Building a powerful small-block isn't rocket science. For as long as the little mouse has roared-which, amazingly, has been more than 45 years now-its success has revolved around combining the correct mix of parts and making sure that they are assembled correctly. No black magic here, and no shortcuts. Just a conscientious approach to knowing how much power you want the engine to produce, where it needs to make it, and what components will work in harmony to help reach that goal.
With the evolution of computer-controlled systems such as electronic fuel injection and high-energy ignitions, the potential for more efficient power has reached incredible new heights. Add in the fact that cylinder head flow capabilities and camshaft profiles are better than ever, and it's easy to see that the basic building blocks are right there for the taking.
But what about harnessing maximum usable power from the modern day LT1, with its reverse cooling, finicky Opti-spark ignition, and potentially weak internal components? What's available? What works? And of equal importance, what doesn't?
Well, to come up with some idea of what we'd have to do to build a bona fide late-model boulevard bruiser, we set out to explore the possibilities of assembling a stout LT1 long-block that would be capable of accepting an off-the-shelf centrifugal supercharger and reach horsepower and torque levels that would impress even the most devout non-computer-controlled hot rodder.
To do this, we began our trek at Beck Racing Engines in Phoenix, Arizona, a well-known powerhouse when it comes to machining and assembling stout Chevrolet engines. While there we compiled a shopping list of parts we thought would be necessary to assemble a bulletproof 383 LT1, which we hoped would be capable of spinning the dyno needle to a level that few have experienced. Did we have a goal? Yes. Did we reach it? Well, you'll have to wait and find out. For now, let's start at the beginning.
The Shopping List
Parts are parts, right? Wrong. If you're building a race-only engine, you might want to use some exotic pieces like aluminum rods, a dry-sump oiling system, and 13:1 compression ratio short-skirt pistons. However, in a street-only machine, the rods would surely stretch before the summer was over if the price of the oiling system didn't prevent you from getting the car on the road to begin with, or the high compression didn't knock the slugs to death. With this in mind, we chose our pieces carefully, knowing from the outset that this was to be a maximum-power street engine that might see a few passes down the quarter-mile. Our goal was big power and streetability; seldom an easily mixed-or attainable-combination.