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Measure Bearing Clearance - What's Your Problem?

Budget Rebuild
Chris Jackson, Maple Grove, MN: Do you have any recommendations for a good first-time engine to build? I'm not looking to do any modifications and I don't need any big power numbers-just a good practice engine to cut my teeth on. I'd like to tear down the engine, clean it up, replace any parts that need to be replaced, and build it back up. My goal will be to make it run like new or slightly better.

It doesn't really matter how many cylinders the engine has or what vehicle it comes from. I just want a good engine to practice on that will help me learn the fundamentals.

Jeff Smith: There are lots of ways to go, Chris, so we'll toss out a couple of ideas. First, as much as the boo-birds will snivel, it's hard to beat the small-block Chevy as a first-time engine project. The reasons for this are simple: There are more Gen I small-block Chevys out there in the world than any other domestic V-8, and because of that, the replacement parts for these engines are incredibly inexpensive based on the immense volume. This means that a typical rebuild kit for a small-block Chevy will be less money than a V-6 Chevy or oftentimes even less than comparable kits for a four-cylinder engine. Even the venerable small-block Ford 302 comparable kit is more expensive than a small-block Chevy. But keep in mind we're talking about a 350 small-block here. A 305 can cost more because these engines are not nearly as popular as the 350, even though most of the parts are exactly the same between the two kits. For a bunch of tips on building the engine, refer to the budget engine buildup we did in the May '10 issue ("How To Build a Cheap, Street, $650 Small-Block," pg. 22).

So the first thing is to begin looking for an engine to rebuild, but one thing to consider is what your plan is for the engine once it is rebuilt, as you could then sell it and recoup the investment. There are several ways to go here. You could probably find a rusty old hulk engine that you could get for next to nothing, and that's OK, but you might want to consider an engine with a decent history that's in good shape. Then purchase a kit that would allow you to completely rebuild the engine, including new pistons, rings, bearings (including cam bearings), oil pump, gasket set, and maybe some assembly lube. You will then need to take the block to a reputable machine shop to be bored and honed for the new pistons. If the crank is serviceable, you might be able to get away with not grinding the rods and mains 0.010 inch undersize. Most of this you won't know until you dismantle the engine. That's why it's a good idea to obtain the engine first, disassemble it, and determine what parts-like the crank and rods-can be reused. That will determine the kit level you purchase.

For example, several years ago my friend Ed Taylor bought a used 350 truck engine from a friend for $100 that we intended to put into my son's '65 El Camino. After teardown, we discovered the cylinders did not exhibit much taper at the top, and the crank was in great shape, so we decided to reuse the stock cast pistons and add new rings, bearings, and gaskets. Federal-Mogul makes a specific kit for this type of rebuild that costs $127.69 for a small-block 350 from Summit Racing. We merely hit the cylinders with a bottle brush hone then cleaned the block, reused the original cam bearings, and carefully reassembled the engine with the original pistons and new rings and bearings. The crank was serviceable, so we verified the rod and main bearing clearances, endplay, and rod side clearance before reassembling the short-block. If you plan on keeping this engine or using it in a car, finding an engine like this is a good plan.

More than likely, however, the engine you find will be in worse shape, meaning the cylinders will have significant bore taper-which you can easily spot with the heads off-as well as a worn crank. These are generally the two places that will exhibit the most wear and therefore will need the most machine work. Again, assuming you will want to keep your first engine, you will need a more substantial engine kit. Federal-Mogul, for example, offers a complete economy rebuild kit that includes a set of 0.030-over cast pistons, rings, bearings, cam bearings, an oil pump, freeze plugs, and all the gaskets you'll need for the ridiculously low price of $219.95 from Summit Racing. Think about that-you'll have most of the parts you will need to rebuild the short-block for a little more than $200.

Of course, we must consider that it will cost a few bucks to have the block cleaned, bored/honed, new cam bearings installed, and the rods resized. Let's estimate this labor at $400. Now you've got more than $600 invested in this engine. You'll still need a camshaft to complete the short-block, and then we must consider cylinder heads. We'd suggest going with any one of several replacement iron heads like the GM Performance Parts Vortec iron heads only because they are brand-new, offer great performance, and will cost much less than having the stock castings rebuilt. You can buy these heads right now from Scoggin-Dickey for $309.95 each (less than $620 for the pair). These heads are complete and ready to run. If you choose a camshaft with less than 0.450-inch lift, you don't have to do anything except bolt them on. These heads do require a center bolt-style valve cover, but most late-model small-blocks after 1987 use these same valve covers.

Another important thing to point out is that you will need to pay attention to the style of used small-block you purchase. The late-model small-block Chevys built after 1987 all use a one-piece rear main seal. This is a different cylinder block and crank configuration compared with small-blocks built from 1955 through 1986. It will probably be easier to find one of these later one-piece rear main seal engines than an earlier motor. Plus, the one-piece rear main seal and one-piece pan gasket are much less likely to leak than the earlier engines and are easier to assemble. Also, these later small-blocks were designed to be used with a hydraulic roller camshaft, and the parts are easy to obtain and not that expensive. Enjoy your buildup!

CC Quickies
Also at the GM show we attended was this very cool Corvair Corsa. Did you know the very first Yenko performance cars were not Camaros but Don Yenko Stinger Corvairs built in 1966? This Corsa sported the typical flat-six with four carburetors.

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