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.
10. Just like there's an up and down to the piston, there's an inside and outside edge on the rod. This is how it should align to the crank.
11. Whether or not your rods smack the block in a stroker will be determined mostly by the design of your rods. Only a couple of our cylinders had clearance issues, and in these spots we torqued the bolts to 45 ft-lb, marked the fasteners, removed them, and shaved them down a bit.
12. After installing our COMP Magnum double-row timing set (PN 2100), Chris went through the procedure to degree the cam. After making sure the Number One cylinder was at top dead center (TDC), he set the pointer on the wheel. The COMP card called out for the cam to be installed at 108.0, but since our chain only had three adjustment points, we had to choose between installing it on a 106 or 110 intake centerline. COMP does offer timing sets with more adjustability, but we were satisfied with the cam being set to 106. Once done, we installed our Speedway steel timing cover (PN 910-17402, $9) using some of the black six-point fasteners from our ARP engine assembly kit (PN 534-9801, $102).
13. Chris also double-checked and found that our pistons were just where we wanted them at zero deck. We might try a little forced induction down the line so we built the engine at a boost-friendly 9:1 compression. Without the blower, this will also let us run the engine on el cheapo 87-octane gas.
14. The COMP retrofit kit came with a Delron button (PN 202), but we had to scrounge around the shop for a retaining plate. Also, due to the face design of our timing cover, Chris had to shave a bit off the button to get a perfect fit.
15. For the oiling system we went with a Speedway high-volume oil pump (PN 577-OP55HV, $30). We paired this with Speedway's steel oil pan (PN 910-9005, $30) and their oil pump driveshaft (PN 545-22070, $15).
16. At just $896 for the pair, it's hard to imagine a better deal out there than these 195cc BluePrint heads from Speedway (PN 910-8002). They spec out with 75cc runners, 64cc combustion chambers, and come fully assembled. The stainless valves are 2.02- and 1.60-inch, while the valveguides are manganese. The heads came assembled, so we took the easy route of running these springs rather than the ones that came in COMP kit.
17. Using the head gaskets from our gasket kit (PN 915-2350, $30), we installed the BluePrint heads and secured them using hex bolts from our ARP head bolt kit (134-3601, $80). We could have reused the stock bolts, but for $80, this was a much easier and stronger option.
18. Next to go in were the lifters from the COMP kit (PN 853-16). These hydraulic roller full-travel link-bar lifters are far easier to use than trying to modify the block for a spider setup.
19. Also in the COMP kit were these Magnum roller-tip rockers (PN 1412-16). They were installed using the included pinch nuts, but we had to use a very thin-wall socket to get them secured and adjusted in place. If you have the coin, invest in a set of poly locks, which are easier to deal with.
20. To top off our long block, we ordered a Weiand Speed Warrior dual-plane aluminum intake manifold (PN 8150, $145) and a Holley 4150 Street HP 750 carb (PN 0-82750, $505).
21. After installing the balancer that came in the Speedway kit, valve covers (PN 910-17104, $90), SuperSeal steel-core gaskets (PN 910-17001, $15), and the blueprinted HEI CNC-machined distributor (PN 910-12342, $70) we were ready to pour in some 30-weight oil, spin on a K&N oil filter, and fire up the stroker.
22. After jinking with the timing a bit, (the carb was good to go right out of the box), Westech's Steve Brule found the engine's sweet spot at 34 degrees. From then on the engine was very consistent as you can see by these two back-to-back pulls. Peak torque was at 4,200 rpm, but more important is that there was over 400 lb-ft from the start of the pull at 2,900 rpm all the way to 5,700 rpm, which equates to a fun street car engine. Peak power was at 5,800 rpm, and it would have made a bit more with the stiffer valvesprings that were included in the COMP kit. Still, it's a solid engine built with all-new parts putting out more power than an LS3.