We live in a world driven by history, so much so that there are whole channels devoted to it on television and we fill our heads with more information than we’ll ever need to know about medieval armor, quilting, how pencil manufacturing has changed over the years. We set out on a journey back in time to find out more history on the most famous manufacturer of the box of controlled fuel leaks that’s better known as a carburetor. That company is none other than Holley!
We gathered information from books, performance industry know-it-alls, and the web and packaged it up into a great little timeline that starts with the earliest Holley carburetors in 1903 until today, almost 110 years later in 2012.
Holley has built many different forms of carburetors for many of the OE’s, enough that we can’t begin to fit them all into this history lesson, so we’ll stick to their carburetors more relevant to hot rodders. You’ll also notice that we included a list of some of our favorite Holley carbs of all time.
Holley has been manufacturing fuel system components since 1903, and since then have produced over 250,000,000 carburetors.
In the Original Equipment (OE) realm, their carburetors have powered Henry Ford’s Model A to the fastest muscle cars of the 1960s and beyond. In the performance world they’ve fed fuel to the fastest carbureted vehicles on the planet.
Teenage brothers George and Earl Holley started making patterns and castings back in the late 1800’s. First, making a 1-cylinder engine and then a 3-wheeled vehicle to put it in. They produced a 4-wheeled vehicle called the Holley Motorette and started the Holley Motor Company.
The Holley brothers listened to the suggestion of the very smart and successful Henry Ford and turned their focus on making carburetors in 1903. This turned out to be a great business decision for Holley and Ford Motor Company. The Holley brothers became known as industry leaders in automotive fuel systems.
This relationship was recognized recently, as Ford Motor Company commemorated Holley as one of the original four parts suppliers that are still doing business together with for over 100 years.
In 1938, Henry Ford had decided to replace the inefficient Stromberg 97 carburetor that was OE on the Fords since 1934. Carb manufacturer Chandler-Groves had made a contract with Henry Ford to design and supply a more efficient carburetor for one-year and in return Ford would hold all patent rights.
The Chandler Groves 94 carburetor (named for its .94-inch venturi’s) was a success. At the end of the one-year contract, Ford wanted to save some money and took the blueprints to Holley…who bid the job for ten cents less per unit.
Vintage carburetor guru and author, Jere Jobe compared the Stromberg 97 (popular with the vintage hot rodders), with the Holley 94. He states, “The 94 was ultimately designed to be a more efficient replacement for the Stromberg 97.”
With the differences in design, Jobe pointed out, “Both brands of carbs perform differently at different RPM ranges but are very close to performing equally as individual carburetors and the Holley 94 is much better in multiple carb setups, but some old intake manifolds don’t have spacing for the larger Holley 94 fuel bowls.”
He also says the 94s were such a success that Holley supplied Ford with 94s until the end of 1957 of which there were 17 different versions.
Behold The Birth of The Four-Barrel
In 1953, Holley produced its first four-barrel carburetor with Model 2140. It followed a similarly designed two-barrel (Model 1901) introduced in 1952. These carbs were nicknamed “teapot” carburetors.
The bottom portion of the carb was essentially the main throttle body and the top portion of the carburetor is the float bowl assembly which fed fuel from above.
In 1957, Holley hit a home run when they released the Model 4150 on the 1957 Ford Thunderbird. It had two metering blocks, one for the primary and one for the secondary circuit.
Both blocks accept replaceable fuel jets for fine tuning. It also had a single fuel inlet with a fuel transfer tube to the rear fuel bowl.
Smokey Said It
While we were collecting history on carburetors, we spoke to Trish Yunick about her father, Smokey Yunick and his involvement with Holley. She shared details from his book, “Best Damn Garage in Town” about how he had a hand in the ‘60s updated design of the 4150, the 3310.
She stated, “In 1962, Smokey was doing some consulting work for Pontiac. For the project, he told them they needed a big 850 carburetor and that he had already talked to Carter, Holley, and Rochester.
The manufacturers told him that they didn’t need one that big, so Smokey and buddy Ralph Johnson cobbled an old Holley truck carb into an 850 cfm unit that was mostly Bondo with aluminum and pot metal. It wasn’t spectacular on the limited dyno tests, so Pontiac passed on it.”
Trish continued, “A little bit later Bunky Knudsen, a big wig from Chevy called Smokey and asked if they could “look at” [the cobbled carb], so Smokey sent it to them. Then, three months later Smokey received a call from Knudsen, who told my father that they made a deal with Holley to build the 850.”
In 1965, the new list number 3310 (a model 4150 carb), made its smash debut on the 375-horsepower 396ci engine that came in the 1965 Z-16 Chevelle. It only lasted for one year as an OE production carburetor, but it had been such a huge success as a performance carburetor that Holley released it as an aftermarket carburetor in 1966, available to the masses.
The 3310 started out as a 4150 model with primary and secondary metering blocks and in the 1970s, Holley changed it to a 4160 model with a secondary metering plate. Since the 4160’s introduction, it has been one of Holley’s best selling carburetors and has been listed in Hot Rod Magazine’s Hot Rod Speed Parts Hall of Fame as one of top 10 speed parts ever produced that have had a significant impact on hot rodding as we know it.
The biggest changes to the 4150 were the increased cfm, the new fuel bowls with externally adjustable center-hung fuel floats, and dual-feed fuel inlets.
The float regulates how much fuel is in the float bowl by operating the needle and seat, which allows fuel to flow into the bowl. There are two basic float designs for Holley carburetors; center-hung and side-hung. Center-hung floats pivot from the center of the bowl.
The side-hung float hangs on the side of the float bowl and pivot point location makes it more susceptible to fuel slosh and fuel starvation when driving cars faster than they were meant to be, so higher performance Holley carburetors use center-hung floats.
Truck applications that do more incline and climbing maneuvers typically operate better with side-hung floats.
The benefit of dual-feed fuel inlets is the increased amount of fuel fed to the carburetor on high performance applications. A single inlet to a carb with a transfer-tube delivering fuel to the secondary fuel bowl can have problems feeding enough fuel for larger cubic inch performance applications sustaining high-RPM for longer periods of time.
Enter The Factory Mulit-Carbs And Dominators
In 1967, Holley released the performance Model 2300 two-barrel carburetors for the triple-carbureted “Tri Power” fuel system for the 1967 Chevrolet 427 Corvette. These carburetors also went on to be used as “Six Pack” multi-carb setups for Chryslers.
In 1968, Holley was working with Ford on production of a new carburetor designed to fill the requirements of extra-thirsty racing cars.
Ford was operating their Total Performance campaign of domination of world motorsports venues around the world between 1962 and 1970 and in 1969, the Holley 4500 was a key player in making that happen. The cars equipped with the 4500s were for racing in NASCAR and in SCCA (Trans-Am)…cars with high horsepower and high-winding racing engines.
Bobby Writesman of Holley said, “The biggest day for the Holley 4500 carburetor was when it hit the track at the Daytona 500 on February 23, 1969 on Lee Roy Yarbrough’s ’69 Torino Cobra.” He went on to say, “Lee Roy’s Torino broke the track record by 7 mph at 157.95 mph and for 1969, the 4500 went on to break records and win races for Cale Yarborough, Al Unser, Parneli Jones, Richard Petty, and more.”
The carbs were so sought after by professional racers and production was low enough that they were not to be released to the public until after January 1970.
The 4500 had no name, but was being called the “Mystery Carb” when it first came out at Daytona and some were calling it the “Elephant Carb.” Holley wanted a better name, so they ran a “Name the Carb Contest.” You had to send in your best suggestions by November 15, 1969.
The advertisement stated, “The winner will be flown to the 1970 Winternationals at Pomona to receive a Holley 4500 carburetor identical to the one on Lee Roy Yarbrough’s winning car at the Daytona 500.”
We’re not sure who won the naming contest, but we love the well-deserved chosen name of Dominator.
In 1971, Holley introduced the Model 4165/4175 spread-bore carburetors designed to be a better performing replacement for the factory installed Quadra-Jet. The spread-bore design allowed the 4165/4175 Holley to bolt directly into place without an adapter.
Fixing Yesterday’s Mistakes
In 1992, Holley figured out how to fix an age-old power valve design flaw. Since the beginning of the 2300, 4150, 4160, 4165, and 4175 model production, there had been a common problem of blowing the power valves. If your engine backfired through the carburetor, the powerful surge of air through the passages would typically break the power valve diaphragm.
In 1992 Holley figured out a way to keep this from happening by adding a spring-loaded check ball in the power valve passage. All power valve-equipped Holleys produced since 1992 come factory-equipped with this power valve protection. They also sell retrofit kits (PN:125-500) for about $20 to modify pre-’92 Holley carbs.
In 1993, Holley introduced its HP Pro Series race-ready carburetors. A few of the features Dominator-specific features finally end up being incorporated into a Model 4150 carb; like fuel bowls with left and right fuel line attachments, contoured venturi inlet, and screw-in (changeable air bleeds).
In 2009, the HP Series Street Avenger and Double Pumper carburetors hit the scene. Made with cast aluminum bodies with billet metering blocks and base plates, their lightweight configuration reduce weight a whopping five pounds.
In 2011, Holley released a new aluminum Ultra HP 4150 Series carb with a total of 30 new improved features, which is five pounds lighter that previous 4150s and has larger 1.6-inch venturis. Bill Tichenor, Director of Marketing for Holley said that as engines get bigger, “Holley is responding with bigger carbs.”
Other new updates are 20 percent more fuel capacity in the fuel bowls, jet placement, anti-slosh baffles, and air bleed designs. Bill also stated, “Technology is allowing racers to monitor engines a lot closer, which allows for better fine-tuning” and the new carbs are giving better results.
We hope you enjoyed the history lesson. Too bad they didn’t teach all this to us in school, we may have paid a little more attention in class! Now check out our Top 10 Favorite Holleys of all time!
Rod Authority Top 10 Favorite Carbs
We have to start with the coolest looking nostalgia carburetor. The Holley 94. A lot of them were produced between 1939 and 1957, so they have been plentiful over the years with traditional hot rodders, but are getting harder to find. Even though they don’t run as great as the newer carbs, the can run great with some modern tweaks. Plus they are necessary to carry out the correct look on top of a flathead.
Why It’s Cool: If you’ve ever seen a vintage ‘rod running a wickedly-induced flathead Ford, you can betcha it was wearing a handful of these babies.
The famous two-barrel carbs that make up the Six-Pack and Tri-Power setups made the list. The performance versions of the 2300 have the center-hung float bowls. They almost look like a Model 4150 cut in half.
With a whopping 1050 (or 1350) cfm they laid waste to a lot of rubber and have been popular swaps, but have been somewhat hard to find until recently when Holley started reproducing them and they are very close to the original units.
Why It’s Cool: Seriously? If we have to explain why triple deuces are cool, you need to turn in you car lover card right here and now. Big league hitters like the GTO and the cartoonish Mopar twins ran these bad boys.
This is one of the most basic 600 cfm four-barrel Model 4160 carburetors you can get for a stock to mild small-block.
It comes with a manual choke and universal jets, power valve, and non-adjustable (without an additional kit) vacuum secondaries.
It has a single feed inlet, three vacuum ports, and standard Dichromate finish. This one has no frills and is a great starter carb. The 0-80457S 600 cfm carb is basically the same as the 0-1850C but it has an electric choke function with a great looking polished finish.
Why It’s Cool: Just because these two aren’t all that sexy, it does earn some serious brownie points for being utilitarian. It’s the 0-1850C and the 0-80457S that helped establish Holley as the “everyman’s carburetor.”
Here’s a Model 4175 650 cfm Spread Bore carburetor designed to be a legal universal replacement for Rochester carburetors without the need for a typical adapter plate for factory and aftermarket Spread Bore intake manifolds.
Why It’s Cool: It might not look that intimidating, but it was this dynamo that powered some of the mightiest FE-powered big block Blue Ovals on the road. Steve McQueen would approve.
This Model 4150 Street Avenger 670 cfm carburetor is the perfect size for serious high performance street engines. The vacuum secondaries and electric choke make it perfect for the street.
It comes equipped with a quick-change adjustable vacuum secondary cover, four vacuum ports, externally adjustable needle and seat, clear sight windows, street performance tuned metering blocks, provisions for automatic transmission attachments, and shiny zinc plating.
Why It’s Cool: When people started taking the fight to the streets (like they weren’t already!), the first Holley Street Avenger was the veritable switch blade knife in the street fighter’s back pocket. A perfect combination of street manners and in-your-face fuel-and-air delivery made the 0-80670 a winner in everybody’s book.
Model 4150 Double Pumpers are cool. This one is 650 cfm and is perfect for hot street and strip small blocks with manual transmissions or automatics with a high stall converter and/or low gears that see higher RPM on a regular basis. It’s a bare bones performance carb that features mechanical secondaries, manual choke, two-corner idle adjustments, dual feed fuel bowls, screw-in sight plugs, center-hung floats, and shiny zinc coating.
The 0-4779S Double Pumper is the same as the 0-4777S, but this one is 750 cfm for bigger engines running at higher RPM. This carb has one additional feature, it comes with 4-corner idle adjustment for more precise idle circuit tuning.
Why It’s Cool: We’ve got three words for you: Holley Double Pumper. Doesn’t that just send shivers down your spine? While four-barrels had been around a while, Holley’s double pumpers were new to the scene, and did the 4150 ever make a splash…and it seemed like Detroit knew the score as well. Big block Corvettes? Had ‘em. BOSS Mustangs? Ditto. Super Sport Chevelles? You betcha.
This Model 4150 HP Series racing carburetor is an 830 cfm unit that’s great for high-winding circle track small blocks. It features annular boosters, notched floats, jet extensions, Dominator fuel bowls with fuel inlets on the left and right side, 4-corner idle adjustments, race calibrated metering blocks, and contoured venturi inlet for smooth air flow.
Why It’s Cool: It’s the carb loved by racers – be ‘em NASCAR or circle track racers. Considering that, this carb features all the quick-to-tune features enjoyed by racers and street machine drivers alike. Plus, including quite a few big boy tricks of the Dominator, this sucker is a real winner.
Dominator carburetors are the top of the food chain when it comes to drag racing carburetors for thirsty engines that require lots of fuel in a hurry. The 8082 is one of the smaller versions and is rated at 1050 cfm. The fuel bowls have inlets for right or left-mounted fuel lines, dual 50cc accelerator pumps, reduced turbulence contoured Venturii inlet, screw-in air bleeds for precision tuning, high-flow racing metering blocks, large annular boosters, and vibration resistant construction.
Why It’s Cool: “What’s in a name?” the poet once said. Well, if there was ever a more aptly named anything we haven’t seen it. The Dominator truly dominates.