The 50th anniversary of a legendary engine generations of gearheads know as "the Chevy small-block" will be celebrated through a special display during the Sept. 15-18 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Ask the average car owner if he has driven or seen a small-block Chevy V-8 engine and he is likely to shrug and stare blankly. In much the same way millions of routers and servers click and hum tirelessly behind the scenes of the World Wide Web, Chevrolet's ground-breaking V-8 engine has been invisibly motivating America since its introduction in 1955.

Chevrolet did not invent the V-8 engine, nor did chief rival Ford Motor Company who had been enjoying sales success with its own "flathead" since 1932. What Chevy brought to the table was a compact, lightweight engine featuring overhead valves and high-tech innovations such as an internal lubricating system and a crankshaft made of forged steel.

The "Turbo-Fire," as it was advertised to the public, had a displacement of 265 cubic inches and generated 162 horsepower; a "Power-Pack" upgrade added a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust system to create the 180-horsepower "Super Turbo-Fire."

That first modern Chevy V-8 was the right product for a performance-hungry public whose disposable income was peaking. The lure of inexpensive performance, an all-new body design and the glamour halo of its high-profile Corvette model shot sales to a record 1.7 million units for 1955.

The Turbo-Fire's basic design was so sound from an engineering standpoint that competitors and other General Motors divisions were offering similar engines within five years and Chevrolet eventually pumped out 90 million copies in an uninterrupted 50-year chain.

There have been many changes to the original 265-cid V-8-growths in displacement being the most obvious-but its descendants continue today as the top choice of street rod builders, NASCAR racers and performance enthusiasts.

Six generations of Corvettes have been powered by some version of the small-block Chevy, which earned its diminutive name in 1962 when the company introduced a line of heavier "big-block" V-8s.

"Why does the Chevy small-block occupy such a place in automotive America's heart?" asks Jon Robinson, author of the Standard Catalog of 1950s Chevrolet and Classic Chevrolet Dealerships. "Ford introduced the Y-block V-8 a year before the Turbo-Fire came out, but Ford's engine was heavier and did not offer the performance potential of the 265. The same goes for Plymouth's Hemi, which was much more technologically advanced, but also heavier and larger than the Chevy motor. Studebaker can also be counted in that group of good, earlier V-8s.

"The Chevy small-block was inexpensive and a neat little package. In 1955 every gainfully employed American could afford 162 or 180 horsepower in a relatively quiet, smooth-running V-8 from a company that was known for building reliable family transportation. The appeal was so incredible-I've interviewed Chevrolet dealerships that have never broken the per-unit sales records they set that year."

Other attractions scheduled for the Sept. 15-18 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway include a collection of George Barris' custom-built movie cars, a display of military vehicles celebrating the 230th birthday of the U.S. Army, numerous examples of vintage farm machinery courtesy of the Stumptown Tractor Club and an automotive art gallery.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

For information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or click here.