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Performance Short Block Engine Tips

Do It Yourself And Save

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Tips And Tricks
Build Your First

We recently spent a couple of days at JMS Racing Engines talking with owner Mike Johnson and his machinists and builders to get the scoop on what makes a successful budget performance engine build. We're assuming you're starting with an engine that is in good condition and hasn't had more than one overbore, you're planning to reuse as many of the stock components as you can-upgrading to higher performance pieces as your budget permits-and you're doing the disassembly and reassembly yourself. As with any complicated process like this, there are plenty of myths to bust and just as many procedures to follow. We'll break down everything into bite-sized pieces.

Devise A Plan
The most important part of any engine build is a good plan. And by good we mean one that is realistic and fits within your budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend and what you have to work with. Are you starting with a lightly used original-bore stock block that just needs new rings, bearings, and a hone or are you starting with a mystery motor of unknown origin? For an example of how quickly costs can escalate when building a found engine, see Jeff Smith's boat motor build in the Feb. '08 issue ("A Boat Anchor Into a 611HP Screamer.").

Keep in mind that the cost of the engine is only part of the total build. There are myriad other factors to consider: Will your cooling system be able to keep your more powerful engine from overheating? Do you need to reinforce the frame or add a rollbar? Will your transmission, rearend, and axles live behind it? Will you need bigger wheels and tires for better traction? Do you have all the tools you need and space to do the work?

At some point, you'll eventually come to the age-old question: Am I building a street car or a race car? Decide on this quickly and the rest of the build will start to fall into place. We'll guess that most of our readers will have a formula that goes something like this: I have a 3,200-pound car with a C4 and 3.55:1 Traction-Lok rear, and I have a stock 5.0 that came out of a '90 Mustang. I want an engine that will let me drive to the dragstrip and run low 13s or maybe compete in a few local autocross events. I want it to be able to do burnouts at will, I want to be able to drive it to cruises and car shows without overheating or having mechanical problems, and I want it to sound good. I have $3,000 to spend on building the long-block.

Choose A Shop
The next step is to approach a few of your local machine shops to discuss your plan and see what they recommend. Can they work within your budget, and what would you get in the engine they'd build?

JMS' Mike Johnson says it's important to find a machine shop you can trust. Look at the shop. Are things clean and orderly, especially in the assembly area? How long has it been in business? What do its customers have to say about the shop? Are the builders willing to spend time with you discussing your options and answering your questions? If you're met with rudeness or impatience, don't waste your time with that particular shop. Go find another one. By the same token, don't be a pain in the ass. Tell them what you have and what you want and listen to their recommendations. It's OK to discuss why they recommend a certain procedure or brand of parts, but it's probably not a good idea to tell them how to do their jobs.

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