Bare Bones Basics: What Is A Fuelie?

The word “Fuelie” is in reference to a fuel injected car or hot rod, most notably the ’57 through ’65 Corvettes equipped with the optional factory fuel injected V8. The Corvette and Rochester Ramjet mechanical fuel injection system was originally designed by a team of legendary Chevrolet Motor Division engineers and designers; including Harlow H. Curtice, Harley J. Earl, Edward N. Cole, Harry Barr, Zora Arkus-Duntov and John Dolza.

The Ramjet was a huge leap in fuel delivery systems at the time. It consisted of three major components; the air meter, fuel meter, and intake manifold.

The air meter measured the amount of air flowing into the engine which signaled the fuel meter to deliver a certain amount of fuel that was delivered through nozzles at the base of the intake manifold. The fuel was delivered continuously to every cylinder at the same time, so the fuel would always be waiting for the intake valve to open up.

Compared to the carburetor, fuel injection was not necessarily great for drag racing but the road racers had great success with it because the engine didn’t starve for fuel when turning corners on the track. This allowed drivers to carry more speed on the track and turn in much better times.

The 1957 model year Corvette could be purchased with an optional fuel injected 283 small-block Chevrolet engine.

For ’57, the Fuelie could be had with four different RPO options; 597A – 250 horsepower with 4-speed manual trans, 597B – 283 horsepower with 4-speed manual trans, 597C – 250 horsepower with Powerglide automatic trans, and 597E – 283 horsepower with cold “Air-Box” and a 4-speed manual trans.

Different Fuelie injection designs from '57 to '65. (Photo by Steve Temple and Jim Lockwood)

Back then, a production car with one horsepower per cubic inch was a great feat and the ‘Vette was so light, it was a great performer and made a name for itself as the Fuelie. Less than 15% of ’57 ‘Vettes sold were Fuelies do to the high price tag of the option at $484 to $726.

For 1962, the engine size for Fuelie Corvettes climbed from 283 to 327 cubic inches and the power rating climbed to 360 horsepower and didn’t increase until ’64 when it climbed to 375 horsepower. The ’65 Corvette power rating stayed the same for the last year of the Fuelie.

It wasn’t until 17 years later for the ’82 Corvette that fuel injection returned. Due to the cost, most of the fuel injected ‘Vettes produced were purchased by serious racers and used for road racing.

The Rochester fuel injection systems changed a little over the years, but the system remained complex and earned a reputation for requiring regular maintenance to keep the air and fuel meters clean. These metering systems only ran great when they were clean but were tough to diagnose if running problems arose.

Another drawback to the fuel injection option was the cost which added between 15 to 22% to the cost of the already expensive Corvette. The nail in the Fuelie’s coffin in ’65 was that a Corvette owner could pay about half of the cost of fuel injection option and have a 425 horsepower 396 cubic inch engine.

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