Putting It Together
Don't be afraid to assemble the short-block yourself if you've got access to the proper tools and a clean workspace. From cheapest to costliest, you'll need a piston ring expander, engine-cleaning brushes, Simple Green, a dead-blow, plastic-face hammer, and a tapered ring compressor. Optional are ARP's trick aluminum-rod bolt protectors.
Before you clean the bare block, do yourself a favor and run ARP's thread chasing taps through all the holes, espe-cially those that restrain the cylinder heads and are often corroded and packed with dried-out sealant. This step is required for accurate torque readings when you're reassembling the motor. In our case, we cleaned every accessible oil passage in the block using Milodon engine brushes saturated with Simple Green, then blew the passages dry with compressed air. We wiped each bore with a series of ATF-soaked paper towels. Now that the block was really clean, we painted it and began assembly. We used proven Federal-Mogul pregapped moly piston rings and Com-petition-series bearings, which are high-quality and reasonably priced. ARP studs replaced the factory bolts, ensuring the caps stay put and allowing the Milodon louvered windage tray to bolt up. No, we didn't check the alignment of the main saddles after installing ARP's studs--although you probably ought to--but since the crank spun nicely after installation we figured the caps had to be close enough.
Coating each bearing shell and journal with STP helped prime the oil system and guard against galling. We lubed other metal-on-metal sliding surfaces (pistons, rings, and cylinder walls) with 20W-50 oil. Possibly the most critical metal-on-metal contact is the cam lobe and lifter interface, and we used two blister-packs of Crane's gray moly assembly lube on these areas. Before you bolt the heads onto the motor, have a close look at those stock head bolts and decide if you really want to reuse them. We didn't, so we picked up Milodon's engine fastener kit, which includes an assortment of engine bolts and studs, as well as the company's trick head bolts featuring stronger, rolled threads. The entire bolt kit costs less than most quality aftermarket head bolts alone, so it's still appropriate for a budget build. Before we installed the intake and carb, the Holley vacuum-secondary pod was swapped for its ingenious quick-change kit. The quick conversion makes spring changes a simple two-minute affair, perfect for tweaking at the track.
Once the 454 was buttoned up in our '69, we used a homemade oil primer to spin the pump until oil flowed from each rocker arm. BBCs have an oft-noted reputation for cam destruction during the critical break-in time, so it's important to make sure all the oil passages are flowing properly before the combustion starts. To ensure minimal cranking time, fill each of the Holley's float bowls by carefully pouring fuel into each vent tube until it flows from the sight plug. Leave the thermostat out to prevent overheating, and it won't hurt to direct a large household fan into the grille area to initiate airflow through the radiator. Our motor fired right up with 80 psi of oil pressure--just the way we like it--and after checking the timing, we ran it at 2,000-2,200 rpm for 20 minutes. If your headers start to glow a dull red, add a little more ignition lead and check the idle mixture screws. After break-in, we backed down the idle to 750 rpm, where we observed 17 in/Hg of vacuum. Running the car at the track sounded like a lot more fun than strapping it to a chassis dyno, so we don't have real power numbers to post. But given our 106-mph quarter-mile, we think it's delivering around 335 hp to the rear wheels, which should put us solidly in the 12s...eventually.
Halfway through this story, your author relocated to Detroit, where there lies one giant obstacle to street machining: winter. We'd planned to go through the front sus-pension and install slapper bars on the rear, but instead rushed to the track armed only with a pair of 27x10.50 M/T ET Streets and a tired 36-year-old chassis. Wheel hop plagued our 60-foot times and some throttle lift was needed to keep the car straight through the quarter. The good news? This combo still trapped at 106 mph with no changes--jetting, timing, or otherwise, and we drove it 60 miles home after topping off the tank with a few gallons of 93. It's not the fastest and it's certainly not the prettiest, but we're hoping to address the former concern with a few low-buck chassis mods spread out over the long winter months. Pretty can wait.
A freshened 454 dropped into one '69 RS/SS
We didn't break the bank and it hit bottom 13s in the quarter-mile.
454 CAMARO PERFORMANCE
13.16 at 105.7, 2.17 60-foot
13.39 at 106.1, 2.23 60-foot
17 in-Hg at 750 rpm (in Neutral)
Average fuel economy:
11 mpg (street and race use)