Building an engine yourself is something every hot rodder should try at least once. As gratifying as that experience may be, the smart hot rodders among us will simply order up a crate engine the second time around. With the competitive pricing of today's crate engines, it's becoming difficult for DIYers to save money by piecing together an engine themselves. Instead of waiting in line at the local machine shop for months on end, many enthusiasts find the immediate gratification of having a crate engine show up on your doorstep in just a few short weeks difficult to resist.
More than 20 years ago, Norris Marshall started building engines out of a small garage in Nebraska. A true hot rodder at heart, Norris built engines one by one for friends and fellow enthusiasts. Eventually, the growing popularity of his motors amongst drag racers, street rodders, and circle track racers prompted him to pursue engine building as a full-fledged career, and BluePrint Engines was born.
From the beginning, the plan was to develop and manufacture OE-quality engines for high-performance street cars. What started as a small catalog of performance crate engines has now expanded to include small- and big-block Chevys as well as LS-series offerings. BluePrint's broad product line ranges from value-packed 375hp first-gen small-blocks to high-tech 625hp fourth-gen engines to monster 815hp Rat motors packing 632 cubic inches.
Better yet, all BluePrint engines are backed by a 30-month/50,000-mile warranty. To get the inside line on what it takes to build top-notch crate engines—and get some more details on its line of proprietary blocks and cylinder heads, we recently chatted with Dru Freese and Chris Larson at BluePrint Engines.
Whether the procedure at hand is machine work, engine assembly, or dyno tuning; engine building is a highly specialized process, especially when those engines must appeal to a broad demographic with a broad range of preferences. As such, BluePrint Engines goes to great lengths to thoroughly engineer each of its crate engine packages from the ground up. "At BluePrint, we have a very strong engineering department. All of our engineers are car nuts just like the people they're building engines for, so they know what customers expect," Chris Larson explains. "When we design an engine from scratch, we analyze every last detail. New engines are first designed using advanced computer simulation software. This enables us to determine what compression ratio, cam timing, and cylinder head airflow we need to meet our customers' needs for power and drivability. Next, we determine which off-the-shelf components are available that meet our design goals, and which components need to be designed from scratch. Our design engineers will first draw up new components as a 3D model. This allows them to actually install the 3D model of a part onto a 3D model of an engine. Through computer animation, we can see how things will work together in a running engine. This is critical when you design high-stress components like crankshafts, rods and pistons. Additionally, 3D animation allows us to see how the parts interact and fit together. Our engineers can check clearances at that point before we go any further. From there, the parts are printed using our 3D printer. Again, we can assemble these parts together, this time using plastic prototypes. Once everything is validated, we can move on to the manufacturing process."
While some crate engine manufacturers keep costs down by sourcing parts from relatively unknown suppliers, BluePrint prides itself on working with the best aftermarket manufacturers in the industry. "BluePrint utilizes a combination of components manufactured by big-name aftermarket companies as well as parts that we have developed in-house. Our suppliers include household names like COMP Cams, Delphi, Mahle, Hastings, Melling, Fel-Pro, Cloyes, and Clevite," says Dru Freese. "When it comes to subcomponents, we always strive to deal directly with the manufacturer, particularly those that have a strong reputation in terms of engineering and quality control. Companies that develop products and have relationships with OE manufacturers fit this description very well. In order to warranty all of the engines we build, we have to source all our components from the best manufacturers in the industry."
Recently, BluePrint ramped up its product line with the addition of the LS-series small-block. Based on a brand new LS3 block and BluePrint's own proprietary cylinder head castings, these 427ci beasts kick out an impressive 625 hp. As no surprise, BluePrint's 427ci LS-series small-blocks are the product of years of intense R&D. "The LS engine platform, as designed by GM, is already an excellent product. For example, the LS3 cylinder heads are far superior to any factory 23-degree head used on the Gen I or Gen II small-block," Chris Larson explains. "We went a step further and developed a new proprietary BluePrint LS3 head casting by consulting with some of the best head porters in the country. In fact, our LS3 cylinder head was in development two years before we finally had what we wanted. Every prototype engine was dyno tested countless times to compare different camshafts, intake manifolds, and variations in intake port and combustion chamber design. We started out with combinations that we thought would work best for our baseline engine combos, and then addressed areas we felt could be improved until arriving at the best combination. It's not uncommon for an engine we are developing to be tested with dozens of different combinations of parts before finding the perfect formula."