were all about low end torque. You could actually slip the clutch and start off in high gear, or pull away at idle no problem. Same with the old Chrysler flathead sixes. Cars were geared lower for low and midrange torque,with torquer cam timing, etc, and did keep up pretty well in everyday traffic. It's just the highway passing that got a little testy.
I remember overhauling an old Chev 216 in highschool autoshop. The cylinders had .029 taper in the bore, and the rod journals were .006 flat. I remember the shimming the bearings, etc. I remember the day we started up my engine for a grade. Huge clouds of blue smoke! But it ran. We got a B on ours. I always wondered how long that engine would have lasted in a car! Oh yeah-I remember the teacher had a 57 Corvette, with the 283/270 horse, 2X4bbl, Duntov cam. Boy, did I want that car!
...an engine that needed a rebuild every 50K miles back then would last today? Oils are so much better, and the roads are so much better too. To get the same effect that a 1950 Chevy had to go through, you'd probably have to take a modern car cruising around a construction site or farm or something...kick up some dust, find some deep ruts, etc.
Also, I'm sure that 50K miles back in 1950 would also represent a lot more cold starts and short trips than it would today. My Granddad lived about 2 miles from his job. So did the guy I bought my '57 DeSoto from. I'm about 14 miles from work. Using that same ratio, for any given mileage, the older car would have 7 times more cold starts on it than mine would!
As for gearing back then, I don't know what it would be on a 1950 Chevy, but a '57 DeSoto with a manual tranny came standard with 3.91 gears, with 4.11 or 3.73 optional. Even with the Powerflite, one of the options was 3.91. Considering this is for cars with 325 Polys and 341 Hemis, I'm sure a 6-cyl car back then would've been geared even shorter, wouldn't it?
Probably the thing that would kill a babbit bearing engine today would be the way people drive stickshifts. They don't understand the dangers of lugging an engine or what horrific damage serious pinging or overheating can do.
I think back then people were paying closer attention to their cars.
Besides, a 216 Chevy would be mercilessly harassed on modern roads. You'd have an SUV up your butt every second of the day. My friend's Model A (perhaps a tad slower than a 216 Chevy at highway speeds) has to be driven with very strict attention because if you go fast enough to get people off your back, then you are going way too fast for the brakes and suspension.
Still, a 216 Chevy is perfectly capable cruising at 70 MPH. I mean, what more do we want from a nice 50's car that won't be used for daily commuting etc. They really aren't slugs if that's what anybody is thinking. Granted, the 235's were much better.
A Model A Ford is something else. No way would I take one on a freeway. When I had mine, it felt comfortable at 40 MPH, maybe 45 but that was about it. Mechanical brakes that actually worked fairly well, no turn signals etc...no thanks!
Model As are scary in that respect. Also a babbitted engine.
I guess I just don't have any confidence in an old 216, but maybe if it were completely and expertly rebuilt I would. Personally I would never rebuild one if say I bought an old Chevy pickup from the 50s (which I love) --it seems like so much trouble for so little return.
Think about it--if you are down on oil in the crankcase with a "splash" lubrication system.
The 216 is SO primitive! It's really the equivalent of an engine built in 1925 or so.