Ad Radar
Car Craft
Click here to find out more!

Best Small Block Chevy Heads

By , Photography by

Peak torque saw the Jegs head take top honors with 421 lb-ft of torque besting both the Dart and Patriot heads’ 417 lb-ft achievement that was only one better than Summit’s 416 peak twist. All the aftermarket heads managed to crank out more than 400 lb-ft of torque (the stock iron castings achieved the least at 379 lb-ft). The number in parenthesis in the torque column is each head’s peak torque ranking. The differential between the top four heads is a mere 4 lb-ft, which would be nearly impossible to evaluate in the car.

This led us to one more evaluation that should shed far more light on the question of which head is the best. While peak horsepower is interesting, it can be deceiving, as our test engine in a typical street car with a 3.55 rear gear and a three-speed automatic only experiences 6,000 rpm (or more) twice in a typical quarter-mile pass, hitting this rpm at the top of First and Second gear. Few street cars hit peak horsepower rpm in the quarter-mile in high gear. On the other hand, a typical street engine will spend 70 percent or more of its time in between peak-torque and peak-horsepower engine speeds. That means the average power between peak torque and peak horsepower tells a much more accurate story of the potential benefit to improving acceleration than do peak numbers. So we decided to average the horsepower of each test between 3,600 and 6,000 rpm. After the numbers were crunched, you could throw a blanket over the top four heads (Patriot, Dart, Jegs, and Summit) with a mere 6 average horsepower difference between them and less than 3 hp between the top three. So, what does this comparison tell us? It tells us that if your decision came down to overall power, you could choose any one of these top four and make a really good decision.

Horsepower Chart

RPM Stock Vortec Edelbrock Summit Speedway Jegs Dart Patriot
3,600 270 270 264 268 270 275 272 275
3,800 270 289 285 287 289 296 295 292
4,000 288 307 308 311 309 317 315 314
4,200 303 325 327 331 327 336 333 333
4,400 317 341 341 348 340 351 347 348
4,600 329 351 354 361 352 362 362 362
4,800 336 362 366 374 362 374 374 376
5,000 343 371 375 384 370 383 384 387
5,200 350 376 382 392 378 391 395 398
5,400 354 378 386 399 381 399 406 406
5,600 356 376 390 402 380 403 411 412
5,800 358 370 394 405 380 407 413 418
6,000 355 360 395 403 381 408 419 420
6,200 -- -- -- -- -- -- 417 --
Avg. 325.5 345.7 352.3 359.7 348.5 362.7 364.4 365.4
Peak 358 378 395 405 381 408 419 420

Horsepower Graph

Overall graphs often do not show enough detail to give you a clear picture of the results. Rather than create a graph of the entire power curve, we decided to produce just the curve from 4,500 rpm up through peak horsepower. Here you can see how each cylinder head performed from roughly peak torque through peak horsepower.

Peak Torque and Horsepower

Cylinder Head Peak Horsepower Peak Torque
Patriot 420 at 5,900 rpm 417 at 4,300 rpm (2)
Dart 419 at 6,200 rpm 417 at 4,200 rpm (2)
Jeg’s 408 at 5,900 rpm 421 at 4,300 rpm (1)
Summit 405 at 5,900 rpm 416 at 4,400 rpm (4)
Edelbrock 395 at 5,900 rpm 409 at 4,200 rpm (5)
Speedway 381 at 5,400 rpm 409 at 4,200 rpm (5)
Vortec 378 at 5,300 rpm 408 at 4,300 rpm (7)
Stock Iron 358 at 5,800 rpm 379 at 4,300 rpm (8)

Horsepower Per Dollar

While torque and horsepower numbers are certainly alluring, there’s yet a third very powerful equalizer: cost. It doesn’t really matter if a set of heads makes great power if its cost is out of reach. The point of this evaluation was to test all heads costing less than $1,000, which made it much more competitive even before the first test started. One way to look at this test is by average horsepower per dollar. The equation is simple: Divide the price of the heads by the average horsepower number. The Speedway head won mainly on the strength of its very low price. The Patriot came in a close Second based on a combination of good power and price, with the iron Vortec Third and the Dart aluminum 200 heads Fourth. It’s important to note that within these rankings that there is a very small differential between these heads. Within the top three heads, the difference is barely more than a dime per horsepower. That’s hardly worth worrying about. We must also include a caveat about this dollar-per-average horsepower evaluation. If we take the stock iron heads value at $150 (which is roughly what they’re worth) and divide it by 325.5 average horsepower, you get a ridiculously low $0.46/average horsepower, which is far less than any of the other heads—so the cheapest isn’t always the best choice.

Average Horsepower Per Dollar
Speedway $2.12 / Avg. HP
Patriot $2.23 / Avg. HP
Vortec iron $2.25 / Avg. HP
Dart SHP $2.55 / Avg. HP
Edelbrock $2.58 / Avg. HP
Jeg’s
Summit

Conclusion

If the sheer number of comparisons has made the decision-making process a bit more challenging, then we’ve done our job. We are attempting to show that simplistic peak-horsepower-head-banger conclusions are rarely the most accurate. While the Patriot head did perform well in most of our objective categories, keep in mind that it did so by the barest of margins. While the power differences are clear, the ultimate evaluation is in the car. Evaluating the whole field, we have four really good heads here, and, realistically, all the heads (except the stockers) are good choices. Perhaps the most meaningful comparison is the average horsepower test, in which the spread between the top four heads was a mere 5.7 hp. That would be difficult to measure in a quarter-mile test. Frankly, you could choose any of these heads and know that you made a wise decision. Most of the other heads are cast overseas but machined and assembled in the U.S. So now that you have all the information, the only decision left is which company to call first. And don’t let us catch you playing eenie, meenie, miney, mo. End

Parts List
Description PN Source Price
Dart SHP head 127322 Jeg’s $931.98
Jeg’s head 514000 Jeg’s 959.98
Summit head 162109 Summit Racing 995.95
Vortec iron (mod) SD8060A2 Scoggin-Dickey 779.90
Edelbrock E-Street 5089 Scoggin-Dickey 909.95
Speedway (Flo-Tek) 7222200 Speedway Motors 739.98
Patriot 2168 Summit Racing 815.00
Harland Sharp 1.6:1 roller rockers S-1002 Summit Racing 239.00
ARP head studs 234-4401 Summit Racing 190.93
Fel-Pro head gaskets 1010 Summit Racing 41.95
Fel-Pro intake gaskets 1205 Summit Racing 14.75
Fel-Pro header gaskets 1444 Summit Racing 17.95
Comp Cams 10w30 muscle car oil 1594 Summit Racing 39.75 (5)

Sources

Automotive Racing Products; 800/826-3045; ARP-Bolts.com

Dart Machinery; 248/362-1188; DartHeads.com

Edelbrock; 310/781-2222; Edelbrock.com

Federal-Mogul; 248/354-7700; Federal-Mogul.com

Harland Sharp; 440/238-3260; HarlandSharp.com

Jegs; 800/345-4545; Jegs.com

Jim Grubbs Motorsports; 661/257-0101

Patriot Performance; 888/462-8276; Patriot-Performance.com

Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center; 800/456-0211; ScogginDickey.com

Speedway Motors; 402/474-4411; SpeedwayMotors.com

Summit Racing; 800/230-3030; SummitRacing.com

Tri-State Cylinder Head (Flo-Tek); 800/270-0095; TriStateCylinderHead.com

Article Attachments
Icon Attachment Budget Cylinder Head Flow Data.pdf
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!
13 comments
Steve Gray
Steve Gray

not good. Jeff was an Icon to Car Craft!

Backyard Technology
Backyard Technology

No more Jeff or many many other staffers who got cut last week...just another big corporation, not a bunch of "car guys" anymore...

Ailson Amorim
Ailson Amorim

ai sim todas oficina tinha q ser assim no brasil!

Chris Zimmerman
Chris Zimmerman

Jeff Smith was laid off from Car Craft. Car Craft sucks.

Brad Loertcher
Brad Loertcher

Couldn't agree more,John.I have no idea what the logic behind that move was.The magazine has been headed in an unfavorable direction ever since they got rid of Matt King,and with the absence or very minimal writings of David Frieburger,I really see no reason to renew my subscription.16 consecutive years,never would have thought I'd feel this way,but the price continues to increase,while the quality decreases.

John Gay
John Gay

Hey look..there's Jeff Smith who Sourcelink let go this week...bad move guys!

Fuel Injection/Engine Builder/Racer Apps
Fuel Injection/Engine Builder/Racer Apps

Actually there's an iPhone/Android App that helps you find the potential HP a set of heads can produce based on flow data. Look for it at Fuel Injection/Engine Builder/Racer Apps

Roger Perry
Roger Perry

28 years serving the city of Newark Delaware , Newark main street , by the university of Delaware

doughboyt33
doughboyt33

I have a 383 striker with 100 thousands dome top pistons I put 76 cc heads on it I have a lot of value ping. I have tried different timing degree I run race gas nothing has helped. Heads are ew and the motor is new also any suggestion please let know

Car Craft