Of all the big-block builds in this issue, this one will have the most limited appeal, and we know that. To summarize, this article shows the process Westside Performance went through to build a better-performing big-block Chevy that looks like a stock, 325hp 396. Most people building an engine from scratch or freshening up their old one would likely go for bigger displacement, aluminum heads, and so on. But some people want their engine to look as stock as possible, including cast-iron heads and intake, but built to its fullest potential. We can totally respect that, too. Though that particular build won't post the big numbers of an engine built with aftermarket parts, some creative thinking will get better performance than the stock engine could have hoped for.
Whether you want to build a stock-looking 396 is irrelevant. The most important concept to draw from this article is how to gain the most performance from the parts you have. Working within limitations that seem to restrict performance bore size and combustion chamber shape, for example, forces an engine builder to come up with creative ways to work around these confines to build an engine that's better than the sum of its parts. With that in mind, let's take a look at how Ted Toki, owner of Westside Performance, put together a 461ci big-block Chevy that still looks like a bone-stock 396.
The Starting Point
This engine was most likely an L-36 396 out of a fullsize Chevy circa '65 or '66. The bore and stroke were originally 4.094 x 3.76. It had 10.5:1 compression with oval-port, closed-chamber cylinder heads and a Quadrajet carburetor on top of a cast-iron intake manifold. These were rated at 325 net horsepower from the factory. Not bad, but it could be better.
For comparison's sake, here are some other factoids:
Of all the strikes against the 396, the most egregious is its combustion chamber design. E
A popular big-block build is a 496-that's a 0.060-over 454 (4.310 bore) with a 4.250 crank. Most big-blocks have a 9.800-inch deck height. Heavy-duty truck applications generally have a 10.200-inch deck height.
396, The Bad News
As we walked into his assembly room, Toki told us that of all the big-blocks, a 396 is the least desirable-almost as if he were bracing us for bad news. "With the small bore size, there aren't a lot of pistons available. Same thing goes for the rings. Plus, the heads are terrible." It turns out they are. Let's investigate.
The Toki Solution
We're just guessing here, but it would seem that Chevrolet had bigger bore diameters in mi
Solving the airflow problem is the key to this build. Toki knew he had to go to a bigger b
Choosing a readily available piston made finding a ring package that much easier. Toki ins
The forged RPM crank is part two of Toki's plan to make power with a 396. This is a 4.250-
Though it was mainly a precaution, Toki did a partial fill of this engine with Hard Blok b
Looking at the crankcase, you can see what areas need to be ground to clear the bigger cra