Got a worn-out small-block sitting under your weekend cruiser's hood? Or is your 350 running fine, but just not putting out enough torque to satisfy? Sounds like you need a fresh mill with more cubic inches. There are a few options on how to get one. If you have the dough to spend, you can very easily get a shop to build and install a fresh big-cube engine for you, soup to nuts. If you're willing to do a little more work, you can save some funds by pulling that tired engine yourself and dropping in a fresh stroked crate motor.
The final option to consider is pulling that old mill and rebuilding it on your own. Done correctly, the do-it-yourself method can save you thousands, provided you've got the time and patience to put an engine together from scratch. We're about to do just that, with an eye toward achieving the lowest dollar-per-horsepower ratio humanly possible out of a small-block Chevy. Aside from the cash savings, we'll show you that rebuilding a small-block and adding displacement isn't as difficult as you might imagine-and it could actually be fun.
The foundation of our build will be a rotating assembly made by Bakersfield, California-based Powerhouse Engine Components. This self-professed "home of the 383 stroker kit" retails some of the most affordable small-block engine assemblies in the country, and this fits the theme for our build perfectly. We were intrigued by the bargain basement prices we saw quoted in its ads. Just how much Mouse could we build on an editor's budget? (We should note that if you're intimidated by the build techniques shown in this story, Powerhouse also sells affordable complete long-blocks that carry a three-year unlimited mileage warranty. See the company website, enginekits.com, for all of its product offerings.)
Any do-it-yourselfer will need some tools to help him or her in an engine assembly endeavor, so we've enlisted the help of Comp's tool division, Powerhouse Products (no relation to Powerhouse Engine Components). You'll see some of the company's reasonably-priced tools highlighted along the way, and boy do they come in handy. Other manufacturers like ARP have signed on to help out with some strong-yet-affordable items, and don't be surprised to see a few others when we continue this build in subsequent issues. That said, on to the short-block.
The niftiest rotating assembly in the world is nothing without an engine casing to put it in. We decided the added stress of a longer-throw crank would make a 4-bolt 350 block appropriate, so $200 grabbed us one from local Jersey shop RPM Performance Engines. Another $514.27 got us a full cleaning, 0.030 overbore, align hone, and cam bearings and plugs installed.
Pre-assembly is probably the most important process in an engine build, and the fact that our block had been align-honed made verifying bearing clearances even more critical. We first pop the upper shells in place in the block. Our cast 3.75-inch crankshaft is what will give us the extra 33 cubes over what a stock 3.48-stroke crank affords, and here we carefully drop it atop our bearings (which are left dry for the moment-we're not spinning the crank over yet).
Tried and true, Plastigage has been the bearing clearance measuring tool of both pros and do-it-yourselfers for quite some time. A strip is carefully cut and placed across the width of each main journal, and the main caps then torqued atop. With the caps removed, we note a bearing clearance between 0.0015 and 0.002 of an inch for all mains, which is within Powerhouse's recommended acceptable range. The procedure for measuring rod bearing clearances is virtually identical, and with these steps done, we can pull the crank back out of the block.