We’re going to ask you a question, but in all honesty, we are fairly certain that we already know the answer. We want to know if you would rather spend a Saturday afternoon driving around town in your classic Chevy, or walking around a junkyard looking for parts?
Yes, it is a trick question with no incorrect answer, as both can be considered a good day for a car guy. The decision is not an easy one, but let’s imagine that the temperature is 90 degrees, and there is enough humidity in the air to make a duck happy. Walking around the automotive recycling center doesn’t sound very enjoyable anymore, does it? But, if your classic needs an engine, you have to do it. You need to find a rebuildable small-block that you can take to the machine shop and have rebuilt, or do you?
If you happen to possess the talent – and the tools that are required to build your own engine – then building one yourself is definitely a viable option. For those of you that are able to do it yourself, you have the means to build the engine the way you want, without having to make any compromises.
If you aren’t a professional engine builder, or do not have the tools required to properly build said engine, having an engine a custom-built can get really pricey, really fast. Kevin Willis of Automotive Performance Engines in Auburndale, Florida agrees. “When it comes to building a mild, street-performance engine, the value of a crate engine is hard to beat,” he said. “Now, if you’re looking for something custom, that’s where I come in.”
“When it comes to building a mild, street-performance engine, the value of a crate engine is hard to beat. – Kevin Willis, Automotive Performance Engines
There are a lot of manufacturers that are offering an engine that can simply be installed in your car and immediately get you down the road. That is one of the advantages to buying a crate engine, in comparison to building your own.
Both custom-built and crate engines built by professional engine builders generally deliver quality and consistency, and most of the time they even come with some sort of a warranty. How quickly you need your engine so you can install it, is one consideration; another is cost. It is no secret that buying a crate engine is nine times out of 10 less expensive than having an engine custom-built. Finally, most crate engines are usually dyno tested before they are sent out. Engine builders do this to not only deliver a known power-rated engine, but so they can be sure that it actually runs before installation.
Multi-Choice Valve Covers
If there is one way to make the engine in your classic Chevy look out of place, it’s to use an engine with center-bolt valve covers. Until 1987, all small-block Chevrolet valve covers used a perimeter-bolt design. But, if your crate engine does have center-bolt valve covers, you can still use perimeter-bolt covers if you have an adapter. We found these at Jegs for $130. They are 3/8-inch thick, and include mounting hardware and O-ring seals for the plate to the cylinder head. What’s more, is they are made in the USA.
As we previously stated, everyone and their brother is building crate engines, so we decided to focus on five reputable shops that we hold in high regard – and feel comfortable recommending. We’re quite certain you have heard of Chevrolet Performance and Edelbrock. But we also want to introduce you to Pace Performance, Scoggin-Dickey Parts, and BluePrint Engines. These companies are leading the way when it comes to delivering engines and components, and we’re sure each will deliver just what you need.
Bow Tie Bruiser
ZZ6 — PN 19351533
The ultimate way to keep your classic all Chevrolet is to go to your local Chevrolet Performance dealer, and order the all-new ZZ6 crate engine. According to Chevrolet, the ZZ6 is one of the most powerful 350 cubic-inch-based crate engines in the ZZ lineup of crate engines. Using the tried-and-true aluminum Fast Burn cylinder heads equipped with beehive valve springs, spinning this powerplant into the upper limits of the RPM range is no problem.
The engine is built around a four-bolt-main equipped cast-iron block supporting a forged-steel crankshaft with powdered-metal connecting rods, and durable, high-silicon, hypereutectic pistons. An aggressive hydraulic-roller camshaft with .474/.510-inch lift, and 208/221-degrees of duration at .050-inch lift works the valves and helps deliver the rated 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft. of torque.
The final compression ratio is 9.72:1. This turn-key engine comes with the distributor and harmonic damper installed. Finishing it off, the carburetor, starter, fuel pump, air conditioning pump, alternator, and accessory drive kit are also included. The ZZ6 is also available in short-block form (PN 19351532), so you can finish building the engine the way you want.
It’ll Cost You: $6,494.99
A True Performer
Performer RPM E-Tec — PN 45900
According to the folks at Edelbrock Performance, the Performer RPM E-Tec crate engine is the ultimate 350 cubic-inch small-block that you can install in your musclecar, street rod, or truck. The engine is based around an all-new short block, filled with a forged-steel crankshaft, powdered metal connecting rods, and hyper eutectic pistons squeezing a 9.5:1 compression ratio. The heads are Edelbrock’s E-TEC series, and the Rollin’ Thunder hydraulic-roller camshaft delivers .539/.548-inch lift, and 234/238-degrees of duration at .050-inch lift.
Feeding this reliable rebel is an RPM Air-Gap intake with a Thunder Series AVS 800 cfm carburetor. The 435 horsepower and 435 lb-ft. of torque make smoking the tires an easy task. Eric Blakely of Edelbrock told us, “We also have a few variations of this engine with our Pro-Flo EFI that make 440 horsepower, giving the consumer a few choices of induction to choose from.”
It’ll Cost You: $7,811.99
Pace Prepped and Primed 383 — PN BP38313CT1-5X
If you’re looking for a drop-in-and-smoke-the-tires engine, Pace Performance’s Prepped and Primed 383 is just what you need. With 430 horsepower and 450 lb-ft. of torque, this 383 cubic-inch street monster delivers. The block carries a one-piece rear main seal, with four-bolt mains. Inside, you’ll find a cast crankshaft with heavy-beam connecting rods and hypereutectic pistons. The combination is good for a 10.0:0 compression ratio, and is compatible with 91-octane fuel. Keeping the valvetrain reliable is a hydraulic-roller camshaft with .528/.536-inch lift, and 230/240 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift. Aluminum cylinder heads with 64cc chambers and 2.02 and 1.60-inch valves are positioned just under the Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap Intake.
Finally, a hand-built AED 750 cfm Holley double pumper is supplied to feed the engine. This one even comes with an 8-inch damper, performance-oriented mechanical fuel pump, carburetor fuel inlet and plumbing to the fuel pump, 14-inch chrome air cleaner with Chevrolet script, performance HEI distributor, spark plugs, wires and looms, starter, two oil filters, six quarts of zinc-enhanced break-in oil, and six quarts of zinc-enhanced 10w30 non-synthetic oil. Chuck Fitch of Pace told us, “We offer several stock trim-options, and we never turn down a request for something different than what we typically offer.”
It’ll Cost You: $5,869.88
Blueprinted And Perfected
383 Dressed Engine with aluminum heads and flat tappet cam — PN BP3834CTC1
Delivering 420 horsepower, BluePrint Engines’ 383 crate engine is a proven powerhouse for the daily driver that needs a little power boost. The four-bolt-main engine block features a one-piece rear main seal, and is filled with a cast crankshaft, Chevrolet Performance heavy-beam connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. The compression ratio comes in at 10.0:1, so that means no race fuel is required; running premium pump gas is perfectly safe.
A flat-tappet hydraulic camshaft with .480/.486-inch lift and 229/230 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift gives the engine nice throaty idle, but still allows the use of vacuum-operated accessories. A set of BluePrint Performance aluminum cylinder heads feature 2.02 and 1.60-inch valves. The engine also comes with new valve covers, oil pan, aluminum intake manifold and 750 cfm carburetor, and an HEI distributor.
It’ll Cost You: $4,395
Bow Tie Brawler
SP383 Deluxe Crate Engine — PN 19332532
The 383 stroker combination starts with a four-bolt main block, and uses steel crankshaft with a long, 3.800-inch stroke, heavy-duty powdered metal connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons to create a 9.6:1 compression ratio. The camshaft is a hydraulic roller with .509/.528-inch lift, and a duration of 222/230 degrees at .050-inch lift. Up top are lightweight aluminum cylinder heads with 62cc chambers and 2.00/1.55-inch valves.
The result is 435 horsepower and 445 lb-ft. of tire-twisting torque. The engine does come with an aluminum intake manifold, and it is recommended that a Holley 770-cfm four-barrel carburetor be used. You will need to get a carburetor, ignition, fuel pump and starter, but it does come with a 12 3/4-inch automatic transmission flexplate. It requires the use of a 1986 through 1999 350-style externally-balanced flywheel for manual transmissions.
It’ll Cost You: $6,690.80
So there they are, five small-block crate engines that are steerable and deliver enough horsepower to motivate any car owner. Each can be easily installed in your classic ride, and get your project back on the road in short order.
Now that you have learned where to get your mild-performance-delivering small block, we are thinking about putting together another article that shows where to get crate engines that deliver more than 500 horsepower. But, we’re not sure if engines delivering that much horsepower is important to you. Let us know in the comments section if you are interested, and we’ll start working on that.