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We readily admit this engine won’t make a lot of other people’s top 5 lists of small block Chevys.

But as we celebrate 60 years of the small block Chevy, the 350 L98 engine makes ours for its heroic efforts in helping keep Chevrolet performance alive in the 1980s. Introduced in 1985, the L98, along with its 305 little brother, valiantly battled with the Ford 5.0L for factory performance supremacy until the LT family came along in 1992.

Here are a few more reasons L98 made the cut:

  • 350 Lineage: The first Gen I 350 appeared in the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and became the most widely used small block of all time. The L98 was an important part of this legendary 350 family, bridging the gap between the old-school, carbureted Gen I engines and the modern fuel-injected LT and LS engines.
  • Power (sort of): The L98 wasn’t the most powerful small block. It wasn’t even the most powerful 350 ever. However, it did get things going back in the right direction following the performance-adverse 1970s and early 80s. At 230 horsepower, the original 1985 L98 offered a significant power jump over the previous engines of the day. Later changes to the engine pushed horsepower up to 245.
  • Technological Significance: Featuring Tuned Port Injection (TPI), the 350 L98 was Chevrolet’s first successful foray into the world of EFI (sorry L83 crossfire engine!). These computer-controlled engines delivered more precise control of fuel and spark, yielding better fuel mileage and crisp throttle response in the process. With the introduction of the L98, Chevrolet was entering a bold new world—a world where power, performance, and fuel economy could co-exist. And it wasn’t going back.
  • Iconic Looks: A brand new look came with the new technology. The “Elephant Trunk” runners of the TPI intake give the L98 an iconic appearance that’s instantly recognizable to many Chevrolet performance enthusiasts.
  • Face of a Generation: Those iconic looks are the face of a generation. During the mid 1980s—long after the muscle car era but before LT and LS engines came along—305/350 TPI engines were the flagship Chevrolet performance engines. They kept the performance scene alive from under the hoods of such vehicles as the C4 Corvette, Camaro, Firebird—and even the IROC-Z.

Sure, the 350 L98 wasn’t the most powerful in the vast 350-cubic-inch family of engines. That just means there’s plenty of room for improvement via upgrades. We found good articles from Hot Rod and Super Chevy magazines on the topic, and there are  350 TPI (L98) aftermarket upgrades available. In addition to many Gen I 350 bottom-end components, you’ll find TPI-specific:

SOURCES: Summit Racing, Hot Rod

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.