Although I remember my dad telling me that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, I've come to rely more on luck, since good continues to elude me. On the other hand, luck continues to fall right into my lap. Case in point: my recent trip to Westech for some dyno testing. Actually, the trip was more in preparation for an upcoming dyno day. You didn't really think these test engines built themselves did you?
As I muddled over which heads to install on the awaiting 383 Chevy, luck walked right up and introduced itself. In most cases, direct back-to-back dyno testing requires a great deal of preparation, even before you get to the actual day or days of dyno testing. Believe me, even with all the preparation in the world, dyno days often go astray. Things don't fit, bolts get stripped, and parts don't show up on time, but none of that matters because today (as luck would have it), the gang from Westech was already performing a direct back-to-back test, just the way I like it. To make things even better, the comparison went beyond the usual part A vs. part B; it pit brother against brother, in a high-performance civil war of sorts.
In addition to the cool comparison, the testing was also proof positive that high-performance from the past has found a way into the youth of tomorrow (despite MTV's best effort to the contrary). Without fresh blood in the system, the original small-block Chevy is doomed to follow the missing motors of yesteryear. Sure, we have the modern LS family to carry us over-and an impressive powerplant it is-but there is something about the assembly of an original 23-degree small-block that just feels like home.
Now that I've waxed nostalgic about an era I was far too young to appreciate from the driver seat (I was a mere 7 years of age when the LS6 Chevelle ruled the streets), it's time to get to the comparison. This particular motor was a small-block Chevy, a stroker version no less. Truth be told, the stroker was actually a factory 400 block and matching crank, making it not so much an aftermarket stroker as a large-displacement factory small-block. While 350 small-blocks are a dime a dozen, you don't often see 400 small-blocks being rung out on the dyno for all they're worth.
Upon inspection of the small-block, I noticed that it resembled a similar version currently residing out on an engine stand. Naturally, my first inclination was to review the power, as the motor in question had already been properly tuned and jetted. After expressing the observation that the two motors looked very similar (with the exception of the induction system), I was informed that the two motors were, in fact, identical. Each of the brotherly combinations were 400-inch small-blocks equipped with the same Eagle cast crank, Eagle rods, and Sealed Power hypereutectic (flat-top) pistons. In the interest of full disclosure, one combination required a .040 bore for proper clean up while the other made due with just .030 over.
Each combination was fitted with the same hydraulic roller cam profile. The custom Comp grind offered a .520/.540 lift split, a 236/242 duration split and a 110-degree lobe separation angle. Naturally, installation of the hydraulic roller cam profile in these early 400 blocks required the appropriate hydraulic roller retrofit kit. Since these two motors were destined for rat rods (stepping them up a few more notches on the cool scale), both were equipped with old-school Pete Jackson gear drives.
Since the buildups were definitely budget oriented, the 400s were topped with a set of Pro Comp aluminum cylinder heads. The aluminum heads naturally dropped precious pounds off the buildup (thereby improving the all-important power-to-weight ratio) and helped suppress detonation as well, thanks to the superior heat dissipation of aluminum. The Pro Comp heads featured 2.02-inch intake valves and 1.60 exhaust valves to maximize the flow of gases through each motor. Though not provided in the spec sheet, the chambers must be near 76cc to achieve the sub 10.0:1 compression ratio with the 3.75-inch stroke offered by the 400.
Additional performance touches included Mellings HV oil pumps and Edelbrock timing cover sets. Initially, the Pete Jackson gear drive and Edelbrock timing cover would not cooperate, as the cover was designed for a conventional double-roller timing chain. A little machining here and there and the two were finally able to coexist. Both motors were even equipped with identical Mallory ignition systems, right down to the 8mm plug wires.
While the brothers agreed on running identical 400-inch small-blocks, the civil war started with the induction system. While Joe Tally went with the tried-and-true single four-barrel carb setup, his brother Jesse stepped up to the impressive dual-quad system. With otherwise identical small-block Chevy motors, here's where the comparison test came in.
Truth be told, any intake manifold that goes up against the Edelbrock Performer RPM Air Gap is likely to have quite the uphill battle. Tested time and time again, the impressive dual-plane intake has proven itself a powerful performer, offering not just impressive peak power but a veritable avalanche of mid-range torque. Things get even more difficult for a dual-quad manifold, as we've never been able to match the power output of a single four-barrel with a dual-quad system in a modern street application. That said, the dual-quad has a lot more to offer than just horsepower. You're not likely to wow anyone at the local hot-rod morning meet by lifting the hood to reveal a single four-barrel, but dual quads are a whole different story. They may not match the power of a single-quad, but they more than make up for it in presence.