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How to Build a Stroker Small-Block Chevy For $1,950

Tim Moore Builds A Complete Ironclad Chevy 385CI/383HP For Under $2,000

Photography by , Tim Moore

There was a saying during the dark days of the '30s Great Depression that proclaimed "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Perhaps the 21st-century car craft version of this is "I want to make horsepower, but I don't wanna spend a lot of money to get there." To celebrate the budget horsepower builder in all of us, we embarked on an adventure in bargain-hunting and parts-chasing for a 385ci small-block Chevy that is not only powerful, but also especially fiscally friendly. The bottom line is that this motor cost less than a set of high-end aluminum small-block Chevy cylinder heads yet makes 383 hp and 436 lb-ft of torque. That's more than enough to convert the most taciturn Chevelle or Camaro into a machine that runs like a scalded dog.

Tim Moore has become famous around this magazine for finding or creating good deals on performance parts. He'll also admit that it's often better to be lucky than good. For several months he had been searching for the right price on a one-piece rear main seal short-block that he could build into a budget small-block Chevy. When he heard that a local Sun Valley, California, junkyard was liquidating its stock and closing its doors, he decided to investigate the opportunities. There he ran across a small-block Chevy one-piece rear main seal short-block sitting in the dirt amid assorted automotive detritus. The motor had been sitting outside so the cylinders were a bit rusty, but what caught Moore's attention was the offset weight balancer. It signaled to him that this could be a cast crank 385 short-block. Following a quick negotiation, he paid $75 and dragged the short-block back to his shop.

After Moore yanked the pan, a dousing with WD-40 and several mallet strikes were required to convince all eight pistons to move so he could check the stroke. This quickly revealed a 3.75-inch stroke, confirming the engine as a 385. After removing all the pistons, Moore tried several different methods including carburetor cleaner, buffing, and small picks to try to loosen the rings' grip on two corroded pistons. When the only way to remove the rings was to break the pistons, Moore decided that a new set of slugs was affordable since at this point he had a very small initial investment.

This decision set the tone for the rest of the short-block, because he soon discovered that the Scat crank had suffered some abuse that required machining and that there was sufficient rust to necessitate some cylinder boring. Moore took the block to Don Barrington Engines in Van Nuys, California, where this father-and-son team took on the machine work. The first step was to get the block clean (Moore elected to leave the brass freeze plugs in place) and to Magnaflux to remove any concern about cracks. With a solid foundation, the first decision involved pistons. While cast pistons are the cheapest, Moore opted for a set of Keith Black hypereutectic dished pistons to make the compression compatible with California's 91-octane fuel. The rod bearings looked halfway decent, so Moore decided to just clean the rods and not resize them. The oil pump, pickup, and oil pan were all in great shape, so he sanitized them and bolted 'em back in place after welding the pickup into the oil pump and adding the factory Z28 white spring that pumps the pressure up to around 65 psi.

At almost this same time, Moore ran across two more opportunities on the swap-meet tour that sealed this deal. The first was a used Comp Cams Xtreme Energy hydraulic roller cam, and the other was a set of older 76cc-chamber, 882-casting-number iron heads that had already seen the light with bigger springs, screw-in studs and guideplates, and big valves. The iron heads also gave his motor its nickname of Ironclad.

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