Subscribe to the Free

Horsepower Combos - Horsepower Rules

10 Real-World, Proven Power Combos You Can Build

Bob Mehlhoff May 23, 2007

Big cylinder heads, roller camshafts, and monster cubic inches help produce impressive power figures. Each month we test a variety of power combos using many of these cool parts to bring you the latest tire-shredding buildups, dyno results, and track numbers. But much of the engine-building excitement takes place outside the pages of the car-magazine world. These guys rely on combinations assembled in hometown garages and shops to develop huge power. No crate engines or catalog motors here. Just custom engine builds with off the-shelf components to power their hot street cruisers and weekend haulers.

To scope out the action we spent plenty of time at the track, lurking around the dyno rooms, and on the street, searching for the best engines we could find. Cumulatively, we logged plenty of miles, but in the end we were rewarded with potent mills and the chassis to harness them. No boring powerplants here, only real-world, and only those that scorched our fancy, including machines that sported 800 horses with people who aren't afraid to drive them on pump-friendly petrol.

In the end, we had a difficult time whittling down to our favorites, but suffice it to say, we certainly found 10 of the coolest combinations; each of which stands out on its own and deserve full merit for its achievements on and off the street. We should note that most of our heroes prefer pump gas and, without a doubt, that's just the way we like them. Is there a pay-off to building something similar? You better believe it. With the big dyno numbers or killer e.t.'s, these guys are the envy of their neighborhoods, leaving us in daze, and pushing us to be more like them.

0706ch_01_z Horsepower_combos 2/20

Mike Saiki's 700hp 377ci small-block- powered Corvette produces some very low e.t.'s with an easy-to-follow combo. Just use a relatively light car and steep gears, and build an engine combo that produces low torque to help traction and high rpm. Add in a 300hp nitrous kick, a real loose converter, and a set of Mickey Thompson rubber and dip into the 8s. As Mike puts it, "I roll out on the motor about a car length, hit the nitrous, and keep just a little tire spin happening so that the front of the car doesn't yank the wheels up."


Steve Mundy's '72 Camaro was one of the most impressive cars we saw: big rear tires, a mammoth big-block, and a loud rumble at idle. Steve bought the ex-racecar online minus the engine. The guys at Ace Machine in Riverside, California, assembled the 564ci Rat, and Westech Performance dyno-tested the engine. When we first arrived to shoot Steve's Camaro he told us he just checked with his insurance company, and we could take the Camaro for a spin around town. One thing we especially liked was the Camaro's license frame that reads "9 seconds on pump gas."

With nearly 2 tons to move, Les Hays wanted to make certain that he would not have a power problem. So he assembled his own 588-inch big-block that converts pump gas into over 800 happy horses. Les's engine develops huge power by flowing lots of air through a set of Air Flow Research cylinder heads that flow 385 cfm measured at 0.600-inch lift. The bumpstick is a very big solid roller. We had a chance to hear the thunder of this motor and can attest that it is awesome.

When Dave was just 19 years old, he bought his '00 Camaro new. For the first few years he meticulously detailed the Camaro and won several car shows in Stock classes. After a few dozen events he needed something more exciting, so he decided to make the engine larger and add a blower. With some help from the guys at Morgan Motorsports in Reseda, California, an ATI-1SC supercharger providing 12 psi, and a reworked big-bore LS1 motor, the F-body missiles easily into sub-9-second e.t.'s.

Craig Boone designed his motor to power this G-machine rapidly through the turns and quickly down the dragstrip. The 421-inch small-block is built from a Motown all-aluminum block that is topped off with AFR heads modified by Slover's Porting Service in Sun Valley, California. Ollie's Machine Shop in Van Nuys, California, completed the engine assembly. Fuel delivery is electronic with an ACCEL DFI unit. With 445 rear-wheel horsepower, Craig spends Saturday afternoons looking for unsuspecting Viper and Z06 owners. The F-body keeps contact with the ground using suspension items from DSE, Global West, Hotchkis, and Guldstrand.

Scott Miller knows it takes a truck to haul, so to his factory 355 small-block he's added both a supercharger and a dose of nitrous. With the supercharger, better breathing cylinder heads, and a high-lift cam (minus the funny stuff) the combo has produced over 500 horses and 500 lb-ft on the dyno. To feed those extra horses, he improved the fuel system with parts from Holley. What's especially fun is that on the track the 4,000-pound pickup stops the clocks in the low-12-second zone.

This Nova may look like just another show car, but it packs some impressive power. Under the flaming flanks Chuck built a 406 small-block from a stock GM two-bolt main block and added AFR 210 cylinder heads, a hydraulic roller camshaft, a moderate amount of compression, and an adjustable NOS 150-horse kit. An MSD ignition system ignites the air/fuel charge. The package has been dragstrip-tested to power the X-body through the quarter-mile in the low-11-second range.

Chuck Immormino
'71 Nova
Displacement406 ci
Block400 GM two-bolt
Bore x Stroke4.155 x 3.75-inches
Carburetor750 Holley reworked by the Carb Shop to flow 830 cfm
IntakeEdelbrock Victor Jr.
Camshaft Specs
Comp Cams hydraulic roller
Valve lift0.540/0.562 inch
Duration @ 0.050242/248
Lobe separation110 installed on a 106
Cylinder heads
AFR 210
Valve size2.05/1.64-inch
Rockers1.5:1, Crane Rollers aluminum
Power Adder
NOS 150 kit
TransmissionTH400, manual valve body built by Denny Savage
Rearend12-bolt, bearings, Moser 39-spline, Detroit locker, narrowed, mini-tubbed
Rear rubber
29x13.50 Hoosier Quick Time Pro
Peak Horsepower525 @ 6,000 rpm
Performance11.18 @ 128 mph

What we especially like about Mike's small-block Nova is that it runs 10s and looks so unsuspecting. The well-thought-out combo is more that just an impressive engine build; it's a total vehicle system that puts the X-body deep into the bottom-10-second quarter-mile class. Gaining power from a 414-inch small-block with lots of compression and no squeeze, engine dyno-testing has recorded over 600 horses. Mike is also a regular at his nearby eighth-mile track, where he dials in his car's 60-foot times.

By car number nine we finally figured it out. Buy a reasonably priced '68-74 Nova and spend the rest of your budget on the motor and drivetrain. Pete's gameplan enlists a common 383 small-block, some very good-flowing Dart Iron Eagle Platinum cylinder heads, a five-speed trans, and a decent shot of NOS. The combo makes for a very low 12-second e.t. The combination is also well suited for long cruises with the overdrive trans and hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft. Better yet, it's his daily driver.

The key to Gil's power combo is how well the selected parts complement one another. The cylinder heads, camshaft, and rearend ratio have been chosen to provide good mid- to upper-rpm power from the 383 small-block. The cylinder heads are good-flowing AFR aluminum items and the camshaft a reasonably stout hydraulic roller unit with moderate duration. The rearend ratio is a steep cog, but with the overdrive automatic, freeway driving is accomplished at low rpm. The package with a shot of NOS (applied in High gear only) propels the Camaro to low 12-second e.t.'s--on DOT tires and through the mufflers.


Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

sponsored links

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print