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Building a 400 HP 357 SBC - Quick Draw .357

We Build an All-Star, Buck-Bangin', 400hp 357 SBC Using CC's Budget-Tested Parts

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The idea was simple enough. Over the last two years, we've been comparison testing budget-oriented small-block Chevy parts. You probably recall all those chart-infested single- and dual-plane intake (nearly 50!), cylinder head, and carburetor tests. We evaluated these parts based on multiple categories. We looked at peak horsepower, average torque, and horsepower-per-dollar—the classic "bang-for-your-buck" quotient. Once we had completed mashing all these tests through the CC wringer, we realized that if we assembled an engine with all the best parts, we might have a great street small-block. Thus, our Quick Draw engine was born.

For those of you who have already skipped ahead to see what heads and intake we chose, you may be mildly surprised by our choices. But before you think that we've been bought off (shame on you), at least allow us to explain the selection process. In a simpler world, the choices would be very easy—if we were looking at intake manifolds, for example, we would just choose the casting that made the best power. But in the real world of low-hood-height street cars and Kraft Mac & Cheese budgets, really good power also means really big money. If you recall, in each of these previous tests, we hammered average torque as the great qualifier. Then for the “bang-for-the-buck” quotient, we divided average torque by the cost of the component—just like any good bargain hunter. But cheapie manifolds often skew even those evaluations, so you still had to apply your own personal spin to the numbers to choose what you would consider the best of the parts. That's exactly what we did.

Foundation Work

Before we detail the all-star parts, you need to know about our test engine. We planned to use a 355ci small-block that I've had for nearly 20 years equipped with flat-top forged pistons and good 5.7-inch rods. After two decades of abuse, it developed a rather pronounced bearing knock, so it had to come apart. The cylinder walls and crank surface looked worn, so we had the crank turned 0.010 under and went with a new set of Sportsman Racing Pistons (SRP) forgings and a set of Scat 6.00-inch I-beam connecting rods. The SRP flat-top pistons use Forged Side Relief (FSR) technology to reduce the contact area of the piston to the cylinder and come with a thin 1.2-, 1.3-, and 3.0mm ring package that includes a carbon steel nitride top ring and a Napier-style second ring for better oil control. These pistons might be considered overkill for a budget street 355, but we intend to use this engine for many other parts flogs, so we needed a good, durable piston that could withstand massive dyno abuse. We matched the pistons with a set of Scat 6.00-inch connecting rods that we could spin to 7,500 rpm or more if necessary, while the father and son team at Barrington Engines performed their usual professional efforts with the 4.040 overbore and a torque plate hone. We then measured piston-to-deck height and had Barrington machine the block to bring the pistons to within 0.005 inch of zero deck. We reused our Milodon oil pan and windage tray, along with a Fel-Pro one-piece oil pan gasket and filled the pan with six quarts of Lucas Break-In oil.

Because this had to be a pump-gas–friendly engine at 10.2:1 compression, we wanted to keep the camshaft both affordable and streetable. The point of this engine is not to make blunt-force power but to assemble an affordable small-block that will make great torque with good throttle response. We found Lunati offers the Voodoo line of budget camshafts, so we picked what we felt was a good compromise between street torque and peak horsepower that would work well with the rest of the engine. We certainly could have made more power had we selected a hydraulic roller instead of this flat-tappet version, but roller cams are more expensive, so we stuck with the flat-tappet version that priced at a bit more than $200.

.357 Parts

Let's start with the big-ticket item. In our original cylinder head shootout, the selection criterion was only heads that retailed at less than $1,000. You may recall that the Patriot heads performed very well, but in the interim, the company appears to be experiencing reorganization and parts were not available, so we widened our search. The Jegs 180cc head we first tested looked attractive, but we landed instead on the 195cc version because they are only $40 more than the 180cc heads, which is a great bang-for-the-buck deal. We were tempted to step up to the 210cc heads, but that meant we would have to drop nearly $1,400, so we opted for the midsized 195cc port volume heads with the smaller, 1.25-inch-diameter single valvespring. This turned out to be a horsepower-limiting factor. More on that when we get to the testing.

Perhaps the most extensive comparison testing we did was on intake manifolds, where we ran through more than 40 single- and dual-plane versions. Since our gunslinger engine was always going to be a street engine, we focused on the dual-planes and decided that our best power-for the-pennies bet would be with the Edelbrock Performer RPM. The Air Gap makes more power, but in keeping with cash consciousness, the tried-and-true RPM got the nod. We also decided to test a single-plane just to remind ourselves why dual-plane intakes on mild street engines are the only way to go. We still had to pick a single-plane to test, so we went with Holley's Strip Dominator again because it seemed to offer good overall power and wasn't so tall that it might fit under a mild cowl hood.

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