The Ultimate Score – Are There Still Cheap “Junkyard” Engines?
For generations hot rodders have pulled bigger and more powerful engines out of other cars to use in their DIY hot rod projects. Back in the ’50s gearheads would spend hours hunting for Cadillac and Oldsmobile engines to use in their rods. In the ’60s builders started pulling Hemis, Pontiac 455s, Ford Cammers, and of course the big-block Chevys out of cars to power their gassers, T-buckets and other custom powered street machines.
However, most of these engines have become harder to find over the years, as many of them have already been pulled out of the junkyards, used in hot rods or blown up at the strip. This makes finding a suitable engine for a budget build a tough challenge. Thankfully, there are companies like BluePrint, Engine Quest, and others who offer reliable crate and performance engines at a fraction of the cost. But sometimes for the right look, and to stay under a very small budget – a little “dumpster diving” for engines might be a necessity.
Sure, the glory days of the junkyard engine are long gone since there are less classic musclecars found in junkyards these days. If your wallet is stopping you from starting the budget build that’s been sitting in your garage the last few years – here’s your chance to get back in gear! We’ll look at a few options, and also some tips and tricks with years to look out for when scoring your own budget engine for your project.
Chevrolet Junkyard Engine Options
Chevy engines have always made great donors for a hot rodder on budget. One of the main reasons is Chevy V-8s are highly common which makes them cheaper. Whether you are building a fiberglass T-bucket, a street rod, a drag car or a rat rod – Chevy engines make great affordable and powerful platforms offering a ton of aftermarket support. Some engines like the 454s, 427s, 409s, 396s and others have become more rare, hard to find and expensive. However, there are other Chevy V-8s that are easy to find and will make great power plants for any hot rod.
The 305 Engine
If you own a 3rd generation F-body, you’re familiar with the 305. While it may not be as powerful as its older sister, it still has potential to be a strong performance donor. 305s are easy to find and available in 3rd gen F-bodies, as well as ’80s EL Caminos, Caprices, Malibus, Monte Carlos, Buick Regals, Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Olds Cutlass. Performance is really easy to make from the 305 since companies like Edelbrock, Comp, Holley, and Crane Cams make performance parts as well as a slew of other companies offering everything from cylinder heads to cam upgrades.
The LT1 Engine
The LT1 is probably one of the best engineered engines to ever come from GM’s production line and is worth mentioning here. Now some of you old school guys may not want to use this motor if you are building a rat rod or a traditional hot rod. Which is fine, we understand and we will have more engines to suit your projects here in a bit. But for those who want modern fuel economy along with great performance but an engine that is simple then the LT1 is for you. The LT1 is a multiport fuel-injected version of the Chevy 350.
Stock the motor puts out 275 horsepower and 330 lb/ft of torque. Making more power is easy since the LT1 has a large aftermarket following and parts that are fairly inexpensive. These motors are commonly found in 4th generation F-bodies but can also be found in ’90s Chevy Caprices, Corvette C4s, ’90s Buick Roadmasters and the ’94-96 Impala SS.
The 327 and 350 Engines
If you are building a traditional hot rod or rat rod on a budget then an older power plant like the 327 is the engine for you. The 327 is one of the more affordable and easier to find classic engines. While the displacement is not as big as the 350, hot rodders and drag racers have used 327 engines for years and have made great power with all sorts of fun combinations.
Again, aftermarket performance parts are readily available. To find a 327 quickly and on the cheap you can browse forums, Craigslist, eBay, and of course like the others – your local junkyards. Look for any 1962 through 1967 Chevy (though still available through ’69). The easiest place to find one is in the ’60s Chevy truck, Van or Police car.
Left: Nice 327 all spruced up in its new home. Right: Chevy 350 just waiting for the picking.
We’re sure most of you know plenty about the 350. Chevy 350 crate motors are still a popular choice for builds due to their reliability, ease of use, and availability of performance aftermarket support. Although most 350s have already been robbed from the classic muscle cars, you can still find an affordable 350 in your local junkyard from any 1967 through 1980 Chevy Van, Sedan, Truck, or Police car. We recommend checking the Chevy C-10 or any GM Van. GMCs across the board are a good place to find a donor.
These aren’t the only Chevy or GM motors that make for good and affordable hot rod platforms. Pontiac motors such as the Pontiac 305, the 400, the 301 turbo, and the 455 also make for great donors. For these motors look in late 70s and early 80s Pontiacs.