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440hp Budget-Built Vortec Small-Block

Dollar For Dollar, It's The Bargain Of The Century

Photography by Matthew King, Tony Nausieda

Arguably the most critical engine components for unleashing big horsepower, free-flowing cylinder heads are usually what push the cost of a performance engine buildup far beyond 'budget.' And what good is having a 450hp mill if you can't afford to buy the gas to feed it? Fortunately, small-block Chevy guys have the production Vortec cylinder head available to them--a modern, high-performance cast-iron head that can be bought for little more cash outlay than a pocket port job on your obsolete castings. In stock form, their 0.450-inch lift limit is a downer for performance use, so we bought a pair of Scoggin-Dickey's specially modified Vortecs that can support over 0.550 inch of lift. It's hard to argue with the $635 price, either, and they're already assembled and ready to go.

But every good set of heads deserves a good short-block, and while we didn't require anything too exotic for our planned 400-plus horsepower level, we wanted a balanced rotating assembly with quality hardware, and flat-top pistons to yield near 10:1 compression. Too lazy to scour junkyards for a usable block, crank, and rods, we took the easy way out and ordered an assembled short-block from Wheeler Motorsports. One week later, the 0.060-over 350 arrived at our doorstep wearing a fresh coat of Chevy Orange. Easy.

Priced at $1,150, the Wheeler short-block is a pretty sweet deal. The four-bolt main blocks are line-bored, honed with torque plates, and zero-decked. The rotating assembly is fully reconditioned and balanced and rides on Clevite 77 bearings. The reconditioned stock rods are fitted with ARP bolts before they're fitted to Silvo-Lite Claimer hypereutectic flat-top pistons. So while none of the parts are ultra-trick Pro Stock equipment, they should hold together just fine through street abuse and the occasional dyno flogging. You'll have to piece together some of the random bolt-ons, such as an oil filter adapter, pump, pickup, and pan, as well as a timing cover. This may add up to considerable expense if you buy everything new, or it may be chump change if you reuse parts from another motor. Wheeler doesn't include a valvetrain set either, so we spec'd the totally streetable Comp 274 Xtreme Energy cam and matched it up a set of Coup lifters and pushrods.

Resisting the Popular Hot Rodding 'trick parts allocation' temptation, we again called Scoggin-Dickey and ordered up as many stock GM components as we could to wrap up the engine build. Two sets of head bolts means ordering up two sets of PN 12495499, but you'll have to buy eight individual Vortec-style intake bolts (PN 12550027) as they're packaged individually. The special reusable Vortec intake gaskets are packaged in pairs, and the aforementioned intake bolts allow a specific amount of gasket compression before bottoming out on the deck--no more leaks. Scoggin-Dickey supplied a set of GM 1.5:1 stamped-steel self-aligning rockers, and we also ordered spendier LT4-style 1.6:1 full roller rockers to see if they'd free up a few more horsepower. Don't forget to pick up a harmonic balancer, too--we used GM PN 364709, a stock 8-inch unit. Although we started from scratch and purchased everything individually, you can save lots of cash by pirating some of this stuff from your old small-block.

Although we'd already eclipsed the $2,000 mark, we still needed a carburetor and distributor. Edelbrock's 750-cfm square-bore Performer carb set us back a little over $200, and a stock HEI we had lying around filled the hole out back (new GM HEIs are about $200). Our dyno-test exhaust consisted of 1¾-inch long-tube headers with 3½-inch collectors emptied into 3-inch pipes, terminated with three-chamber Flowmaster mufflers. It's probably overkill for this motor, but we used what we had.

Dyno-op Steve Brulé strapped the Mouse onto Westech's Superflow dynamometer, hooked up the vitals, and fired it up. We were rewarded with good oil pressure, a lumpy, controlled 850-rpm idle, and snappy throttle response from the box-fresh Edelbrock carb. After a merciless afternoon of flogging, we'd richened up the metering rods, swapped to 1.6 rockers, and installed a 1-inch open spacer for a cumulative gain of 14 peak horsepower (442 hp at 5,900 rpm) and a couple lb-ft of peak torque (452 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm). Dollar for dollar, it's the bargain of the century that retains enough tire-shredding cojones to surely elevate your status at the cruise-in.

COMP Cams Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center
Dept. 5.0
2700 California St.
CA  90503
Summit Racing Equipment
P.O. Box 909
OH  44309
Wheeler Motorsports
FL  32205
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