There is a world full of factory hydraulic roller lifter engines in service today ripe for
The trick to building a budget street engine is to use as many production-based parts as possible. Original-equipment (OE) parts are generally well engineered, durable, and in some cases less expensive than aftermarket hot rod parts. This is especially true when it comes to hydraulic roller cams. General Motors and Ford both switched from flat-tappet hydraulic camshafts to hydraulic roller cams in the mid-'80s. While many car crafters initially scoffed at these conservative grinds, the knowledgeable parts swapper can use those now-plentiful and affordable blocks and roller valvetrains to economic benefit. We're going to tell you how to best combine OE hydraulic roller parts with a stout aftermarket cam-for very little cash. We'll look at both the small-block Chevy and the 5.0L Ford, as they are the most common.
The key to a successful hydraulic roller cam conversion is knowing what parts to use and which ones to avoid. If you've been reading the car magazines for a few years, then you've no doubt heard that you should not reuse old flat-tappet lifters and especially not with a new cam. But happily, there's no such restriction when it comes to hydraulic roller components. Because roller lifters don't slide and generate a wear pattern, you can reuse those factory lifters on a brand-new cam and no one will accuse you of being a roller bonehead. This means that the yards are full of serviceable hydraulic roller lifters that can be obtained for pennies, leaving you more money to spend on camshafts, pushrods, and maybe a set of roller rockers. While it's true that aftermarket hydraulic roller cams are more expensive than their flat-tappet cousins, by not having to purchase the lifters the overall price may actually be less expensive. So follow along as we point the way toward budget-building a hydraulic roller cam valvetrain using common sense instead of cubic dollars.
This is the factory hydraulic roller lifter arrangement for an '87-and-newer one-piece rea
Where the Chevy Rollers Are
The original small-block Chevy remained basically unchanged from 1955 through 1985. But in 1986 Chevy finally addressed that leaky two-piece rear main seal by making it one piece, and later added hydraulic roller cams to the 305- and 350ci passenger-car engines that retained the same 0.842-inch lifter diameter. The factory conversion to hydraulic roller cam added slightly taller lifter bosses and three small cast-in perches that mount a stamped-steel spider, along with a two-bolt cam retainer plate located at the nose of the camshaft to limit fore-aft movement in the block. While all passenger-car small-blocks from 1987 on were roller-cammed, light-duty trucks used this same iron block but stuck with a flat-tappet camshaft. This means the block comes with the casting provisions for adapting a factory hydraulic roller camshaft. At the most, you may have to drill and tap a couple of holes. We've even seen four-bolt main hydraulic roller cam blocks.
The hydraulic roller-cammed motors also come with a stepped drive face on the cam, which requires a different cam sprocket with a smaller bolt circle. This is the basic difference between a factory-style hydraulic roller cam and the standard early small-block Chevy flat-cam mount. So the idea is to use a later-model, one-piece rear main seal block with the factory hydraulic roller cam configuration. That way you can reuse the factory hydraulic roller lifters and tie-bar arrangement along with the factory-style cam timing gear. It keeps the price down to almost nothing and frees up more money to spend on a good aftermarket hydraulic roller camshaft. This is an especially good idea when stepping up to a budget cast 383-style crank, rod, and piston package.
This is a comparison of the standard-style small-block cam nose (left) versus the '87-and-
One area where you must be careful with production-based small-block Chevy hydraulic roller lifters is with high-lift camshafts. According to Crane's Director of Valvetrain Research and Development, Mark Campbell, valve lifts of more than 0.530 inch at the valve with a 1.5:1 rocker can allow the lifter to fall deep enough into the lifter bore (because of the lobe's small base circle) that the steel retainer can lose its grip on the lifter body. This allows the lifter to spin in the bore and destroy the camshaft. In checking a few cam catalogs, it is possible to order a hydraulic roller camshaft with enough lobe lift (in excess of 0.354 inch) to create this situation, so just be careful. This is why Crane created a long-travel hydraulic roller lifter that will allow you to run a high-lift hydraulic roller cam with the stock lifter configuration. These eliminate the problem but are also much more expensive than OE replacement lifters. Another solution would be to run a 1.6:1 rocker ratio with a reduced lobe lift cam to accomplish more valve lift.
Roller-Cammed Ford 5.0s
Ford has been building 5.0L small-blocks with roller cams since 1984 in fullsize cars (although many others are still flat-tappet motors, so you have to be careful). In the Mustang, the first roller cams appeared in 1985 Mustang and continued through the '95 pushrod motors. One advantage of an '85-'92 Mustang engine is that the pistons are forged, making these an excellent performance engine platform. These engines also make great baselines for a stroker 331- or 347ci small-block, which can be built using the stock hydraulic roller lifter configuration to keep the price down. As you can see from the accompanying Ford parts list, Ford's price on a brand-new set of hydraulic roller lifters is a very affordable $125 compared to as much as $480 for aftermarket lifters.
The stock hydraulic roller cams used in Ford 5.0L engines retain the lifters in a similar
Let's play out a low-budget 5.0L engine scenario here. Yank an '88 5.0L motor out of a boneyard Mustang GT and discard the EFI manifold. We'll assume the engine is in good shape. Do a simple ring-and-bearing rebuild on the short-block and the forged pistons to make sure the engine is well sealed up. Add a gasket set (make sure and get the one-piece oil pan gasket) and a new oil pump, and the short-block is ready. Next, dial in a performance hydraulic roller cam. A good choice would be something around 224 degrees at 0.050-inch tappet lift with around 0.540-inch lift, and plan on reusing the stock hydraulic roller lifters and factory retaining assembly. Then tune up the heads with a valve job, screw-in studs, guideplates, and a good set of rocker arms and valvesprings; top it all off with a set of headers and a dual-plane intake manifold; and you've got a solid 5.0L that will make around 325 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. If you find a used intake and budget headers, it's entirely possible to build this entire engine for under $1,500.
It's also possible to upgrade the '95-and-later 351W engine with factory-style hydraulic roller lifters and retainer assembly. These engines have the bosses cast into the block, which makes the conversion much easier. Comp Cams sells a retrofit roller lifter kit (PN 31-1000 and 31-1001) with a stock-type spider and retainers that can be added to certain of these blocks. However, this will require the proper base circle hydraulic roller cam to ensure that the roller lifters don't travel beyond the vertical capacity of the lifter bores.
|CHEVY PARTS LIST |
|DESCRIPTION ||PN ||SOURCE ||PRICE |
|GMPP hyd. roller lifter kit ||12371042 ||Scoggin-Dickey ||$214.95 |
|GM guide for roller lifters, ea. ||12550002 ||Scoggin-Dickey || 3.84 |
|GM spider retainer plate ||14101116 ||Scoggin-Dickey || 13.34 |
|GMPP pushrod, hyd. roller ||10046173 ||Scoggin-Dickey ||169.44 |
|GMPP Hot roller cam ||24502586 ||Scoggin-Dickey ||192.95 |
|GMPP 350 Hot cam kit ||12480002 ||Scoggin-Dickey ||536.95 |
|GM early cam retainer plate ||10088128 ||Scoggin-Dickey || 10.22 |
|GM late cam retainer plate ||10168501 ||Scoggin-Dickey || 10.07 |
|GM countersunk bolts, ea. ||14093637 ||Scoggin-Dickey ||0.86 |
|GM melonized dist. gear ||10456413 ||Scoggin-Dickey || 32.95 |
|Comp OE roller install kit ||08-1000 ||Summit Racing ||100.69 |
|Comp OE-style hyd. rollers ||850-16 ||Summit Racing ||245.95 |
|Comp retrofit hyd. rollers ||885-16 ||Summit Racing ||509.95 |
|Comp hyd. roller timing set ||2136 ||Summit Racing || 92.95 |
|Comp hyd. roller camshaft ||08-423-8 ||Summit Racing ||255.95 |
|Crane OE-style hyd. rollers ||10530-16 ||Summit Racing ||205.95 |
|Crane retrofit hyd. rollers ||11515-16 ||Summit Racing ||299.95 |
|Crane long-travel hyd. rollers ||10535-16 ||Summit Racing ||529.95 |
|Crane hyd. roller timing set ||10993-1 ||Summit Racing || 71.39 |
|Crane coated dist. gear ||11951-1 ||Summit Racing || 61.99 |
|Crane coated dist. gear ||11950-1 ||Summit Racing || 61.99 |
|Crane hyd. roller cam ||109831 ||Summit Racing ||295.95 |
|Crane retrofit roller cam ||119821 ||Summit Racing ||309.95 |
|FORD PARTS LIST |
|DESCRIPTION ||PN ||SOURCE ||PRICE |
|Ford Racing hyd. roller cam ||M-6250-E303 ||Summit Racing ||$174.95 |
|Ford Racing hyd. roller cam ||M-6250-B303 ||Summit Racing || 174.95 |
|Ford OE 16 roller lifters ||M-6500-R302 ||Summit Racing || 122.95 |
|Ford Racing retrofit lifters ||M-6500-S58 ||Summit Racing || 469.95 |
|Ford steel cam thrust plate ||M-6269-A351 ||Summit Racing || 41.88 |
|Ford steel distributor gear ||M-12390-B ||Summit Racing || 39.88 |
|Comp roller lifter install kit ||35-1001 ||Summit Racing || 50.99 |
|Comp retrofit roller kit ||35-1000 ||Summit Racing || 51.39 |
|Comp OE 16 roller lifters ||851-16 ||Summit Racing || 245.95 |
|Comp retrofit hyd. roller kit ||31-1000 ||Summit Racing || 51.39 |
|Comp hyd. roller cam ||35-518-8 ||Summit Racing || 255.95 |
|Crane OE 16 roller lifters ||36530-16 ||Summit Racing || 179.95 |
|Crane retrofit hyd. rollers ||36532-16 ||Summit Racing || 479.95 |
|Crane coated dist. gear ||36970-1 ||Summit Racing || 65.95 |
|Crane 31/48-in rocker studs ||99157-16 ||Summit Racing || 46.88 |
|Crane guideplates ||36650-1 ||Summit Racing || 27.88 |
|Crane pushrods, 0.080-wall ||36623-16 ||Summit Racing || 81.88 |
|Crane Energizer rocker, 1.6 ||11746-16 ||Summit Racing || 199.95 |
|Crane hyd. roller cam ||444221 ||Summit Racing || 185.95 |
|Crane retrofit roller cam ||444215 ||Summit Racing || 239.95 |
All Ford hydraulic roller cam motors use a net valve lash system for the rocker arms. When
Ford Firing Order
If you are considering swapping in a hydraulic roller cam into an earlier block, be sure to pay attention to the firing order. Early small-block 289/302 Fords used the 1-5-4-2-6-3-7-8 firing order. But when Ford converted to the 5.0L roller cam engines, it changed the firing order to the 351W sequence 1-3-7-2-6-5-4-8. Just to make it really confusing, the same-era fullsize Fords without roller cams retain the older 289/302 firing order. When purchasing an aftermarket hydraulic roller camshaft, be sure you know which firing order the cam is ground with. Most aftermarket hydraulic roller cams are produced with the 5.0L/351W firing order. Also worth noting is that Ford numbers its cylinders 1 through 4 front to rear on the passenger side with 5 through 8 on the driver side.
What is a RetroFit?
Because both the small-block Ford and small-block Chevy engines came in both flat-tappet and hydraulic roller versions, this does cause some confusion for parts buyers. To convert an early flat-tappet engine to a roller cam requires what the cam companies call a retrofit kit. These early engines cannot utilize the factory-style hydraulic roller lifters and retainer design. Unfortunately, this means that the cam packages and especially the lifters are more expensive. So if there is a 355 or 383 small-block Chevy or a 5.0L Ford in your future, you should consider going with a factory-style hydraulic roller cam and lifter setup. OE-style replacement hydraulic roller lifters are much less expensive, and as long as you're not spinning over 6,500 rpm, this would be a great combination as opposed to the more expensive retrofit roller cam kits.
With a boneyard full of engines to choose from, here's an easy way to tell a good lifter f
The small-block Chevy hydraulic roller cam blocks come equipped with this factory cam reta
If you're using a one-piece rear main seal truck block that was configured for a flat-tapp
Factory roller cams require what GM calls a melonized distributor gear to prevent wear. Mo
All camshafts create greater lobe lift by reducing the diameter of the lobe's base circle.
It's important to check a performance cam in the block to ensure that the lifter guides re
All camshafts create greater lobe lift by reducing the diameter of the lobe's base circle.
Adding a hydraulic roller camshaft also changes the requirement for the distributor gear.
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