heart of the performance, the center of attention given the open engine bay & validate the overall theme of the build.
If you reference the build theme bullet-points in an earlier post you'll quickly agree that a Chevy crate engine isn't the right choice. A sensible compromise perhaps, but I'd hate myself for doing it.
After ruling out the crate motor I've examined a couple of vintage options. I won't bore you with my list of pros and cons of each, but suffice to say I thought very seriously about the Ford Flathead, Buick Nailhead, DeSoto Firedome & Cadillac 331. Each would have been awesome choices in their own way, but I ultimately ruled each out for one reason or another.
Which leads to my answer for the engine question...
The Oldsmobile "Rocket" engine makes sense for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that it was a common choice for a hot rodder in 1955.
- A Rocket 303 or 324ci mill produced between 135 & 240hp as compared to a late model Flathead's 100hp in 1949.
- The Olds engine had a great reputation. The Rocket engine won the NASCAR Manufacturer's Championship in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Ak Miller's Olds coupe set a speed record on the salt of 123mph in 1952.
- Rocket engines were affordable & easy to come by in the 1950's. Aftermarket part availability further increased the desirability.
- The Olds engine was durable & stood up well to supercharging, nitro and stroker crankshafts.
After the difficult job of choosing an engine its time to turn attention toward an even more difficult task - finding a serviceable 60 year old motor to restore.