When it comes to longevity and reputation, there is no engine in history that has played a bigger role in hot-rodding life than the small-block Chevy. They’re everywhere. While it might not have been the most powerful from the factory — especially during the late ’70s — the small-block Chevy was the go-to engine to enterprising hot rodders. In the last several decades, the small-block Chevy has seemingly taken a back seat to the LS engine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a viable option for those wanting to keep the traditional mill. In fact, I still get a multitude of emails asking about where to get a crate engine that is ready to run. Unfortunately, a simple search of the internet can create more questions than offer answers.
For instance, “how much are you willing to spend,” is usually the first one you need to consider. I didn’t say anything about horsepower, because the emails we get typically proclaim a certain number is needed. But rarely, is that number in tune with what the person is wanting to spend. Hence, the reason for this list. We decided to locate some of the most economical, traditional, small-block crate engines we could find. We’re all hot rodders, and it’s not very often we are looking for anything that is stock, so that means this list will be no different.
In an attempt to assemble a list that will appeal to the most enthusiasts, I decided to require certain criteria each engine must possess to be included. First and foremost, it must deliver a minimum of 400 horsepower. Yes, that is an arbitrary number, but a 400-horsepower cruiser is nothing to sneeze at. Second, it must come in at a price under $5,500, as of this writing. As enthusiasts, none of us wants to spend a lot of money, so that’s the number I chose. Okay, you might be saying that is too expensive, but have you priced having an engine rebuild? Finally, it must run on widely obtainable pump gas. To accomplish this, we will limit the recommended octane to 93. While the cost of Premium gas is climbing at the time of this writing, it’s still not like buying race fuel.
I want to preface this list by saying it is by no means an end-all compilation. If you know of a crate engine that I missed that meets the previously mentioned criteria, please, add a link to the comments section to let everyone know about the option. So, without further ado, here are the five most economical small-block Chevy engines I could find.
A Classic Mill
If you are looking for big power in a small package, Classic Industries has a 383 cubic-inch tire annihilator ready to go. Based on a four-bolt-main block with a one-piece rear seal, a cast crankshaft with OE-style connecting rods sling a set of hypereutectic pistons. There is a flat-tappet camshaft with .480/.486-inch lift and 229/230 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift. The top end is sealed with a pair of aluminum heads with 2.02- and 1.60-inch valves, and an aluminum, dual-plane intake with a carburetor. This one even comes with an HEI distributor, and that’s one less part you will need to locate.
According to Classic Industries, the engine delivers 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque while drinking 91-octane fuel. Since this does utilize a flat-tappet camshaft, it is recommended that a Zinc additive also be used. You can find out more about this crate engine by clicking here.
On a whim, I decided to see what the popular online auction (eBay) had to share, and actually found an engine that fit the criteria. Ross Automotive Machine (RAM) has a 383 cubic-inch small block that is all-but ready to go into your hot rod. A seasoned block is utilized and is matched with a cast crankshaft, forged connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. A hydraulic-roller cam, Liberty 200cc aluminum cylinder heads, and a Holley dual-plane intake complete the package. The block can be had in either a one- or two-piece rear main configuration, and you also have your choice of colors and valve covers.
We talked to The folks at RAM, and they informed us each engine is built to order, so you can see the eBay ad, check out the RAM website or call them at (810) 667-3000
Each engine is delivered producing 410-plus horsepower and comes with a two-year warranty.
If you have been hot-rodding for any time, you have surely heard of Speedway Motors. This company has been supplying parts to enthusiasts for decades. While perusing the website, I found this BluePrint-Built 383 small-block crate engine package that is sure to please not only you and your vehicle, but your wallet as well. This is also the most complete kit on our list. It includes the crate engine, FiTech 30005 Easy Street EFI, HEI distributor, and Moroso spark plug wires.
The four-bolt block features a one-piece rear main seal, cast-iron Vortec heads, and a hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft with .487/.503-inch lift and 234/244 degrees of duration. Inside is a cast crankshaft, I-beam connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. Complete, the engine delivers a 9.5:1 compression ratio which is great for use with Premium pump gas.
The engine is externally balanced, and 91 octane fuel is recommended. You will also want to consider using an 1,800- to 2,200-rpm stall converter. The engine is delivered with a dyno sheet.
When it comes to having what you need for your ride, once again, Summit Racing to the rescue. The 383 cubic-inch small-block is sure to motivate any classic hot and do it with authority. Nestled within the seasoned four-bolt block is a 3.75-inch cast crankshaft with I-beam connecting rods and hypereutectic pistons. The top-end consists of a set of BluePrint aluminum heads, aluminum intake manifold, and 750cfm carburetor. Inside is a hydraulic-roller cam with .528/.536-inch lift and 221/226 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift.
Somethings to consider: The recommended harmonic balancer is part number BPP400. The flexplate/flywheel recommendation is to use a late-350, external balance piece that is suitable for use with a one-piece rear main seal. The recommended torque converter should have between 2,000 to 2,400 rpm stall. Finally, the aftermarket intake manifold installed on this engine may not be compatible with all OEM accessory brackets that use intake-mounted bosses.
Each engine is dyno tested and delivers 430 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque with a compression ratio of 10.0:1. The engine comes with a 30-month 50,000-mile limited warranty.
If you have ever done any work to your classic, I am sure you have heard of YearOne. For decades, the folks there have been distributing much-needed parts to enthusiasts. What you might not have realized, is the company is more than just restoration parts. Take for instance this 350 cubic-inch engine.
The build begins with a seasoned four-bolt block that is fitted with a cast, 3.48-inch stroke crankshaft and powdered-metal connecting rods. Creating the 9.7:1 compression ratio is a set of hypereutectic pistons squeezing the air and fuel under a pair of Dart Vortec heads with 2.02- and 1.60-inch valves. Although it does not come with a carburetor, a dual-plane aluminum intake is ready to accept the fuel squirter of your choice. The camshaft is a proprietary grind, and each engine is dyno tested and comes with the “we can prove it,” dyno sheet. Finally, the engine is covered with a 12-month/12,000-mile limited warranty.
Now that you have this list, it’s never been easier to drop a 400-plus horsepower mill between the fenders of your hot rod. So what are you waiting for? Now’s the best time to give your ride an infusion of horsepower it craves, just before the cruising season arrives.