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Barn-Find 409 Engine Rebuild - Unearthing A Legend, Part 2

Updating our barn-fresh 409 with aluminum heads and a roller valvetrain

Tommy Lee Byrd Jun 5, 2014
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We left off last month having just begun the 409 assembly process. The crankshaft is installed, and the remaining components are ready for final assembly. We had to send the connecting rods to the local machine shop to have the new ARP Wave-loc high-performance rod bolts (PN 134-6403) pressed into place, and then have the rods resized to be perfectly round. Now it’s time to get this barn-fresh W-engine updated to modern standards by installing a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads, and a complete roller valvetrain setup from Comp Cams.

Updating a 409 engine these days usually involves a stroker crank and modern low-profile pistons, but we chose to retain the stock bottom end, as it had survived many years of abuse on the dragstrip, and we figured it would withstand our abuse as well. The advantage of the modern rotating assembly is reliability, especially at high rpm. With the stock bottom end, our ceiling for rpm is around 6,000, due to the very heavy piston design and weak connecting rods. A stroker build, even with a lower compression ratio, would gain at least 50 hp, and it would let us turn the engine higher. If we were seeking all-out horsepower, we would’ve certainly gone the stroker route, but that would’ve required machining the flawless block. Our decision was to retain the stock rotating assembly, in spite of leaving horsepower and reliability on the table. Wish us luck—we might need it!

Although the bottom end is stock, we updated the engine with a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads. These heads are half the weight of the original iron castings, and the ports are designed to flow 273 cfm (intake) and 216 cfm (exhaust) at 0.600-inch lift, which is where our camshaft maxes out. The cylinder heads have the stock valve sizing of the popular “690” heads, which were used in 1962 and 1963 high-performance 409 engines—intake valves measure 2.19 inches and exhaust valves measure 1.72 inches. Why would Edelbrock make a set of aftermarket heads and keep the stock valve size? A larger set of valves would require machine work on the block and piston, as the unique combustion chamber design creates tight tolerances, even with the 2.19/1.72 valves. Edelbrock wanted its heads to be true bolt-ons and did its homework to make that concept a reality. Our stock 409 short-block required no preparation for the new cylinder heads.

We ordered the Edelbrock 60815 heads, which came complete with valvesprings designed for a hydraulic roller camshaft. This brings up another way of updating our barn-fresh 409 to modern standard—a hydraulic roller camshaft and valvetrain. We called the folks at Comp Cams to help us determine the appropriate profiles for this engine, making sure to have all the horsepower ramped in before our rpm ceiling of 6,000. The end result is a camshaft with 236 degrees of duration on the intake side and 242 degrees on the exhaust side at 0.050-inch lift. Maximum lift is 0.578/0.593, which is right at the limit of our valvesprings. We used Comp Cams’ retro-fit link bar roller lifters (PN 8959-16), as they are a direct drop-in product with no modifications necessary. We added a set of Comp Cams Ultra Pro Magnum roller rocker arms (PN 1620-16), which feature a chrome-moly construction and a 1.7:1 ratio.

Our updates will result in better airflow, smoother valvetrain operations, and lighter weight, all of which equals horsepower. The new combination is designed to work with our stock rotating assembly, and it should make peak power right before our 6,000-rpm limit. Be sure to check out next month’s installment of “Unearthing a Legend” to see the finishing touches on this historic 409 and exactly how much power it makes on the dyno.

409 Engine Rebuild Arp Studs 2/28

1. When we left you last month, we had installed the ARP main studs and the original forged crankshaft into the 409 block. The remaining components in the rotating assembly can now be installed.

409 Engine Rebuild Original Pistons 3/28

2. We’re using the original pistons, which are GM 3819377 units. These forged units are original for high-performance 409s and provide an 11:1 compression ratio. We used a ring groove cleaner before installing the rings.

409 Engine Rebuild Hastings Steel Rings 4/28

3. While many engine builders rely on file-fit moly rings for high-performance builds, we went back to the basics with a set of Hastings steel rings. We slid them into place, making sure there was no binding.

409 Engine Rebuild Ring Compressor 5/28

4. Show Cars Automotive sells a 409-friendly ring compressor, so that’s what we used for our build. Otherwise, you must carefully feed the rings in by hand, because a standard ring compressor will not work with the odd angle of the deck surface.

409 Engine Rebuild Arp Fastener Lubricant 6/28

5. Once the pistons were tapped into the cylinders, we made sure the connecting rod was seated firmly against the journal. We then installed the rod caps, and brushed some ARP Ultra Torque lube on the threads to ensure proper torque specs.

409 Engine Rebuild Torque Lube 7/28

6. Heavy weight motor oil was used to pre-lubricate the Clevite rod bearings during assembly. We tightened the ARP Wave-loc rod bolts to 55 ft-lb using the Ultra Torque lube. Always refer to original torque specs when using original-style rod bolts.

409 Engine Rebuild Oil Pump 8/28

7. A standard oil pump slides over the ARP stud, and will provide sufficient lubrication for the 409. After the pickup tube was test- fitted and adjusted, we tack-welded it into place.

409 Engine Rebuild Red Loctite 9/28

8. The ARP main stud kit came with extra-long studs for the windage tray and eight nuts to install the tray. Red Loctite is used on the studs to prevent the nuts from backing off.

409 Engine Rebuild Nuts 10/28

9. Four of the eight nuts with the kit are used as a base for the windage tray—the base nuts are installed upside down to take advantage of the shoulder. Then the four retaining nuts are installed and tightened.

409 Engine Rebuild Oil Pan 11/28

10. If you’ve ever dealt with a 409, then you know the struggle of finding a decent oil pan. Reproduction pans are available, but a factory pan is much stronger to prevent leaks. We found this one at a swap meet for $200. Oil capacity is 6 quarts.

409 Engine Rebuild Camshaft 12/28

11. The Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft and retrofit link bar lifters are very important factors in updating this 409 engine. The camshaft profiles offer a broad horsepower range, and the roller configuration certainly frees up a few horsepower.

409 Engine Rebuild Camshaft Plugs 13/28

12. As we prepare to install the camshaft, it is important to note the two plugs just above the camshaft bore. These oil galley plugs were originally pressed into place, but you can have your local machine shop drill and tap them to install threaded plugs.

409 Engine Rebuild Cam Lifter Lube 14/28

13. Before sliding the camshaft into place, we coat the lobes with Cam & Lifter Installation Lube from Comp Cams. As we prepare to install the camshaft, we also coat the journals and cam bearings with heavy weight motor oil.

409 Engine Rebuild Camshaft Install 15/28

14. As the camshaft is installed, you should feel a slight bit of resistance each time a journal passes through a bearing. If the camshaft binds, do not force it, as this could result in bearing damage. If you do not have a camshaft installation tool, you can bolt the sprocket to the end of the camshaft to provide more leverage.

409 Engine Rebuild Double Roller Timing Set 16/28

15. The Comp Cams double roller timing set is installed. We installed the camshaft straight up, meaning the dot on the lower sprocket is lined up with the dot on the cam sprocket.

409 Engine Rebuild Top End 17/28

16. The other big aspect of updating this engine is the top end setup we ordered from Edelbrock. The Performer RPM cylinder heads are half the weight of the original iron castings, and they came fully assembled with valvesprings, 7/16-inch rocker arm studs and guideplates.

409 Engine Rebuild Cylinder Heads Valve Springs 18/28

17. We ordered the cylinder heads with valve springs that are set up for hydraulic roller camshafts with maximum lift capabilities of 0.600 inch. Comp Cams offers more aggressive valvesprings if needed, but keep in mind that more than 0.600-inch valve lift may require custom pistons.

409 Engine Rebuild Edelbrock Heads Valve 19/28

18. The Edelbrock cylinder heads feature stock valve sizing to ensure a true bolt-on experience. No machine work is necessary to install the Edelbrock heads on a stock short-block. Notice the lack of combustion chamber in the cylinder head—the combustion events occur inside the cylinder.

409 Engine Rebuild Fel Pro Gaskets 20/28

19. Fel-Pro gaskets are used, and the Edelbrock heads are installed onto the dowel pins.

409 Engine Rebuild Arp Head Bolts 21/28

20. Before the ARP head bolts can be installed, we must first remove one of the rocker arm studs from each pedestal. Then we rotate the guideplate far enough to allow the bolt to slide into the bolthole. This also provides enough clearance for a socket.

409 Engine Rebuild Arp Thread Sealer 22/28

21. As we install the ARP head bolts, we apply ARP thread sealer to each bolt. Every head bolt in a 409 is a wet bolt, so thread sealer is a must if you don’t want coolant leaks. Don’t forget to also coat the threads in ARP Ultra Torque to ensure proper torque specs.

409 Engine Rebuild Torque Bolts 23/28

22. Starting in the middle of the cylinder head and working our way outward in a clockwise pattern, we torqued the ARP head bolts. We tightened the bolts in three steps, with a final torque reading of 70 ft-lb.

409 Engine Rebuild Comp Cams Retro Fit Link Lifters 24/28

23. We begin the valvetrain assembly by installing the Comp Cams retrofit link bar roller lifters. The link bar is pointed away from the block surface, and the lifters should easily drop into place.

409 Engine Rebuild Rocker Arms 25/28

24. The Comp Cams Ultra Pro Magnum rocker arms offer a lightweight and very durable construction. Rocker arm ratio is 1.7:1 for this application.

409 Engine Rebuild Pushrods Lube 26/28

25. Before sliding the rocker arms onto the studs, we used the Cam & Lifter Installation Lube on the ends of the pushrods and valvesprings. These surfaces see a lot of friction on initial startup, so pre-lubrication is always suggested.

409 Engine Rebuild Rocker Arm Nuts 27/28

26. We threaded the rocker arm nuts loosely into place. We will adjust the valves in next month’s installment.

409 Engine Rebuild Finished Long Block 28/28

27. The finished long-block is looking good, so check back next month when we put the finishing touches on the 409 and see how it handles a serious thrashing on the dyno.


Comp Cams
Memphis, TN 38118
Torrance, CA 90503



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