When it comes to customizing, we all do pretty much the same thing-we install aftermarket parts or take off the stock stuff and modify it to our liking. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking custom is the exterior. Trick wheels and an altered stance are the staples of a custom ride, but what about when you open the hood?
Most of the time people think of the motor as just a performance piece used to annihilate the rear tires instead of something to customize. It's one thing to impress your gearhead friends with the way your car sounds. It's even better if you can open the hood and show it not only sounds good, but looks good, too.
We decided to take a very common motor, a Gen I small-block Chevy, and dress it up in three different styles. We set forth to do a vintage, race, and full show look without spending too much money. We started with a bare long block so there are a few parts we needed just to make it a complete motor. If you already have a running car, than you won't need some of the stuff we picked up, which will bring down the cost quite a bit. For the most part, the looks are wrapped around the valve covers, air cleaner, and intake manifolds.
We will give you the mail order prices on everything to help you decide what to get, based on your budget. Plus, we have added some tips on the little things that take it from just a clean engine to a complete look. Instead of boring you with any more fluffy words we'll cut to the chase and get on with it.
The foundation for our story is a run of the mill small-block that we gave a fresh coat of paint, and yes we polished the freeze plugs. As you can see the motor is missing everything so we will need a few extra parts just to fire it up.
We hit up Weiand to provide the intakes for all three looks and it only took two, one raw aluminum ($118) and one with the new Everbright coating ($226). We selected the Action Plus dual-plane manifolds because they feature CNC machining and a power band that goes from idle to 5,500 rpm, which is perfect for most street engines. The new Everbright manifold coating is available on the most popular Weiand and Holley intakes. This new treatment uses proprietary vacuum metalizing technology combined with a protective clear powdercoat to provide long lasting, virtually maintenance free polished looks.
The Common Stuff JBA sent us a set of their Cat4ward shorty headers ($580) for this story. These headers feature stainless steel mandrel-bent primary tubes, 3/8-inch single piece laser-cut flanges, and specific length down tubes for improved torque. The nickel finish was perfect for the show look, and if we had a slammed ride the shorty design will stay off the ground. We also got a set of JBA's Powercable ignition wires ($62) that feature unique boot ends designed for maximum clearance with JBA Headers. Each set comes fully assembled and uses a wire-wound center and 100-percent silicone jacket.
For the vintage and race look, we ordered up a set of Hedman Elite series headers ($300). These long-tube pipes will allow the motor to breath at the big end of the rpm range. Long-tube headers have been the staple of performance exhaust products for many years and we are really impressed with the companies Hi-Tech Coating (HTC). According to the company, the HTC is resistant to abrasion and chipping and allows oil and grease stains to be removed with polish or fine steel wool. The only problem these headers would pose is a ground clearance issue on an ultra slammed Bow Tie.
To hook up all the black ACCEL 300+ plug wires ($80) we opted to use the Billetproof electronic distributor ($210) from ACCEL. It's a ready to run, self-contained electronic breakerless design in a CNC-machined billet 6061 T-6 aircraft grade aluminum housing. It features easily adjustable high performance mechanical and vacuum advance mechanisms so you can dial in a perfect advance curve. It also comes with a vacuum lockout insert and a distributor gear that is compatible with flat tappet and roller camshafts.
One of the things a lot of people over look when it comes to engine detailing is the nuts and bolts. There are a lot of options on what to use as you can see here, from left to right; chrome, stainless, black oxide Allen, black oxide standard, silver cadmium, and gold cadmium. We prefer to use black oxide hardware against the raw aluminum and chrome hardware with the chrome finish. No matter if you want the bolts to show or blend in, pick a theme and stick with it. There is nothing worse than seeing black oxide bolts in the manifold and silver bolts in the water pump.
Vintage Look We got a hold of Trans Dapt for the classic looking stuff. This company makes all kinds of vintage-looking products to feed the retro need. If you really want a period correct engine, they also make a full line of Chevy Orange powdercoated accessories as well. To go along with our swap meet Cal Customs valve covers ($25), we had them send us a '55 Corvette-style louvered air cleaner ($45), chrome coil ($28), steel oil pan, that we painted satin black ($52), chrome dipstick ($11), straight chrome thermostat housing ($11), and a set of high lift wire separators ($15). If you don't like the Vette air cleaner, Trans Dapt also has a triangle-shaped unit ($45) that keeps that older look. The valve covers we picked up at the swap meet were in good shape, but looked nothing like they do now, what you see here is after a lot of scrubbing and a few coats of paint. If you can't find this style of valve cover at your local swap meet, Trans Dapt has a new finned design that could be painted to look like this. If you were building a retro-themed car, which usually is simple and clean, this motor concept would keep with the theme without overpowering it.
Race Look For the race look, we tripped over to Proform Parts website because we knew it has a full line of GM licensed products. We just really like the fact they make a whole Chevrolet black crinkle dress-up kit ($170), which includes one set of valve, covers, air cleaner, timing chain cover, breather cap, 8 wing nuts, and 8 hold-down clamps. If you are not into black with red, they also offer it in silver with blue accents. We also picked up a set of linear Bow Tie wire looms ($66) to hold the JBA plug wires and a high-flow aluminum water pump ($60). In this set up we changed the manifold bolts over to a black oxide, threw on a factory thermostat housing and installed chrome button heads in the timing chain cover. We left the dipstick ($11) and oil pan from the Vintage look on here so if you are like us and don't have one factor that into the budget. The black crinkle stuff with the red script combined with the red plug wires gives the motor that mean look and race motor should look mean and angry.
Show Look We contacted Mr. Gasket for show look, and by show we mean shiny. The company has enough chrome in the catalog to satisfy all you shine mongers, and every one of these parts came with gaskets and hardware needed to install. Mr. Gasket has a chrome dress up kit ($56) that includes two short valve covers, two valve cover gaskets, a chrome push on breather, chrome dipstick with tube, eight chrome hold down clamps, eight chrome wing bolts, and 2 grommets. That provides some flash, but we wanted to go all out so we also ordered chrome wire looms ($10), chrome oil pan ($64), chrome timing chain cover ($17), chrome timing tab ($4), chrome Mallory coil ($44), chrome thermostat housing ($10) and a 14-inch chrome air cleaner ($24). Since this is all about flash we installed the JBA nickel plated headers and the red JBA wires. Couple all of that chrome with the Weiand Everbright manifold and chrome hardware and this motor concept could blind you.