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How to Build the Cheapest Motor Possible

This junkyard engine turned out to need quite a bit of work.

Photography by

'The idea behind this story came to our inbox by way of one of our readers. Glad said, "It's a picture of a guy washing off his mains with a garden hose." The guy in question races Camaros on lots of boost and nitrous. He wrote in to tell us that when he blows up one engine, he goes to the junkyard and gets another one, hoses it down, drops it in, and goes racing again. We all thought this was completely crazy, but kinda cool too, and it got us wondering how little money we would need to rebuild an engine.

Of course there are a lot of variables with this situation. Yes, it is possible to buy a junkyard engine, hose it off, and put it in your car. You may get lucky and the engine will run fine for a while, or you could end up with a turd like the Gremlin 304 we stuck in the CC/Rambler last year. That engine labored to an 18-second eighth-mile elapsed time and oiled down the mufflers from Los Angeles to San Diego and back on the '06 Anti-Tour. Here's what you need to consider: Is it financially responsible to buy a string of junkyard motors? Do you want to swap an engine every year?

We're calling this story the cheapest rebuild ever, but we're approaching it from an angle that will help you make educated decisions when buying and rebuilding a junkyard engine. We want to show what to look for in an engine, what parts can be reused, how to tell if something is too worn out to be reused, and how to reassemble the engine, all while spending as little money as possible. To that end, Glad yanked a supercrusty 302 from the yard, and we took it over to the folks at JMS Racing Engines in El Monte, California, for their assistance in our budget rebuild. Here goes nothin'.

CAM SPECS
Camshaft Duration Duration @ Lift Lobe Separation
(Adv.) 0.050 in. (in.) (degrees)
Summit hydraulic
flat-tappet, SUM-K3601
Intake 276 218 0.471 114
Exhaust 286 228 0.471
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88 comments
Tom Ringlein
Tom Ringlein

Do like the magazines do and find all the parts lying around the shop. Then brag to all your friends that you built an engine for $3.46.

John Lyons
John Lyons

I think I remember this article, and it was a 302 I believe.

Steve LaRiviere
Steve LaRiviere

Why did you spin it up only to 4800 for the hp number? Is that where it dropped off or did you not trust the stock hardware? I would be curious as to what the curve to 6000 looks like.

Timothy Beecham
Timothy Beecham

If it's cheap it'll have to be a Chevy you can't get any cheaper.

Simon Quinby
Simon Quinby

Am i the only one that can't get these links to work? On a samsung phone.

Kevin Tyree
Kevin Tyree

or, a 347 stroker? I had one in a Crown Victoria I built 14 years ago... 462HP at the wheels... I'd show you the pics but, you disabled the link...

Page Crow
Page Crow

salvage yard LS motor with a cheap Chinese Garrett clone turbo. bye bye, for cheap. (But 'em off of Craigs list even better.)

Karl Loper
Karl Loper

Just remember that you get what you pay for.

Kyle Mack
Kyle Mack

There is a thing called high output and no output guys! Cheap motors build economical with the right amount of horse power with out dieting fuel lines and tank

Marcell Myles
Marcell Myles

@ Sean Boston...when I get a old skool ride...u will be the first I come to!!!!

Jack D Swenson
Jack D Swenson

$500 rebuilding a 289 Ford. Rebuilt bottom end, had the crank turned. Honed and built the block myself. 271 hp pistons and cam from NOS at a small town Ford dealer. Junkyard 351 Windsor heads. Swap meet aluminum intake and 4 barrel Holley. Junkyard headers and dual exhaust. That '66 Mustang RAN!

Chris Dinos
Chris Dinos

Then the 350 cast headed sb cost 1800 and went 11.1@120

Traven Stokes
Traven Stokes

Got a low mileage 400 out of a 71 Grand Prix as partial payment for some work I did at a junk yard in high school. I lapped the valves, replaced the timing set, resealed it all, and cleaned the carb. One of the best engines I've owned for about $300

Matt Derosia
Matt Derosia

229$ powerhouse engine kit,and three junk engines,made one,ran great,still does

Alan Smith
Alan Smith

11.7@115 in 3600lb stock suspension car

Alan Smith
Alan Smith

$1900 on an all forged bottom end 355 small block with 13.5:1 compression

Chris Dinos
Chris Dinos

My first engine cost me 800 Aussie dollars from top to bottom including carb pipes everything ran 12.50@105.4 whole car cost $3400 in 1999 I even won a couple trophies

Hans P Rorrian
Hans P Rorrian

Disassembled 4 engines built two from the parts only investment was gaskets kit and rtv sealant

Frank Allen Jr
Frank Allen Jr

Back in the day I bought a 350 4 barrell pontiac motor for 75.00 out of a 68 firebird. Thing was one of the best running pontiac motors I ever had!

Damien McCormack
Damien McCormack

$178 for the gasket kit. Bought another motor the same for $128 off Ebay freshly rebuilt 2 months later hahaha

Jay Painter
Jay Painter

Small block Chevys, done a few in the $500 range, last one was a T.B.I. Fuel injection swap in our 86 Monte SS, about $800. In that one!

Philip Read
Philip Read

Ford 5.0 price of a hone service, new bearings, a set of rings, oil pump and gasket set, approx $100

Keith Costa
Keith Costa

Life lesson here. If you buy cheap you get cheap. If you build crap you got crap. Just saying.

Garry Lamb
Garry Lamb

Not a Chevy nova by the way, vauxhall / Opel

Garry Lamb
Garry Lamb

£350. 1300cc nova, blydenstien stage 2 head, KC AST2 cam, twin weber 40's janspeed 4branch. Took time, but if you know the right people at the right time....

Jose Vazquez Ramos
Jose Vazquez Ramos

My cheapest rebuild was on my 1984 chevy caprice $400.00 complete kit.

Rickey Driskill
Rickey Driskill

500 on my 351w. 200 of that was rings pistons the rest was a little machine shop work gaskets oil and bearings

Rodney Allen
Rodney Allen

1100$ and runs pretty good. Got a low mile 305 i may do a elcheapo build on

James Parker
James Parker

I'm gonna find out real soon, a rod bearing just let go in my 402 bbc. Bummer!!

Breece Bowen
Breece Bowen

Now THIS is cool. Uh, not that CC does uncool stuff or anything...

Doug Scarboro
Doug Scarboro

I bought a 1969 351 Windsor and had it built all by the same shop here in the Denver Metro area.$900.00 with some head work too! Id been shopping for a 1969 351 for a year+. Finally a mechanic said he thought he knew where one was. I called his machine shop,he said yea he had one a guy brought in over a year ago and never gave him any money to have it done? He said he'd freshen it up for $850. I asked how much for some head work? another $50. I said ,I'll be down today to give you some money!

Bob Bucala
Bob Bucala

I bought a $35 drop in ready engine off craigslist and ran it for 3 years.

Scott Liggett
Scott Liggett

$980 to build my 454. Most of the money was rebuilding my heads. It's helpful to start with a granny owned engine that still had cross hatching on the cylinder walls and the original timing chain.

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