All of the power in an engine comes from the cam and especially the heads, so money needs to go there. The lower-end doesn’t have much to do with how much power an engine makes, but it does have everything to do with strength and quality. You need enough strength and quality to keep that engine together and to make it reliable.
Getting 400HP out of a small block Chevy isn’t very hard at all IF you have the heads and such to support that kind of power. With that, heads that flow real well aren’t cheap. Even a good set of after market cast iron heads aren’t too cheap these days, let alone going with a nice set of aluminum heads. Your budget might allow for a nicely built engine, but it’ll be pushing it for a complete “turn key” set-up.
With the least expensive outer components, such as; a cast iron / stock replacement water pump, inexpensive aluminum pulleys (you might as well go aluminum because the inexpensive one’s are about as much as painted steel pulleys), an inexpensive aluminum alternator bracket, a remanufactured natural finish alternator, a fan belt, polished aluminum valve covers, an oil breather, a PCV valve, a dip stick, a chrome timing cover, an oil pan, spark plugs, custom made plug wires, a factory replacement starter, etc., you are looking at about $900 for parts and labor to install all of that on top of the price of a complete engine.
If you went with top of the line components, such as an Edelbrock high flow aluminum water pump, March aluminum pulleys, a March billet alternator bracket, a new chrome 1 wire alternator, a nice oil pan, a high torque mini starter and the quality and grade of the outer components we usually put on our engines, you are all of the sudden almost double the amount I said above in components, which really wouldn’t leave enough for the rest of the engine to have the quality and strength “I” would put into one of my engines with my name on it.
Making 400 HP is a no brainer with the right components, but an honest to goodness 400 HP (not the bench racing 400 HP everyone else says they have, yet at the race track their car doesn’t go any quicker than my wife’s BMW X5 with 3 kids on it), is enough power to propel a car well into the 12 second quarter mile times. How many guys do you know with actual 12 second street cars? Probably not too many, but I am willing to bet they all claim they have about 400 HP.
My point is; 400 HP is more power than you think, and that power has to be contained, which requires sturdy parts. Sturdy parts aren’t cheap. I have no problems building a 400 HP small block Chevy using a stock -reground crank, factory forged rods with the bolts upgraded to ARP, ARP bolts installed on the main caps, ARP bolts for the heads, Good heavy duty Clevite bearings, a decent set of pistons with moly rings, upgraded chrome moly push rods, etc.. The cheapest set of pistons you can go with would be hypereutectic alloy pistons from Sealed Power or Keith Black. Then put some money into the heads to make the power. I’ve built hundreds of them like that since the late 70’s that ran really well and lasted a long time but I prefer to build stronger engines, which ultimately cost more too.
To help keep the price down you can go with a lesser expensive Holley carb and an inexpensive HEI distributor that I can re-curve for better performance. Something like that with the lesser expensive outer components I mentioned above would put you at the edge of the high side of your $6,000 budget (or so). That would be with a flat tappet cam. If you wanted to go with a roller cam, look at what those run for the “real” ones (not the late model factory crap a lot of crate engine places use). You are looking at about $750 or so just for the cam & lifters alone. That would put you over your budget.
Like I said, I wouldn’t have any problems building you something with a stock crank (ever see a small block Chevy with a broken crank? Probably like everyone else… that answer is no). If it were up to me though, I’d rather see you go with a Scat steel crank, a set of Scat 4340 I-beam rods, but that would add a few hundred extra to the cost, and maybe even a set of inexpensive Sealed Power forged pistons. Start adding things like that, along with a roller cam, doing extra things like port matching the intake manifold, going with a nice customized MSD distributor, a much better Quick Fuel Technology carb, and all of the higher quality outer components to make it a truly “turn key” engine and you are instantly way over what you want to spend. This is how you end-up with a $8,500 - $9,000 engine. They can easily go up over $10,000 these days with really nice components, not even getting into the seriously radical stuff.
Just remember, if it was cheap and easy to build a show quality, nice power plant like this that REALLY made 400 or so HP, EVERYONE would be driving around in 12 second cars with nice engines like this. The fact of the mater is, 95% o them DREAM they have an actual 400 , and their 13, 14 & 15 second time slips prove it!
Check out the link to this guy’s Camaro. This will give you an idea of what a nice 400 HP engine will do in a bone stock Camaro. He almost touches 11’s in the quarter mile! His engine was about $8,500 or so though.
Like I said, I can build you a nice 400HP 350 that’ll be strong and reliable, but it’ll be with fairly stock (yet upgraded in strength) components, and it'll be on the outside edge of your budget. If you want anything stronger or more fancy, it’ll add to that price accordingly.
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