Nothing comes without a price these days. Whether it's good food or nice clothing, it never seems that you get what you pay for. But there are those who will tell you that you don't have to go over budget to get good quality. While that may apply to a good pair of shoes or a night on the town, don't think for one minute that it doesn't mean you have to hand over all your hard-earned cash to get good power under the hood of your ride.
While the terms "budget" and "affordable" are relative and mean different things to each of us, there's one numerical reference we can all relate to: cash! The bottom line: here's how you can build a reliable, street-worthy, powerful enough, small-block Chevy with all new parts for less than $2,300!
No, we're not going to show you the dyno needle pointing to 600, 500, or even 400 hp for this dollar figure, but what you will get for your investment is a whole lot of manageable performance, usable vacuum, and unlimited reliability-the kind of results you seldom see when pushing the horsepower needle upwards. Let's agree that "horsepower" is a term used to impress others. Street performance is largely the result of having good torque.
To make this story happen, we visited brothers Bob and George of Vrbancic Brothers Racing in Ontario, California. These guys have been building mega-power Mouse and Rat motors for decades, and welcomed the opportunity to explore the other side of the coin, so to speak.
"There is a big market for streetable performance engines," explains Bob. "Not everyone needs 400 horsepower to cruise around town."
And we definitely agree!
We let Bob make a few phone calls and what he came up with was a well thought out 350 engine kit from a longtime auto engine remanufacturing business named Wayne's Auto, out of Riverside, California. What Bob got for around $1,800 was an amazing array of quality parts (including ARP engine fasteners, a polished aluminum intake manifold, and an aftermarket harmonic balancer)-almost everything to put the engine together and onto his DTS dyno. The only parts you need are a set of valve covers, a distributor, and a carb. Add that up and you haven't even gotten past $2,300. Of course, we'd suggest replacing some the items such as the water pump, starter motor, and alternator. But virtually everything else is provided. All you'll need to rob from another engine would be a water neck for the intake manifold and whatever pulleys are required to run the necessary accessories.
One of the most attractive reasons for buying this type of engine package is that you can build it yourself. While there's no denying that many people today opt to spend the money for a crate engine, what we haven't lost track of is that as enthusiasts, many of you want to do the work yourself. For those that fit this description, there is no better reward than to say, "I did it myself."
While we did watch along-camera in hand-as Bob and George went through the paces to assemble the Wayne's kit, it wasn't our intention to show you every nut and bolt going together. Think of the following picture essay as a refresher course on how to assemble a small-block without all of the fancy tools that big-time engine builders use. You don't need them here.
As for the performance results of our "affordable" 350, needless to say we were impressed when we finished our dyno session. OK, it made just shy of 320 hp, but it made nearly 370 lb-ft of torque, idled at 800 rpm and delivered an impressive 16 inches of vacuum!
And as we mentioned earlier, cost is a relative term. If you can spring for a few bucks more, Bob feels that this little engine would easily be capable of more than 350 horses with a little more aggressive cam and perhaps a set of 1.6:1 rockers. But as it is, we feel comfortable that all but the most diehard enthusiast wouldn't mind getting around with a reliable, affordable, and powerful engine like this beneath the hood.
Sure, in today's world, just like choosing what shoes to buy or what restaurant to dine at, there are plenty of choices when it comes to powering your Bow-Tie. But remember, you may not always get what you pay for unless you take charge of it yourself.