Bad Ass Cars

How much horsepower can you get out of one of your engines?

How much horsepower can you get out of one of your engines?


Well for starters, I'm retired now and don't build engines anymore, but I used to get questions all of the time where someone would ask; "How much horsepower can I get from one of your small blocks?" Or; "How much power can I get from one of your blown small blocks (or big block)?"

Let me put this into perspective because you can't ask a question like that and get a straight answer because there are simply too many variables. Let's just say you can get more power than the engine can handle, and it'll most likely fail in a very short amount of time if you don't take things into consideration. This is especially true with blown and/or nitrous engines.

Another VERY important aspect is WHERE will it make its power. A lot of guys say they want a 500 HP 350 Chevy. Just because you can GET 500 HP out of an engine CERTAINLY doesn't mean it will make any "torque" in the RPM range you need it to be, nor make any horsepower in a useable RPM range to make your car "go". In other words, if it is a small block that makes big power, it will only make that big power at really high RPMs, like 8,000 or so to make its "peak power", well that sure as hell isn't going to do you any good at 2,000 - 4,500 RPM where you'll be 95% ohe time on the street, and unless you have a car that is set-up with super low gears, a very high stall converter and everything else to accommodate a very high reving engine that HAS to be in it's peak RPM range to MAKE its peak power, then what you'll have is a complete and utter TURD at anything and everything below its peak RPM. Do you really want to be driving around at 8,000 RPM all day just to get your car to go? It would be like having a chain saw engine under your hood. No power unless it's at wide open throttle at max RPM. Can you cut a tree down with a chainsaw at just above an idle, or even at half throttle? Hell no! Those engines make NO torque (for a reason - so you don't get yanked off your feet and killed). The only way you can use an engine like that is if it is at its peak RPM all the time. Do you think having an engine that makes big power at only its peak RPM would be good to have under your hood? Hardly!

It's just physics. There is no magic wand. An engine will only burn just so much fuel at any given time. In order to burn more fuel (to make more power), it will have to rev more per minute (RPM). NASCAR small blocks make anywhere from 750 - 850 HP, but ONLY at 9,000 RPM! Do you ever see any NASCAR races where they are only reving between 3,000 - 4,500 RPM? NO! It's because as a small block making upwards of 800 HP, you HAVE to rev it more to burn more fuel to MAKE that kind of power. A 500 HP small block isn't much different. Do you want a NASCAR engine in your car, or think an engine like that will be a good driver on the street? Hardly. If you did put one of those engines in your car and I had a 450 HP small block with the rest of the car set-up (correct matching gearing, correct RPM stall converter, etc) I could literally blow your doors off from a 0 - 60 MPH race, because it ain't all about how much power it "can" make, it's the whole combination that matters, and having power (mainly torque) in a USEABLE RPM range is what really matters. In other words, a small block in a car making 350 HP @ 5,800 RPM and 400 Ft Lbs of torque peaking at 2,800 RPM will out accelerate a small block making 550 HP at 8,500 RPM and 400 Ft Lbs of torque peaking at 5,000 RPM in a similar car, simply because the lesser "peak HP" engine will accelerate quicker and will pull taller gears better in a heavier car at lower RPMs. The car with more power can't GET to its peak RPM quick enough to out accelerate the lesser powered engine because things like the rear-end gears are too tall, the stall in the converter isn't high enough and so on. By the time the car with the higher power / peaky engine finally gets to its useable RPM range, the other car is already 4 or 5 car lengths in front and the race is over. Now obviously it's a whole different story if the car with the peaky engine has low rear-end gears and a higher RPM stall converter... then the other car's going to get its doors blown off, but we're comparing engine to engine here, not two entirely different cars that are set up differently. It all boils down to being more than just about how much overall power the engine makes, and that's the point I'm trying to say.

Aside from what I just said above, let's look at 2 main variables of why this isn't a very good question to ask.

1) Are you talking about using a stock block, or a $2,500 - $5,500 after market race block? That makes a HUGE difference in the price and how much power that engine will handle. This is also true for pistons, rods, cranks, etc. It isn't about how much "can" it make..., it's more of a question of how much "will" it take.

2) Making power is easy. Get the engine to burn more fuel and it'll make more power. There really is no magic to it, especially these days. It is also cheap to make when something like nitrous oxide is used. It's a no brainer for a seasoned engine builder to put a healthy shot of nitrous on an engine set-up for it, (or a supercharger), and have it make tons of power. What costs you money are the components IN IT to make that engine strong enough to HANDLE the kind of power it's going to make (or is capable of making). Price has nothing to do with the power it makes, but has EVERYTHING to do with how much power (and abuse, such as missed shifts, leaning-out, etc) it will be able to handle. The stronger it is, the more it will handle.

I've said it all over this site; A) You get what you pay for. B) Horsepower is cheap - strength and quality cost money. Just like tools. Cheap tools break. Strong, high quality tools are expensive but they're really strong. It's the strength and quality you're paying for, not the size of the wrench. A cheap 1/2" wrench is the same size as a high quality 1/2" wrench. The big difference in price is the quality of the material and the strength and longevity of that wrench. Engines are no different. It's all about the quality & strength of the materials, and the fit 'n finish of the components. This very scenario seems to puzzle most guys though. I can't tell you how many times I hear guys say something stupid like: "That 500 HP engine is way too expensive! I can get one with the same amount of power for much less!", and then that same guy will brag about how awesome and expensive his Snap-On tools are. So I guess his tools are too expensive too and maybe he should be shopping at K-Mart or Wal-mart for all of his tools from now on? He bought Snap-On (or Mac, Matco, SK, or any of the other brands of high-end excellent quality tools out there) for a reason, and they're expensive for a reason. How guys can't figure out that this very same principle applies to the components in an engine is just beyond me. It shouldn't even be something I should have to explain!

So, how much CAN we get out of an engine? More than what it can handle if you are talking about using stock / factory components. A stock block can handle upwards of 500 HP pretty reliably. Some will do 600 pretty reliably, while other's won't. Can someone build an engine making more than 600 HP using a stock block and have it last? Of course, (within limitations of fuel, streetability, the block type and design, etc.), but that's also like saying someone you know crosses the street without ever looking both ways first and hasn't been hit by a car (yet). Well, it's BOUND to happen sooner or later. You are just ASKING for it to happen, so why even start off like that? In retrospect, why build an engine that is right on the edge of what it can handle? It's only going to fail sooner or later. You aren't running a sanctioned race on the street like many race engines run that ARE on the verge of coming apart at any given moment.

Some Sprint Cars run what's called a "360 class" that make in the neighborhood of 600 HP using stock 350 blocks, and they split & crack them pretty often, but I have built and seen many stock 350 blocks make 700 - 800HP that last quite a while. The reason for this comes down to variables again. Sprint Cars run at 8,000 RPM lap after lap and have big tires that in some parts of the track get VERY good traction so the full load of 600 HP can be put on that engine. Street driven cars however do NOT run around at 8,000 RPM all day, and 95% ohe time can't plant all that power to the ground without smoking the tires, so the engine never gets "loaded" as much as it would if it was in a race car with slicks and 100% ttion. If the engine can't see the load of 700 - 800 HP, then it will last a bit longer than one that could see that kind of load. Now keep in mind, a 360 Sprint Car engine also runs on race fuel (or alcohol) and has a compression ratio MUCH higher than you could possibly run with pump gas, not to mention those "race" engines ONLY make power IN their power band. Below their power band they are complete turds. They HAVE to run between 6,500 - 8,300 RPM to make the kind of power they make or they fall on their face. Do you think you are going to be driving around in a street car at 6,500 - 8,000 RPM all the time? Nope. You need a broader power curve that comes-in at much lower RPMs so you can actually drive it. This doesn't even get into the longevity of parts, such as valve springs, valve locks, valve guides, cams, lifters, bearings, piston rings, etc. of an engine like that. Do you think you'll get 25,000 - 100,000 miles out of a 600  HP Sprint Car 360, or a drag race engine of the same caliber? LOL, Hell no! Not without breaking a bunch of parts along the way. You simply can't run the kinds of parts engines like those use on the street. Not for very long anyway. This doesn't get into the fact that most really high power race engines use dry sump oil systems and belt driven vacuum pumps to evacuate the crank case from pressure. Engines like those are set-up "loose", so they have more blow-by as a result. Not something you really want with a street engine unless you like to see smoke coming out your tail pipes and out your valve cover breathers.

It's not a question of how much power CAN you get, it's a matter of how much will it handle if we build it to make a given amount of power, AND how much will the components used to build that engine handle under the circumstances of how it'll be used?  Of course there are limitations with naturally aspirated engines running pump gas. You can't get 600 HP out of a 350 running standard pump gas. If you increase the cubic inches, then of course, the power will go up as the cubic inches increase because the engine can burn more fuel per revolution. Again, making power is a no brainer. It isn't "magic" or anything. Obviously a 383 stroker will make a little more power than a 350 will because it is taking a bigger gulp of fuel and air per revolution, just as a 427 small block or a 454 small block will do exactly the same thing. The difference is; with a stock 350 block you are pretty much limited to only getting up to 383 - 389 cubic inches out of it. It requires an expensive after market "race block" to get 427, 434, or 454 cubes out of a small block "Chevy". That just ran you a minimum of $2,500 right from the get-go for the bare block. Is that in your budget? If you want to make more than 500 or so HP, or if you want any more than 383 to 389 cubic inches, an additional $2,500 - $3,000 had better be in your budget just for the bare block.

Just a quick FYI; With Ford small block's, using the 351W block, we can easily make 408 cubic inches and they'll handle upwards of 550 - 600 HP reliably when a billet main support is installed. Some people will even get them out to 418 - 427 cubic inches, but we don't recommend doing that because that additional .100" of stroke is just too much for the stock blocks to reliably handle for long periods of time. hence the word "reliably". Yes, a lot of guys do it, but a lot of people do all kinds of dumb things and "get away" with it. It's not something we are willing to do in a "professionally built" engine. It usually causes cracked main webs. For the little 289 / 302 blocks, 400 HP or so is about as far as you want to go unless you install a billet main support, which will raise the "reliable" handling capability up to about 550 HP. The only way you're going to get that kind of power out of a streetable 289/302 based Ford small block though is with a power adder such as nitrous or a supercharger, period... unless it's a race trim engine running race fuel.

Horsepower is a no brainer. It's all about filling the cylinders with more fuel and air and burning it to increase cylinder pressure. There is no magic wand or any magic person that can make an engine produce a lot more power than any other talented and seasoned professional engine builder. You are dealing with laws of physics and limitations of fuel. You can only do just SO much before those laws and physics and fuel limitations say you can't go anymore. What makes a good engine builder from one that's not so good is A) the attention to detail in the machining and fit 'n finish process to get the engine to "seal-up" more efficiently and to have the right clearances, gaps, etc to be able to run and handle the loads and RPM's it's going to be put through, and B) The ability to know what works and what doesn't to make a winning combination that works for YOU. Not everyone has the same goals, the same cars, the same driving terrain, the same driving habits, teh same gearing, the same type of transmission, etc, so not everyone wants max "peak" power. In fact, 9 times out of 10, what a guy THINKS he wants and what he really NEEDS are two entirely different things. Everyone only looks at max horsepower, when in fact, in street cars, what's more important is "torque" at a useable RPM where the car will be driven most. THAT'S what accelerates a vehicle and is what you feel on the street, NOT "max horsepower".

Now, if you're talking about a nitrous engine or a forced induction engine, then the answer is obvious that it has the potential to make more power than the components can possibly handle. The ONLY difference between a 750 HP $40,000 NASCAR engine and a 750 HP $3,000 stock engine with a big shot of nitrous on it is the strength and quality of the parts that are in it, period! 750 HP is 750 HP. That NASCAR engine is designed to handle 9,000 RPM and the 750 HP it makes all day, day-in and day-out. That's why it's a $40,000 engine. I can build a $3,000 small block with a 400 HP shot of nitrous that will make 750 HP too, and guess how long it's going to last? Yah, not very long. Again, like an expensive wrench compared to the same size cheapie wrench. The only difference is how strong either of them are. Strength and reliability cost money. So how much of your money are you willing to throw away on trying to get as much power as you can out of a small block (or big block)? You need to invest in the strength and quality of the parts or it will simply fail, and all of your money that you spent on it is gone.

So let's get down to the root answer of the question of how much power can be made with a given engine. And remember... we're talking about REAL and REASONABLE power, not the over inflated, BS power ratings many companies boast about in bogus magazine ads or in bogus dyno pulls. Using stock components (block, crank, rods, pistons, bolts, etc.) a typical 350 Chevy can make upwards of 350 - 375 HP before you exceed the reliability of the components. For a big block with the same stock components it can make in the area of about 400 to 475 or so HP and handle upwards of about 500 HP before you exceed the reliability of the stock cast pistons. This would also ring true for similar cubic inch sized engines of Ford, Chrysler, Olds, Buick, Pontiac, etc. It's all relevant to what it is, not what brand it is.

With a stock block, using after market crank, rods, pistons, bolts, heads, etc., you could expect a small block 350 to make upwards of 450 HP and for it to reliably handle upwards of 550 - 600 HP, and a big block with the same aftermarket components to make power in the 500 to 600 HP area, and be able to handle upwards of 750 - 800 HP.  With aftermarket race blocks, you can expect a small block to handle upwards of 1,500 or so HP, and big blocks to be able to handle several thousand HP, as many "race" engines make in the more hard core classes.

Now, if you plan on using a power adder, such as nitrous or a supercharger, then it's pretty obvious you're not going to be able to use stock internal components or you'll exceed the handling capability of those parts right from the get-go, but with stronger after market parts (forged crank, rods, pistons, etc.) on a stock block, you can go right on out to the power handling capabilities of the parts and the block. It's a no brainer to make 600 HP in a streetable blown or nitrous injected small block, and it's a no brainer to make 750 - 850 HP with the same nitrous or blower in a streetable big block. CAN we make more power out of one? Of course, but now you are asking for reliability issues with the stock block and you'll need to drop another $2,500 - $5,500 for an after market race block. We won't build an unreliable engine unless it's an all out racing engine where reliability isn't an issue. These are just some of the reasons why we keep our HP ratings within reason, besides not just lying about it by over inflating HP numbers, or blowing smoke up your ass just to make a sale like many other places do. We won't do that. Keep in mind, we've NEVER seen a car equipped with a generic "560 HP" crate engine beat one of our "500 HP" rated engines at the track, period. Quarter mile top speed (in MPH) tells the real story of who's telling the truth and who's fibbing about how much power their engine makes. Which engine do you want in YOUR car, and which company do YOU want to put your trust in?

Now keep in mind, things like pump gas also limit how much power you can make. You can't run high compression or lots of blower boost with pump gas or you'll have detonation problems and you WILL destroy that engine no matter what components are in it, or what kind of block you have. You are limited with pump gas. If you want to run race gas, you can figure on adding another 75 - 100 HP (or more) to any of the power making capabilities listed above, BUT also keep in mind, that would be a race only engine with a VERY peaky / high RPM power curve. Just because an engine may make 750 to 800 HP (or more) doesn't mean it will be streetable or reliable.

As far as what will something cost to make a given amount of power? Whether it's a small block Ford or Chevy, expect to pay a minimum of $8,500 or so as a starting point if you want upwards of 500HP or so, and more than that as the power level or cubic inches go up. It's easy to get into the $9,500 or so area real fast. Add an aftermarket race block and you just added an instant $2,500 - $3,000 to the price. Typical "magazine ad" 550 - 600 HP small block Chevy strokers, (such as a 427 or 434) cost upwards of $12,000 - $13,000, and that's a mass produced engine that wasn't custom built specifically for your car or driving needs. It's generic built by someone working for that company that you'll never know or ever get to talk to like you will when I build you a custom engine. You can't expect pro engine builders like ourselves to build anything better for less money. As far as a blown engine, take the cost of what was listed above and add about $5,000 - $6,000 to it. You figure a high quality blower, (like a BDS), is going to run $4,000 , plus a good pair of carbs at $600 each, plus the linkages, etc. is all going to add to whatever price the base engine is going to cost. You can NOT build a blower engine with anything BUT good / strong components in it, nor with cast iron heads. This is why a good quality blown engine can easily run between $15,000 - $20,000 pretty easily. Even an inexpensive "hot rod" blown engine, where looks are more important than the power it makes, you are looking at a minimum of $13,000 or so. There are plenty of places out there that'll be glad to build you a "cheap" blown engine, we've seen plenty of them out there (and have had to rebuild and/or repair plenty of them too). Just remember, you get what you pay for, AND... if this stuff was cheap and easy... EVERYONE would have killer engines in their cars, and that just isn't the case.

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