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400 Small Block: How To Build A Torque Monster For $2,500!- Hands On

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Vortec Heads
The pivotal reason for resurrecting this 400 was to create a budget short-block that could really enhance the 400's inherent torque capacity. Most everyone knows how good a bone-stock iron Vortec head flows. Did you know it's better than the old factory GM Bow Tie iron head? But there are some shortcomings as well. The stock Vortec head uses a very large-diameter valvespring guide that is also very tall, leaving barely enough room for 0.450-inch valve lift. Anything more crushes the retainer into the valveguide seal. Barrington machined our guides for 0.530-inch diameter valveguide seals, which leaves sufficient guide thickness. Unfortunately, this meant we had to purchase different valveguide seals because the Summit supplied seals are intended for 0.500-inch guides, which Barrington claims are too thin given the 0.344-inch valve stem diameter.

All this extra machine work can be avoided by merely ordering a set of modified Vortec heads from Scoggin-Dickey that will come with better springs and the machine work necessary to clear most street cams. While we were talking with Scoggin's Nicky Fowler, he suggested we also test a set of the GM Performance Products large port Bow Tie Vortec heads. These are 225cc-intake-port heads (the standard Vortecs are closer to 170, and the small Bow Tie Vortec is 185 cc), and we've seen flow numbers upwards of 250 to 260 cfm at 0.500-inch valve lift, which is excellent for these budget heads. The Bow Ties come with larger 2.00/1.55-inch valves and are machined with five angles on the seats. One Vortec issue is the specific eight-bolt intake pattern that is completely different from the traditional small-block bolt pattern, requiring its own intake. The Bow Tie heads are drilled with both bolt patterns, so if you choose to go the Bow Tie Vortec route, you can offset the $200 price increase if you already own a good aftermarket small-block intake such as an Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap or a Weiand Speed Warrior. The Bow Tie Vortecs are drilled for both intake bolt patterns, which is convenient. But we discovered you need to seal the Vortec boltholes if you use a standard intake on the Bow Tie heads. The standard small-block intake manifold uncovers the Vortec bolt pattern in the head that will spew oil if the holes are not sealed. We learned this one the hard way too.

Our First Test Went Flat
Let's cut right to the chase. We screwed up. We installed the bigger, 130-pound seat pressure valvesprings on the stock Vortec heads expecting that a cocktail of moly cam lube, pressure-lubing the engine, and the prescribed quick run up to 2,400 rpm would be enough to ensure the Summit cam's survival through the break-in procedure. Unfortunately, the cam went flat. We asked a couple of engine building buddies, and the unanimous answer was that 130 pounds of seat pressure and 340 across the nose was way too much spring pressure for break-in. What we should have done, and did for the next effort, was to use the stock Vortec springs, which had enough clearance to avoid coil bind with the Summit cam. These springs measured 80 pounds on the seat and a mere 180 at 0.500-inch valve lift that is low enough to give the cam a chance to establish a wear pattern and to effectively improve the heat treatment of the lobes.

We decided to not take a chance on the second cam, so we ordered a Comp Pro-plasma nitrided Thumpr camshaft. The Pro-plasma heat treat hardens the lobes with a surface treatment that's roughly 0.010 inch in depth, giving each lobe an excellent chance to survive the break-in process. Of course, this also meant a new set of lifters as well as a new set of main bearings when we discovered they didn't survive the short run time due to the iron filings that were circulating through the engine.

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68 comments
Michael Guirey
Michael Guirey

Hey Ford people...................Way to go Chevy ! # 1

Justin Patch
Justin Patch

I agree the torque numbers will never be outstanding, but our argument was about HP. Saying you could not get a 302 over 400hp with out power adders was just not correct.

Zachary Morris Fick
Zachary Morris Fick

If you guys are getting 450hp out of a iron an head ford 302 mine must be making 500hp.. which it's not it makes maybe 350hp.. it has Ed Curtis worked AFR 165 heads, F cam, 10:1 static, ported air gap 4bbl intake, and a Holley 650 w/ a 1" open spacer..

Robert Paul Holmstrom
Robert Paul Holmstrom

Crib stock rules...my 451 hp 302 had stock rods and crank...when we had it on the dyno, we went through 90 gallons of gas...pump gas, iron heads, went 11.13 at 121mph in a nearly stock 1990 Mustang the first time down the track...

Robert Paul Holmstrom
Robert Paul Holmstrom

In October of 1992, SuperFord did an article on one I built that made 451 hp that was a 302 on pump gas with iron heads.

Robert Paul Holmstrom
Robert Paul Holmstrom

With 302 cubes, don't expect 500 lb-ft without a blower or adder. Back in October of 1992, I built a pump gas Ford 302 with Iron Heads that made 451 HP at 7000 rpm, 368 lb-ft of torque and went 11.13 at 121 mph in a nearly stock 1990 notchback Mustang, the first pass down the track...we got thrown out by tech, given we only had a single hoop. Had a blow proff bell housing, c-clip eliminators, a drive shaft loop, 410 gear, and slicks...SuperFord did an article on the engine and called the article "Poor Man's Boss 302". After the ink, I built several copies after.

Peter Lehmann
Peter Lehmann

+1 Rob, it's all about torque and let's keep in mind this after all, is a no frills budget build that was salvaged junk.,. I doubt a 302 would even come close to those TQ numbers :)

Carl Stjernqvist
Carl Stjernqvist

Really, is this still news in 2014? Do it with some other makes, we see Chevs EVERYDAY!

Cam Beaton
Cam Beaton

You could do it with a Windsor, but you would need two of them.

Justin Patch
Justin Patch

Many a 302 has bested 400 HP with iron heads and no super charger or turbo. Who does your porting? Find someone else...

Donald Burley
Donald Burley

Still like the small block 400 over the big block 400

Jordan Nutt
Jordan Nutt

I read long time ago in Chevy high performance mag that the most power and torque they could get out of a vorteq headed small block was 500 lbs and 400 hp

Rickey Driskill
Rickey Driskill

@ Zachary . A Ford 302 will make 400up with iron heads. I have had one. 10to 1 compression. Nice beefy cam and with 2.02 1.60 valves in the heads. It will make it all day.

John Denker
John Denker

Alexander SkiourisPut this in the ranger

Zachary Morris Fick
Zachary Morris Fick

I'm not going to argue ... a Ford 302 won't make 400hp with iron heads with out boost..

Jesse DeGaro
Jesse DeGaro

Well that 400hp Ford did make that number as I bought the shortblock from Matt King who wrote the article and built the motor. He still has the cam and the heads that went with it and won't part with them. ;) I do agree not everything you read is true but some stuff is.

Kug Mag
Kug Mag

Two bolt, Vortex heads, and with all the accessories it makes that power all day long!!! With a little more aggressive top end will make close to if not 600 hp and torque and still be under $3,800 I'm loving this build...

Carroll Smith
Carroll Smith

why do these build ups go down the track ,minus 120 horsepower?,and are these numbers corrected air? 60 degrees zero humidity?AND NO MOPAR EVER SAW HEADERS like that except on a "RAIL" LOL

John Hinant
John Hinant

When you are done with it send it to me

Zachary Morris Fick
Zachary Morris Fick

Lol ya 400hp with an electric water pump and no accessories mounted just like the stock 87 Mustang 5.0 that made 400hp when it was closer to a 250hp motor..

Steven Bechler
Steven Bechler

Meanwhile a 50's Chrysler small block, will give you 650+ ft lbs!!!

Ken Howell
Ken Howell

Why does anyone use a chevrolet as that is french for crappy equipment.

Matt Derosia
Matt Derosia

think people search the globe for these blocks,

Matt Derosia
Matt Derosia

dream on 400,s got much more low end grunt than a 327 or a 350 why do you y

Jeff McMillan
Jeff McMillan

Why do people build 400 motors when there are much better and more reliable ones out there. My 327 could take this without breathing hard;)

Mark Glowacki
Mark Glowacki

Come on. It is tuff over here just to find a 400 let alone one that isn't cracked from freezing or way too expensive. We don't have any mines near me I can scavenge for one either. All the junkyards crushed everything when scrap was high back around 2008. I was hopin for the best with this article until I saw it was for a 400.

Lee Henderson
Lee Henderson

A 335series Ford 400 would DEMOLISH this thing with a budget build :D

Gunnar Larsson
Gunnar Larsson

I run with the same values on the camshaft the same pistons, 64cc combustion chambers 462 camel hump heads. but I've also run single turbo intercooler and 750 blowthru carburetor 6psi boost 32 degrees locked ignition. work well might be something for you to try on the car craft. I have tried with GTECH 0-60 4.2 sec engine sits in a 1964 impala

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