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Dumb history question for the carb guys

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Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby novadude » Fri Feb 28, 2014 2:50 pm

Something I've always wondered.... How did the the Holley design get to be the #1 carb choice among the street/strip crowd?

I've always been more into "drivers" than race cars, and I never really paid much attention to the inner-workings of Holley carbs. I've recently been reading a bit trying to understand the various circuits and operation of Holley carbs.

In my opinion, it really seems like a crude design for anything other than WOT when you compare it to a Q-jet, Thermoquad, AVS, AFB, etc. Particularly the power system. Also, the number of seals, gaskets, and other loose parts seems to put it at a real disadvantage when compared to almost any other carb design. The Carters and Rochesters just seem more "refined", and all of them can work on most applications if tuned properly.

So the question is, what features made the Holley so popular with the street / strip crowd? I can't help but feel I am missing something, but I just don't get it. Can someone enlighten me as to why it has become "the" carb to use? When did the Holley design really take over the marketplace, and why?
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby sportsroof » Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:06 pm

I think this has been brought up before. Basically marketing/advertising made the product look attractive. I'm sure others will be along to add more.........
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby 140Air » Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:09 pm

novadude wrote:Something I've always wondered.... How did the the Holley design get to be the #1 carb choice among the street/strip crowd?

I've always been more into "drivers" than race cars, and I never really paid much attention to the inner-workings of Holley carbs. I've recently been reading a bit trying to understand the various circuits and operation of Holley carbs.

In my opinion, it really seems like a crude design for anything other than WOT when you compare it to a Q-jet, Thermoquad, AVS, AFB, etc. Particularly the power system. Also, the number of seals, gaskets, and other loose parts seems to put it at a real disadvantage when compared to almost any other carb design. The Carters and Rochesters just seem more "refined", and all of them can work on most applications if tuned properly.

So the question is, what features made the Holley so popular with the street / strip crowd? I can't help but feel I am missing something, but I just don't get it. Can someone enlighten me as to why it has become "the" carb to use? When did the Holley design really take over the marketplace, and why?


IMHO, for racers the appeal of Holleys is the same as for Webers, profound and convenient tunability in the field.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby Schurkey » Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:17 pm

Multiple CFM ratings from small to huge, choice of mechanical or vacuum secondary operation, and semi-universal throttle brackets and choke linkages.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby lorax » Fri Feb 28, 2014 4:17 pm

140Air wrote:IMHO, for racers the appeal of Holleys is the same as for Webers, profound and convenient tunability in the field.


The Holley wasn't really all that popular when it came out in '57, except possibly with the Ford crowd and they weren't exactly setting the world in fire at the time. True N/A engines were either injected, or they ran mulitple Strombers. Later triple Rochesters from GM on the 348 were favored as well, which let to trin power SBCs. By the early 60s GM was using dual AFBs and Ford was using dual Holleys, but Holley wasn't really considered superior.

The lauch pad for the Holley as the favored carb of choice for performance I believe was the advent of the 3310 750, and the 850. Which surprisingly, was developed by Smokey Yunick and Ralph Johnson at Smokey's shop. Ralph Johnson I believe is also the guy the worked with Crane on the Quick Lift rocker concept. Holley, Rochester, and Carter weren't interested, and Pontiac wasn't impressed. Bunkie Knudson at Chevrolet got Holley to build them. It was Chevy's Dominator of the early 60s. Just as Nascar gave us the Dominator thru Ford's money and input, the 4150 took off in part to Chevy's money and input on the 850. But you can thank Smokey and Ralph.
The modular design, tunability, and more than anything in the beginning, parts availabilty and support from Holley were important factors. They tore a page right from Zora Argus' play book on the SBC. But the 3310 750 VS and the 850VS that put Holley on the performance map.
Last edited by lorax on Fri Feb 28, 2014 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby oldjohnno » Fri Feb 28, 2014 4:27 pm

In Smokey Yunicks autobiog he claims that the Holley four barrel was developed from prototypes designed and built by himself and Ralph Johnson. There were one or two other 4 barrels around at the time but they were too small for performance applications.

I think it's a mistake to interpret the Holleys simplicity as unsophistication. On the contrary, they have a remarkable degree of tuneability for such a seemingly basic device. Another advantage it has over the others is modularity: when the metering block, throttle body, main body, boosters, pumps, nozzles and cams etc. are all separate, interchangeable components it becomes possible to tailor a carb very closely to nearly any application. This, along with the fact that they are available in a massive range of flow rates makes them an obvious choice for many applications requiring a large four barrel. To summarise, I'd say they are popular because they are configurable, surprisingly tuneable and transparent in their operation.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby lorax » Fri Feb 28, 2014 4:41 pm

oldjohnno wrote:In Smokey Yunicks autobiog he claims that the Holley four barrel was developed from prototypes designed and built by himself and Ralph Johnson. There were one or two other 4 barrels around at the time but they were too small for performance applications.

I think it's a mistake to interpret the Holleys simplicity as unsophistication. On the contrary, they have a remarkable degree of tuneability for such a seemingly basic device. Another advantage it has over the others is modularity: when the metering block, throttle body, main body, boosters, pumps, nozzles and cams etc. are all separate, interchangeable components it becomes possible to tailor a carb very closely to nearly any application. This, along with the fact that they are available in a massive range of flow rates makes them an obvious choice for many applications requiring a large four barrel. To summarise, I'd say they are popular because they are configurable, surprisingly tuneable and transparent in their operation.



Pretty sure the Holley 4BBL existed prior to Smokey and Johnson messing with them. But as you said, they were too small. No bigger then available AFBs. It was Smokey and Johnson that did the prototyping of the larger sizes and adding the secondary metering block.

Although the AFB is tunable, it is in a seemingly more fixed state of tune as delivered.

But no matter how friendly the design, or how well it performs, lack of parts and support can kill the best ideas. Holley simply out did the others in tech support and parts supply, along with a design that readily lent itself to numerous CFM sizes.
Not alot unlike the SBC. Design led to numerous CID, interchangability and super tech and parts support from GM in the early days. We know what that led to.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby novadude » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:06 pm

oldjohnno wrote:In Smokey Yunicks autobiog he claims that the Holley four barrel was developed from prototypes designed and built by himself and Ralph Johnson. There were one or two other 4 barrels around at the time but they were too small for performance applications.

I think it's a mistake to interpret the Holleys simplicity as unsophistication. On the contrary, they have a remarkable degree of tuneability for such a seemingly basic device. Another advantage it has over the others is modularity: when the metering block, throttle body, main body, boosters, pumps, nozzles and cams etc. are all separate, interchangeable components it becomes possible to tailor a carb very closely to nearly any application. This, along with the fact that they are available in a massive range of flow rates makes them an obvious choice for many applications requiring a large four barrel. To summarise, I'd say they are popular because they are configurable, surprisingly tuneable and transparent in their operation.


I can see that the modular design makes it easy for the racer to quickly tune the carb and make changes that are easily reversible. However, most entry-level Holleys still have fixed-size air bleeds, idle circuits, etc. I would argue that you can make the same tweaks to a Rochester or Carter without much additional effort.

For a true street/strip car, it would seem that the Rochester and Carter designs are better designed to meter fuel under part-throttle conditions. Of course, this is something that's not nearly as important to a racer. Maybe it's just a case of monkey-see-monkey-do? Racers run them for valid reasons (modular, tunable design), so the average street car guy buys a Holley cause it's what the fast guys run? :?

I'm not bashing Holley carbs, as they obviously wouldn't be "THE" carb in motorsports if they didn't work very well on the track, and I do understand that the modular design allows a lot of flexibility. I just don't understand why / how they've been the only carb to really hang on in the automotive aftermarket (unless you count the Edelbrock AFB).
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby JoePorting » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:35 pm

I think what made Holley's famous is the "Double Pumper" capability. I'm not a carb expert, but I don't think any other carb has that, even now. I think that gave it the quality of instant response with no hesitation. Also, the dual feed and large bowl quality meant that the carb wouldn't run out of gas as fast as others. They're easy to work on and easy to upgrade. Finally, they come in lots of different sizes and look cool. :P
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby Schurkey » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:40 pm

oldjohnno wrote:In Smokey Yunicks autobiog he claims that the Holley four barrel was developed from prototypes designed and built by himself and Ralph Johnson. There were one or two other 4 barrels around at the time but they were too small for performance applications.

I really loved reading Smokey's three-book series...but...it's a shame that he didn't provide more accuracy and depth in his recollections. The Holley we know and love showed up in the '50's; Smokey doesn't make clear what is was that he and Johnson prototyped. For awhile, I thought he was talking about the Dominator.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby hysteric » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:48 pm

With Modular design comes engineering compromises at best.

Why were Thermoquads and Rochesters still used well into the emissions period by the OEM's before FI and not Holleys? :lol:

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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby oldjohnno » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:52 pm

novadude wrote:
Maybe it's just a case of monkey-see-monkey-do? Racers run them for valid reasons (modular, tunable design), so the average street car guy buys a Holley cause it's what the fast guys run? :?



Maybe there is a bit of monkey-see-monkey-do, but in this case I really do think there are some good reasons for the Holley to have become the default. And besides, I don't think the gap in part-throttle performance between the Holley and the air-door carbs is as big as you think it is. I remember when I first started tuning with a wideband O2 being amazed at just how closely I could control the A/F at any throttle opening with the crude ol' Holley, using nothing more than a box of jets and a set of wire drills. Realistically I wouldn't get the numbers any better with another carb.

I think lorax hit the nail on the head with the sbc analogy: Holley carbs are in a variety of sizes, parts are everywhere and everyone understands them. Am I going to ignore all that for maybe a couple of percent improvement in part-throttle performance? No. Am I a Holley apologist or fan-boy? No, I use whatever is best suited for the job. I've had good success with q-jets but I think the engine doesn't really care whose carb it has, so long as it's properly tuned.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby BrazilianZ28Camaro » Fri Feb 28, 2014 6:13 pm

oldjohnno wrote:
I think it's a mistake to interpret the Holleys simplicity as unsophistication.



I agree. The better ideas are the simplest .

Simplicity , full tuneability, parts availability and performance proven results make the Holley carb what it is.

Some OEMS had them installed in performance cars, if the carbs were half a$$ good, they wouldn't IMHO.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby engineguyBill » Fri Feb 28, 2014 6:48 pm

For the record, Mark Campbell was the engineer at Crane who was responsible for the "Quick Lift" rocker arm system . . . . .
The history of Holley in the performance arena is very interesting:
the Holley brothers began supplying carburetors to engine manufacturers way over 100 years ago. Holley updraft carburetors were OE on Ford Model T's from the very beginning. Holley supplied carburetors to Ford Motor Company for many years and Holley 4-bbl. carbs were used on 'high performance' Ford (Thunderbird) engines in the 292-312 Y-block era. These carburetors were the forerunner of the 4150, 4160, 4500 series as used in current high performance application.
GM and Chrysler high performance engines generally used Carter AFB carburetors through the mid 1960's. (a personal note, I attended the 1964 AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway in January 1964 and saw a new ('64) Corvette running in stock or super stock class with a Holley carburetor. My first thought was "this guy is nuts, he is running a FORD carburetor on his new Corvette!!") Well, as we are now aware, GM began using Holley carbs on their high performance engines as of that date. Chrysler also began using Holley carbs on subsequent variations of the 426 HEMI engine.
In my opinion, Holley 4150, 4160, 4500 series carbs offer a much greater range of tune-ability with their easily adjustable systems such as jetting, power valves, accelerator pump duration & squirters, secondary springs, etc., etc.
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Re: Dumb history question for the carb guys

Postby lorax » Fri Feb 28, 2014 8:06 pm

lorax wrote:
140Air wrote:
The launch pad for the Holley as the favored carb of choice for performance I believe was the advent of the 3310 750, and the 850. Which surprisingly, was developed by Smokey Yunick and Ralph Johnson at Smokey's shop. Ralph Johnson I believe is also the guy the worked with Crane on the Quick Lift rocker concept. Holley, Rochester, and Carter weren't interested, and Pontiac wasn't impressed. Bunkie Knudson at Chevrolet got Holley to build them.



engineguyBill wrote:For the record, Mark Campbell was the engineer at Crane who was responsible for the "Quick Lift" rocker arm system . . . . .

GM and Chrysler high performance engines generally used Carter AFB carburetors through the mid 1960's. (a personal note, I attended the 1964 AHRA Winternationals at Beeline Dragway in January 1964 and saw a new ('64) Corvette running in stock or super stock class with a Holley carburetor. My first thought was "this guy is nuts, he is running a FORD carburetor on his new Corvette!!") Well, as we are now aware, GM began using Holley carbs on their high performance engines as of that date.

You could be right about the rockers. Like I said, I was flying off memory. I just knew Smokey and Ralph were messing with the concept.

It is interesting that your mention 64 as the year that Chevy started using Holleys on performance engines. It was 63 that Smokey was able to sell the idea to Knudsen.

http://www.circletrack.com/techarticles ... cker_arms/
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