OK, we get it. LS engines are more awesome than a unicorn carrying a six-pack of beer, but going LS can be a bit hard on the wallet. Part of this is the cost of that luscious aluminum engine, but another big chunk of change is swallowed up by buying all the other expensive widgets needed, like a fuel system, computer, and tuning. Great performance can still be had on a workingman's budget by sticking with the time-tested Gen-I small-block. It's a bit heavier than its modern alloy cousin, but for most people it's not going to matter much. And besides, with all the leftover cash, you'll feel pretty damn awesome.
Whenever the term "budget build" comes up, we get a little skittish. After all, what someone considers "budget" is directly proportional to the heft of their wallet. Now, we could build a cheaper engine than what you'll see here, but we wanted something realistic and not an engine held together with hope and bailing wire. For example, iron heads are cheaper, but we felt aluminum heads were worth the extra coin. The valvetrain we selected was a hydraulic roller even though going flat tappet would have dropped a decent chunk of change off our final tally. Why? Reliability. Today's oils are not flat-tappet friendly and after flattening a few cams, we decided that roller was the way to go. Besides, roller parts have come down enough in price to make the upgrade far less financially painful than it used to be. And any money you save by going flat tappet will instantly evaporate if you have some bad luck and junk up a set of lifters and a cam. We also decided to roll with a couple of ARP bolt kits. The stock bolts were a mess and the $180 we spent on head bolts and an accessory bolt kit seemed like a better deal compared to the hours it would take to rehab what we had. The result is a small-block that tipped the balance sheet at right around $4,000 carb to pan, but doesn't include the machine shop bill.
Could you do it cheaper? Sure. But our little 383 is rock solid, looks good, and makes a tick more power than a new LS3. Best of all, you can drop it in your Camaro without giving a thought to things like computers, EFI fuel systems, or any of the other minutiae involved with LS engine swaps. Our donor engine came from Project Orange Krate. The internals were a mess, but the block was good to go.
To build the engine, we hit up the guys at Evod Garage in Escondido, California. They churn out mega-horsepower engines for NMCA drag cars, so our simple small-block hardly registered on their challenge scale.
At the Machine Shop
Hot Tank, Mag block, Bake, and Shot Peen $125
Surface Block $140
Bore and Hone with Torque Plates $225
Line Hone Mains $140
Pin Fit Pistons $45
Pin Fit Rods $45
Resize Rods $90
Balance Rotating Assembly $220
1. The basis for our build was this seasoned GM block. This engine once lived in Project Orange Krate, but was pulled in favor of an LS mill. Even though it had an awful rod knock, we felt it deserved a new lease on life. The block did require a trip to the machine shop where it was worked over. This set us back $630, but the end result is a more reliable block for our build. We had this in the leftover pile, but if you hunt around you should be able to find a decent donor block for around $200. Your machine shop bill will vary based on the condition of the block.
2. Our block turned out to be one of the earlier, stronger high-nickel content ones. Some clues to this are the extended transmission bolt bosses and the rectangular pads in the valley area (blue arrow).
3. The G along with the 010 and 020 stamps are also indicators that this is one of the better blocks. Sure, it's a two-bolt main, but at these power levels the four-bolt version would only be good for bragging rights.
4. Here's a builder's tip: Before installing the Clevite cam bearings (PN 757-CH8, $29) Chris Pollock deburred the inside edges. This prevents small scratches from being made on the cam journals when the cam gets slid into place. If you don't have the right tool they are a pain to install, but most machine shops will get them in place for around $50.
5. Our valvetrain consists of COMP's retrofit kit (PN K12-415-8, $950), which includes a hydraulic-roller cam, link-bar roller lifters, pushrods, roller-tip rockers, springs, guides, retainers, locks, and a timing chain. The specs on the cam are 224/236 at 0.50-inch with an LSA of 113. Lift numbers are 0.502-inch intake and 0.520-inch exhaust. This is a great size for a car that's going to see the street way more than the track.
6. Building a reliable and long-lasting engine is all about the tolerances. Chris checks everything twice to make sure there won't be problems down the line. Here he double-checks the mains with a micrometer. His goal is to have just a hair over 0.003-inch clearance, which he did.
7. The main player in our stoker build is this rotating kit from Speedway Motors (PN 915-10247, $680). It includes forged rods, pistons, bearings, and this cast SCAT 3.750-inch crankshaft. If you feel the need for all forged parts, expect to shell out an additional $700. Speedway will balance the assembly and side-clearance the rods for $220 (including balancer). Before installing the crank, we popped in our new brass freeze plugs (PN 577-PE100BR, $12).
8. The 4-inch KB hypereutectic dished pistons came T-5 heat-treated and with features like full floating wristpins and triple-wound spiral locks. For our application, we ordered them 0.030-inch over, but they can be had 0.040- and 0.060-inch over as well. The Speedway Motors rotating kit came with 6-inch 5141 forged I-beam Pro Comp connecting rods. To meet our engine builder's standards, we had the rods pin-fitted and sized by our machine shop. This cost us $180, but given the importance of rods, we felt it was money well spent.
9. We then slid the pistons and rods into place. Before doing this, we made sure to give the bore walls a liberal coating of oil, and we were careful not to ding the crank with the end of the rods during installation. Rings weren't included in the rotating kit so we ordered a Total Seal Kit (PN 718CR3690, $100) from Speedway.