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454 Big-Block Budget Engine Build - Making Cents

We Build A 700HP 454 For $2,403.

By Richard Holdener, Photography by Richard Holdener

It seems a certainty that Chevy guys would rather eat dirt than drive a Ford, but not all Chevy guys agree about their choice of powerplant. The original small-block has a lot going for it, including power potential, minimal weight and even affordability. By comparison, the big-block takes a few giant steps up the performance ladder, but does so saddled with both additional weight and cost. There is no denying the power potential of a nasty Rat motor, but it is considerably larger, heavier and more expensive to build than a comparable mouse.

In the past, big-block guys had to be serious about their need for power in order to overlook the mass and cost issues associated with building the Rat. The old adage that "speed costs money, how fast do you want to go" certainly applies here. Or does it? What if we told you there was a magical land where big-blocks and small-blocks were available for the exact same price? What if we further sweetened the deal with a serious weight reduction for the big-block with the addition of some aluminum cylinder heads? In one fell swoop we have all but eliminated the cost and weight penalties associated with building a fat-block Chevy. Interested? Read on!

Where is the magical land where big-blocks roam free, ripe for the picking? The answer is your nearest wrecking yard. It seems that the wrecking yards label every method of motivation as simply "complete engine" and let it go at that. This means the complete big-block can be had for the same price as a small-block, V-6 or (God forbid) four-cylinder, econo-box motor. Lest you think that the boneyards are devoid of big-block Chevys, we snagged not one but two different big-blocks from our local Pick-a-Part (and found three more), so obviously they are still available (hint-stop looking for that LS6 Chevelle and check out the engine bays of full-size trucks).

Most impressive was the fact that a complete BBC (meaning carb to oil pan and fan to flywheel) could be had for the bargain basement price of just $200, plus $40 core. This price can be reduced on special sale days where everything in the lot (including a complete BBC engine) is 50 percent off. Additional discounts can be had by purchasing a long-block (for $170) or a short-block (for $129). Since we planned on replacing the heads, cam and intake in our build up, we started with the basic short-block for a meager $85 ($45 plus core purchased on half-off sale weekend).

With big-blocks available for such a minimal cash outlay, we decided a low-buck build was in order that simultaneously maximized power and minimized expenditure. Naturally we had to set official goals for each. In the power department, we decided that any decent big-block (even one starting out life in the wrecking yard) should produce a minimum of 500 hp. To this power output we decided to add a small shot of nitrous and reach for no less than 700 hp. While a 700hp big-block build is not ground breaking, reaching 700 hp for our self-imposed ceiling of $2,500 (including the engine) is considerably more impressive.

To put this into proper perspective, check out the pricing on some of the big-block (or even small-block) crate motors online. You'd be hard pressed to find a BBC short-block for that price, let alone a long-block equipped with aluminum heads, a performance cam and high-rise intake (with nitrous no less). Heck, there are a lot of BBC cylinder heads that cost more than $2,500, but our plan was to secure a suitable (running) 454 truck engine, add the necessary (cost-conscious) performance components and test the whole mess on the engine dyno. Think of this build up as your own personal stimulus package.

By Richard Holdener
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