There’s something about cheap horsepower that is just cool. At least, in the eyes of this editor, it’s far cooler than the quadruple-digit numbers spit out by fire-breathing engines made from unobtanium and hundred dollar bills. Yes, those monster motors are very, very cool in their own right, and certainly deserve their share of coverage, but it is the affordable and well-thought-out engine combos, tech tricks, repurposed factory iron, and budget-friendly aftermarket parts that I find myself most drawn to.
For example: Blown Budget, Super Chevy’s uber-cheap supercharged small-block was one of those most fun projects I’ve worked on in quite a while. Why? For the sole reason that it is a fiscally attainable engine platform that offers fun for the everyman. The engine, which totaled out at $3,979.91 for the Chevrolet Performance 195-horse crate engine, Weiand 142 Pro Street Supercharger, and COMP Cams blower cam kit, produced useable power, stupid-fun torque, and is a genuinely awesome drop-in replacement for the over-the-hill small-block in any Chevy ride.
Some might criticize our little engine for being too mild. Sure, the cam timing is conservative, the compression ratio isn’t pushing any envelopes, and 400 horsepower stopped being a “wow” number about 30 years ago. But look deeper into the numbers and you begin to see why this engine would be so at home in a fun street car. A torque curve that swells right off idle, pump gas compatibility, and enough power for mid 12s in the quarter.
If I have learned anything in my time around performance engines, and the talented souls who build and tune them, it is that “mild” and “boring” are not synonyms.
Sometimes, it is the less aggressive engine — the one with only a slight lope at idle, can start cold, and has plenty of vacuum to run power brakes — that makes for an all-around more fun street car.
There is certainly a place for radical engines, and don’t think for one second you won’t see them between these pages. But, in all likelihood, the guys building 1,000-horsepower mills either have the know-how or the checkbook capacity to accomplish that mission on their own. We’d much rather be the technical resource for the average guy, and provide the proof that you don’t need crazy money to put together a fun engine.
So, as the brain trust at Super Chevy compiles more ways to help you make honest horsepower for honest coin, we have to wonder: What budget combinations power our readers’ rides? Seriously, we want to know. And, not only what is under your hood this very minute, but what sort of frugally fun engines you daydream about building or bench race about with friends. Let us know!