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454 Long Block - El Cheapo, Part 3

You’ve seen this story before. Both Hot Rod and Chevy High Performance have taken a whack at the "big-block versus small-block" concept a couple of times, usually with informative results...

You've seen this story before. Both Hot Rod and Chevy High Performance have taken a whack at the "big-block versus small-block" concept a couple of times, usually with informative results. Recently, both magazines ran a story wherein two engines were built, dyno'd, and run at the track. One was a small-block and the other a big-block, and they both displaced 408ci to take the displacement issue out of the study and simply find which engine had a better design. Ultimately, the Rat trounced the Mouse both on the dyno (by 22 lb-ft and 41 hp) and at the strip (12.31 versus 12.59). They claimed the Rat cost about $4,500, only $850 more than the small-block (neither price included frivolities like a carb, ignition, headers, pulleys, hardware, or chemicals). It was an interesting study that made for a frenzy of bench racing. But then it occurred to us: Who pays $4,500 to build a big-block that's only 408 cubes?

We're just a bunch of dirtbags trying to go fast for cheap with a worthless El Camino, so theory means little to us. In an attempt to let the Rat and Mouse face off in a more practical scenario, we decided to look at the real price and performance of a used 350 with basic bolt-ons versus a second-hand 454 with the same upgrades. We've practically broken our arms patting ourselves on the back for making our small-block-powered El Cheapo '72 run 12.93 at 103 mph for a total investment in the entire car of $1,994.87 (see "12s for $1,995," May '99). All that was involved was a used 350 with a cam, headers, a single-plane intake, a theory-be-damned 800 double-pumper, a used TH350, and a swap-meet nitrous system. And you're right, high 12s on spray isn't that impressive--until you learn that the car has 2.56:1 rearend gears. How quick would the same car run with all the same stuff hung on a 454? Would it be worth the extra price? Read on to find out.

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