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Testing BluePrint Engines' 540 Big-Block Crate Engine

By Richard Holdener, Photography by John McCann, Richard Holdener

How do you build a better big-block? Easy, just follow the blueprints. As much as we love building our own big-blocks, BluePrint Engines has designed a crate-engine program that delivers powerful packages at affordable prices. Big deal, you say, there are lots of crate-engine suppliers out there. That's true, but BluePrint Engines is so confident in the research and development the company has done on its combinations that they feature a 30-month/50,000-mile warranty. What kind of warranty did the last motor you built come with? To find out if the horsepower matched the hype, we took BluePrint up on its offer to supply a 540 stroker assembly for testing. Our plan was to take one of the company's PS5401CT long-block packages (minus intake, carb, and distributor) and verify the power-rated power output before treating it to future upgrades.

As supplied by BluePrint, the PS5401CT started off with its very own engine block casting. Knowing that many (if not most) of its customers would be running carburetors, BluePrint combined the advantages of the latest Gen VI block with the convenience of mechanical fuel pump provisions from the original Mark IV. Our BluePrint block was a serious step up from a standard GM block, offering main-priority oiling, splayed four-bolt main caps, and a one-piece rear-main seal. BluePrint also offers 4.250- and 4.600-inch bore versions, two-piece rear mains, and even tall (10.2-inch) decks for maximum strokers. Basically, BluePrint has a big-block to meet the needs of just about every possible combination. The block was stuffed with forged internals, including a 4.25-inch steel crank, 4340 forged rods, and forged pistons that combined with our 119cc combustion chambers to produce a streetable static compression ratio of 10.0:1. The compression was high enough to make good normally aspirated power, but wasn't so high to eliminate the possibility of a little boost or nitrous.

To help the Pro Series 540 from BluePrint make power, the stroker also included a healthy hydraulic roller cam. Mild compared to a maximum-effort roller grind, the hydraulic roller cam offered 0.647 lift, 248/254 degrees duration, and 112-degree LSA. Wild cam timing would certainly increase power, but it's hard to argue with the impressive power curve offered by this cam combination. The cam was teamed with hydraulic roller lifters (using the factory Gen VI retainers), Comp Cams hardened pushrods, and aluminum roller rockers. The cam was teamed with a set of BluePrint aluminum BBC heads. Maximizing head flow were massive 358cc intake ports, 125cc exhaust ports, and a 2.30/1.88-inch stainless steel valve package. Typical BBC heads featured 26-degree valve angles, but BluePrint rolled the valve angles backed by 2 degrees to further improve flow. According to the company's literature, these heads featured CNC-machined exhaust ports and combustion chambers, but as-cast intake ports. Finishing up the stroker was a set of fabricated aluminum valve covers, a custom oil pan, and a neutral damper.

After uncrating, we completed the long-block with a carb, intake, and distributor and set it up on the dyno. Our intake was an Edelbrock 454-R designed to accept a Dominator carb. The single-plane intake was ideally suited to the power needs of the stroker assembly. The literature supplied with the 540 from BluePrint recommends an 850 (4150-series) Holley, but we installed a larger Holley 1050 Ultra Dominator. The carb was teamed with MSD's billet distributor and plug wires, along with Lucas 5W-30 oil and a set of dyno headers. Though it had been previously run on BluePrint's dyno (part of the build process for all engines before being shipped to customers), we subjected the motor to prelubing and a break-in cycle before putting the hammer down. Rated at 670 hp and 660 lb-ft of torque, the BluePrint Pro Series 540 produced an even 700 hp and 669 lb-ft ft of torque, meaning the company delivered more than promised. Getting more for less (with a warranty)—that, my friends, is a blueprint for success.

Fear not, fans of the original Mark IV big-blocks, BluePrint had its late-model, Gen VI–style blocks cast to accept mechanical fuel pumps for carbureted applications. Offered in a variety of different bore sizes, deck heights, and main seal configurations, this standard-deck block (PN PS5401CT) proudly displayed the BluePrint logo.

Tucked behind the neutral damper was a Gen VI front cover complete with timing pointer. Not shown are the forged internals that include a 4.25-inch stroker crank, 4340 forged rod, and 10.0:1 forged pistons. Though this 540 was rated at just 670 hp, the basic short-block was ready for even more.

BluePrint's Gen VI–style block featured provisions for a hydraulic roller cam, including the lifter guides and spider hold-down. Note that the package also included hardened pushrods.

Topping off the 540 stroker was a set of BluePrint's own aluminum BBC heads (PN PS8013).

The heads featured 358cc intake ports, 125cc exhaust ports, and 119cc combustion chambers.

We liked the fact that the engine had been assembled with ARP hardware and that each bolt head featured a paint mark to verify it had been properly torqued prior to testing and delivery to the customer. The fabricated aluminum valve covers were a nice touch.

The spring package was designed to work with the 0.647-inch lift, hydraulic roller cam and the heads were finished with guideplates and aluminum roller rockers.

To verify the performance of the BluePrint 540, we pulled it from the crate and installed it on the dyno. Note that our PS5401CT package didn't include an intake, carb, or distributor.

We pre-lubed the engine after installing Edelbrock's 454 R intake manifold. Though this was performed by BluePrint prior to its in-house dyno testing, we wanted to be sure everything was properly lubed. Since our 540 was equipped with a hydraulic roller cam, there was no need for high-zinc oil (or additive) or to keep engine speeds above 2,000 rpm to break in the cam and lifters.

The Edelbrock intake was designed to accept a 4500-series carb, so we installed Holley's 1050 Ultra Dominator. We also installed an MSD billet distributor and wires to complete the big-block.

Though rated by BluePrint Engines at 670 hp and 660 lb-ft of torque on the company's dyno, our results netted an even 700 hp and 669 lb-ft of torque. While we suspect the larger carb and 4500-series intake were responsible for some of the additional power (BluePrint tested it with 4150-series Holley 850), we also know that BluePrint is a tad conservative on its power ratings to ensure customers get more than they pay for.

A power curve like this is why people build big-blocks in the first place. Not only did the 540 stroker produce a peak of 669 lb-ft, but the combination exceeded 650 lb-ft of torque from 3,900–5,500 rpm. Also remember that the short-block is poised for even greater power levels.

Blueprint Engines
2700 California St
CA  90503
MSD Ignition
Holley Performance Products
1801 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green
KY  42101
By Richard Holdener
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