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How To Build A Cheap Small Block - $650

Not Every Car Crafter Needs A High-End Race Engine, So We're Going To Dive Into . . .

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If the engine is still in the vehicle, look for one with as few miles as possible. Finding cheap small block with less than 100,000 miles may be difficult but not impossible. We own a 350 engine in a 1/2-ton pickup with 100,000 miles that uses very little oil and has acceptable fuel mileage that would make a perfect budget rebuilder.

Last month, we showed you how to diagnose a used engine. It's best to dig a little deeper to pull the heads and check out cylinder wear. If any cylinder exhibits a deep ridge at the top of the ring travel where maximum bore wear occurs, avoid this engine. The ridge indicates excessive cylinder bore taper that will not seal well with just new rings. The fingernail test is a good way to check for bore wear, but be sure what you are feeling isn't just mild carbon buildup. Scrub the carbon from the top of the cylinder and you may find minimal wear. Also look for excessive sludge in the lifter valley and valve covers. Excessive sludge usually indicates that the engine was not well cared for and means you need to keep looking.

Cheap Small Block: The Jerk And Clean
Before you take your cheap small block apart, the best plan is to mark all the rods and caps. The factory usually marks the main caps, but if not, indicate one through five and also note the orientation of the cap to the front of the engine. This is usually marked with an arrow, but if not, you'll need to create something, since this is critically important. Disassemble the engine slowly so you can eyeball any potential problem areas. The smart move is to completely disassemble the engine and have it professionally cleaned by a local machine shop. The only issue here is that this adds cost not just for cleaning but also to install new cam bearings. In our search to minimize cost, we're going to clean the engine ourselves and leave the old cam bearings in place.

Short-Block Assembly
Most budget engine buildup stories bypass the important measuring stage or just use a Plastigauge. We've tested Plastigauge and found it less than reliable. It does serve a purpose to indicate excessively tight or loose clearances, but as a reliable indicator of specific clearances, we think it falls short. We prefer to measure everything with a micrometer and dial bore gauge. These are not items a budget car crafter will have in his toolbox, so you must either borrow them or-if you intend to build more than one or two engines in your life-consider purchasing the quality tools to invest in your engine-building skills. We prefer to check all the rod and main bearings for clearance as well as crankshaft endplay and rod side clearance. If you are reusing all the pistons and connecting rods, the rod side clearance should not be an issue, but it's worth checking just to make sure. We won't detail this part of the story-instead refer to the accompanying How-to References chart that lists the specific addresses on CarCraft.com with more details on how to perform these tasks.

Heads Up
Our long-block included a set of center-bolt iron heads fitted with the different intake bolt angle for the center four intake manifold bolts. These heads are the typical 76cc chambers that will produce barely more than an 8.0:1 compression ratio when used with dished pistons. Our engine should make around 8.5:1 compression with its flat-top pistons, 0.42-inch head gasket, and 0.020-inch deck height. We could improve compression by milling the heads, but that unfortunately drives up the cost. One trick to increase compression is using a stamped tin set of head gaskets rather than the composition gaskets used in the Fel-Pro kit. The Fel-Pro shim gasket part number is 7733SH1 and measures only 0.015 inch thick. This will increase the compression on a typical small-block by not quite 0.40 point compared with the composition gasket.

Long-Block Assembly
The final assembly is the easiest part with heads, valvetrain, intake, distributor, and the rest of the accessories. Original equipment head bolts offer superior thread engagement over budget high-performance bolts because the cheap bolts use a looser thread that will pull threads out of the block. We also splurged a little with a new Summit intake.

Cam Specs
The camshaft we chose was the Lunati Bare Bones flat-tappet cam and lifter kit. Lunati offers two different cams in this budget series. We chose the smaller of the two cams since this is a daily driver-style engine. Both cam and lifter packages are priced the same at less than $100 from Summit.

CAMSHAFT DURATION DURATION LIFT LOBE
  (ADV.) (0.050) (INCHES) SEPARATION
Lunati 10000 LK, intake 270 204 0.420 112
Flat tappet, exhaust 280 214 0.443  
Lunati 10001 LK, intake 280 214 0.443 112
Flat tappet, exhaust 290 224 0.465  

Small-Block Chevy Spec Chart
The accompanying chart lists both recommended clearances and torque specs for a small-block Chevy. The ranges for some clearances are slightly wider since we are not blueprinting this engine. Factory specs list much tighter acceptable bearing clearances, but we prefer ours. Torque specs were taken from a '60s Chevrolet service manual and may be different for your engine based on the specific components used. This is especially true for aftermarket rod bolts.

COMPONENT CLEARANCE (INCHES)
Main bearing 0.002-0.0030
Rod bearing 0.002-0.0030
Connecting rod side 0.009-or more
Crankshaft endplay 0.005-0.010
Retainer to seal 0.050 minimum
Valvespring coil bind 0.050 minimum

FASTENER TORQUE SPEC (LB-FT)
Main cap 80
Connecting rod 45 (3/8-inch bolt)
Oil pump 65
Cylinder head 65
Camshaft sprocket 20
Harmonic balancer 60

Chevrolet's published main bearing clearance range for a '66 283 is an amazing 0.0003 to 0.0034 inch.

PARTS LIST
DESCRIPTION PN SOURCE PRICE
Long-block NA Friend $100.00
Summit main bearings 173000 Summit Racing 12.95
Summit rod bearings 172000 Summit Racing 12.95
Summit piston rings, 4.00 133-139-00 Summit Racing 25.95
Fel-Pro gasket set, 1 piece rear main KS-2666 Summit Racing 99.95
Summit valvespring kit 174001 Summit Racing 63.95
Summit oil pump 121155SV Summit Racing 16.95
Melling oil pump pickup 55-S1 Summit Racing 6.95
Summit intake manifold PC22001 Summit Racing 99.50
Lunati cam and lifter package 10000LK Summit Racing 89.95
Summit carb cleaner, four cans SP1503 Summit Racing 23.80
Summit Chevy orange paint SP1005 Summit Racing 5.95
Brass freeze plug kit G1581 Summit Racing 13.95
Summit nonroller timing set G6501 Summit Racing 13.95
Summit assembly lube LUBE Summit Racing 1.95
Summit spark plug wires 868836 Summit Racing 29.95
Autolite spark plugs FRM-25 Summit Racing 12.00
GM HEI distributor Used Swap meet 5.00
Engine oil 10W-30 Local auto parts 10.00
Oil filter, Wix 51069 Local auto parts 6.75
TOTAL $652.40
GMPP rail-style 1.5 rocker arms 12495490 Summit Racing 59.95

How-to References
Measuring bearing clearance: carcraft.com/techarticles/ccrp_0805_high_performance_engines_bearing_clearance/index.html
How to measure rod bolt stretch: carcraft.com/techarticles/116_0609_using_rod_bolt_stretch_tool/index.html
Plastigauge vs. micrometer: carcraft.com/techfaq/116_0701_plastigage_vs_micrometer/index.html
How to degree a camshaft: carcraft.com/howto/116_0701_how_to_degree_a_camshaft/index.html
How to set valve lash: carcraft.com/howto/ccrp_0702_camshaft/index.html
How to start a new engine: carcraft.com/howto/ccrp_0903_how_to_start_a_new_engine/index.html

SOURCES
Lunati
662-892-1500
http://www.lunatipower.com/
Autolite
39 Old Ridgebury Road
Danbury
CT  06810
800-890-2075
www.autolite.com
Summit Racing
Akron
OH
800-230-3030
330-630-0240
www.summitracing.com/
Chevrolet Performance Parts
P.O. Box 33170
Detroit
MI  48232
800-577-6888
www.gmperformanceparts.com
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37 comments
Stewart Ambrozewicz
Stewart Ambrozewicz

So much complaining, forget "true rebuild" and "why bother building anything else but an LS engine" and just do it for the love of the car and for the challenge of building an engine at or under $650.

Ken Woodward
Ken Woodward

I had one of those too. If that's a '66.

Chip Bonham
Chip Bonham

Always liked the "Cheap & Easy for the average car guy" approach you all have had lately! Those AMC issues w/ D. Glad were excellent! $650 build a little harder to do w/ a Ford or Mopar (LOL), Lot of great ideas & thoughts in there tho.......Best Mag out there for sure.

Joshua Pugh
Joshua Pugh

And this is why everyone builds chevy's.

Jennifer Tyndall
Jennifer Tyndall

What he's doing is a shirt and tie backyard job! Anybody with a can of orange paint can do that or blue if you are a Ford guy!!

Kevin Tyree
Kevin Tyree

Who cares... It's just a piece of chevy...

Jennifer Tyndall
Jennifer Tyndall

You can't bore the block, grind the crank , resize the rods and rebuild the heads for $650!!! And if you don't do that it's not a rebuild done the right way!!!

Bill Skoros
Bill Skoros

Would be nice if they figured in a block from a junk yard into that price. I cant think of a friend that has an extra block just laying around. Plus with some of the build up of LS1 engines i have read, id be hard pressed not to go the LS route.

Tony Mealor
Tony Mealor

Yeah it can be done I've done it....but if you don't think machine work is a must you're fooling yourself...it'll bite you in the back side every time!

Rod Launer
Rod Launer

Christopher Kill, this was originally run in May, 2010......

Weston Cutler
Weston Cutler

Its impossible....true rebuild..machining costs that much!

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

I rebuilt my LT1 for under $1000 and thought I did good. The rebuild consisted of a whole different block and rotating assembly. But still.

Gene Stribling
Gene Stribling

the 50+ year old chevy motors will never go away will stay in 90% of the cars and truck's

Gene Stribling
Gene Stribling

NO NO NO we will never go to a junk ( LS )Motor my jeep run's like new and we will keep it till I pas away?

Kyle Armstrong
Kyle Armstrong

lol i can get a 5.3 for 400$ complete and clean it up and jam a cam in it and rape an old 350 anyday lol. BUT i love old 350's. cant live without ether one. :D

Jake Ingalls
Jake Ingalls

But Karl, how much are you gonna sink into a Gen 1 to make 450-500hp reliably? Like I said, if your car already has a decent gen 1 and you don't want much more power than stock you have a reason to keep it.

Flavio Leon
Flavio Leon

its just a newer setup...all things move forward...we cldnt just stay gen1. i like them both. ls is about to become vintage too.

Flavio Leon
Flavio Leon

There u go ...there u go...getting gritty with it old school style...shove that toilet brush in there and let the old lady scream!!!

Chris Marshall
Chris Marshall

Yeah but how about the cost involved in the switch to ls from a gen 1 in a 70 nova

Luis Matías
Luis Matías

With all those chevy engine's you can make a cheese cake.

Jake Ingalls
Jake Ingalls

I figure that unless you already have a gen 1 sitting in the car, are running a racing class that requires it, or are restoring to retain the oem engine there is absolutely zero good reason to run a gen 1 anymore. They require too much massaging to make what a ls truck engine does stock, let alone with mods and aren't even strong enough to handle serious mods with stock internals, unlike many other engines. You can get a 5.3l engine for $500 all day long.

Lindsay McGeorge
Lindsay McGeorge

Why??? I REFUSE to build another non LS engine. Stock heads are garbage and aren't worth the effort. The technology is 60+ years old. For the extra money it would cost to build up a 6.2L LS you're ahead of the game by leaps and bounds. And the stock heads on an LS flow pretty darn good compared to old shitty SB heads. Just not worth the effort anymore.

Baharudin Din
Baharudin Din

Clefz Anderz Isfa Dean jom koret haed ada tempat ni hahaha

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