How To Build Your Project Car Engine On A Budget

Hot Rod Build Budget: $2,000 – $2,500

Now we can dive into the engine. Finally! So far, we’ve dealt mainly with bolt-ons and external engine components. To make more power with a naturally aspirated engine, we must improve breathing with cylinder heads and a camshaft. Edelbrock was a very early promoter of the dyno-tested, packaged-power concept with the simple creation of the Performer system way back in the early ’80s. The first effort was, of course, the small-block Chevy, and the company has since greatly expanded the system with multiple engine families.

Edelbrock now offers both Performer and Performer RPM combinations that include cylinder heads, camshaft, intake manifold, and a carburetor for most popular engines.

The brilliance behind packaging an intake manifold, heads, a cam, and a few valvetrain parts is that this makes it easier for an entry-level enthusiast to create a fully integrated combination. Of course, Edelbrock is not the only company offering packages.

There are dozens for both carbureted and EFI applications. For the EFI 5.0L Ford guy, Trick Flow Specialties (TFS) has created a Twisted Wedge package with a pair of heads, a TFS two-piece intake, a hydraulic roller cam and valvetrain, and all the gaskets.

TFS claims this system will make 350 hp from a 306ci short-block twisting 370 lb-ft of torque. That is awesome torque for such a little motor (1.17 lb-ft per cubic inch). The kit is PN TFS-K514-360-350, and at $2,700, it blows right past our $2,000 budget, so if you want it, better work some overtime.

We dyno’d a series of seven small-block cylinder heads on a mild small-block Chevy to establish power differences and compared them to price. This test first appeared in Car Craft a few years ago. What we discovered is that all of the heads we tested were worth no less than an average of 25 lb-ft increase in torque over stock heads. Some made much more.
Among the numerous Edelbrock Performer packages is the set of aluminum E-Tec 170cc intake port heads, a mild 212/222 at 0.050 hydraulic roller cam with 0.462/0.469-inch lift, a Performer EPS Vortec intake with a new timing set, and all the bolts and gaskets needed to make the swap. Edelbrock says this idles at 16 inches of vacuum, so it’s an excellent mild street engine package.

One advantage to later-model engines with roller cams is that you can reuse the original roller lifters with a new hydraulic roller cam. This is true for any late-model engine: small-block Chevys, small-block Fords, and especially the LS engines. This saves considerable expense over converting from a flat tappet cam to a hydraulic roller. This is a 2000-era hydraulic roller Ford 5.0L short-block.

If you are on a mac ’n’ cheese budget for your small-block Chevy, the iron Vortec heads offer great power at a minimal cost. Stock heads require machining the valve guide seal boss to allow valve lifts of over 0.450 inch. But Comp sells a cutter (PN 4726: $52.94) that you can use with a 0.5-inch drill motor to accomplish this. Or Scoggin-Dickey offers a new, modified Vortec head that will accept up to a 0.550-inch valve lift with machined valve seal bosses and better valve springs.

One issue with older EFI engines such as the 5.0L Ford or Chevy TPI is those OE computers use chips that must be “burned” each time there is a minor tune change. FAST offers a chance to employ the new self-learning fuel injection to an older system. This uses the EZ-EFI 1.0 ECU and a wiring harness. It controls only fuel, so a separate ignition system will be required. This kit is less than $900 and makes tuning these early EFI engines easy.

What’s next?

We could keep going into the hundreds of thousands, but you can figure this stuff out from here. The theory behind swapping in an LS engine or throwing a turbo on a Mopar 360 is no different from rebuilding the carb or upgrading the wiring. It’s all about getting the basics in place and being prepared for the sneaky costs.

If you’re going for big horsepower, you need to build the car around the engine. You’ll need to upgrade axles and third members, cooling systems, driveshaft, fuel delivery, brakes, wheels, and tires. It’s enough to make you panic if you look at it all at once, but just break it down and buy a piece at a time. You’ll get there.

via Roadkill