No one knew just how this would play out. The Engine Masters Challenge was now into its sixth year, and it seemed like we've never had so many unknown variables. Gone was the simple formula of setting down an engine size for our builders to build to. Cubic inches were open to any factory combination over a 300-cid minimum. But we knew what we wanted-factory muscle duking it out against factory muscle, just as it was back in the day. I can remember lining up my 440-equipped Charger against 350 Camaros or 396 Chevelles. It's universal to anyone who has been immersed in the performance culture, and it always came down to what's under the hood. Sometimes even back then, there were surprises when engine-building skill put an edge on an underdog, and sometimes that skill was enough to bag the glory from established rivals.
We entered the 2007 competition with an untested cubic-inch formula at an all-new venue, the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH). Both were major changes from previous events, and both seemed to bring a new level of achievement to the contest. The cubic-inch formula was designed to level the playing field among the varied engine sizes. It seemed valid, taking the sum of the average torque and horsepower over our test rpm range and dividing by the displacement. Reasoned judgment told us this should work, but we could not anticipate with certainty whether the formula would skew to an advantage at one end of the displacement range or the other. Moving the venue from our traditional machine shop/dyno facility to the UNOH School of High Performance Motorsports also seemed valid, bringing together industry professionals and the students that are the future of our industry. Again, reasoned judgment told us this should work, but admittedly, we could not anticipate the level of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm that came as a result.
Judging from the competitive entries, there was little consensus among the builders on just where within the displacement scale the advantage may lie. Entries ran the entire range, from a 302 Chevrolet at just above our minimum requirement, to Torque Inc.'s 500-cube Cadillac, the largest engine allowed under our factory-displacement rule. With small-block Chevrolets being built at 302-, 305-, 327-, 350-, and 400-cube dimensions, it was evident that the builders came into this event without any common precept of just what is the "right" engine size, or even if there is one. We are pretty sure, however, that each had his ideas and theories on which combination would prove better and were determined to demonstrate his point. We were anxious to see these varied ideas play out.
Aside from the academic back story of what displacement might prove more efficient at power production, the cubic-inch-variable format swung the door wide open for an unprecedented range of engine types. Under our established rules guidelines, a given target displacement will just about spell out the advantaged engine types (no one is going to build a small-block Chrysler at a 500-inch spec). With this year's format, no matter what a builder's brand or engine preference might be, it just came down to picking a combination and building it. Just like it was during those times in the heart of American performance, it would be a duke-it-out free-for-all for those with the guts to put it all on the line at this year's Engine Masters Challenge.
From front to back at the...
From front to back at the 2007 Engine Masters event, we depended upon the School of High Performance Motorsports students at the University of Northwestern Ohio. From loading engines to the dyno docking carts to handling the dyno installations and hookups, the students never ceased to impress with their professionalism, skills, and demeanor.
Leading up to the Challenge, there are always engines that never reach completion, blow up, or just plain disappoint, despite the best of intentions. This is the pre-event attrition that is inevitable when money, pride, and power are on the line. This year, we were prepared with a roster of ready alternative participants waiting to fill the ranks. It takes a healthy desire and a leap of faith to build an engine without a guaranteed spot in the field. For a chance at the glory, alternate builders were at the ready. As it was, with the attrition and alternates reinforcing the ranks, the final competitive line-up unfolded as the engines were checked-in at the University of Northwestern Ohio. For 2007, the event brought the most varied field ever in the Engine Masters Challenge. Represented were Windsor; Modified; FE and Cleveland Fords; big- and small-block Chevrolets; Mopar's small-block; and engines from AMC, Buick, Cadillac, and Pontiac.
Opening day of qualifying brought out very different small-block Chevrolets, the 327 by the Welch/Storlien team, a 400 from Revolutionary Performance, a 400 Pontiac from Semco, the Shady Dell 340 Mopar, and a trick 331 Hemi from Hot Heads/Gene Adams Performance rounding out the field. Storlien is a master of getting more than the sum of the parts, and this 327 engine was purely a product of salvage yard parts and know-how. Breathing through a reworked set of ancient stock iron heads, teamed with a stock-block, crank, and rods, the Chevy didn't seem like much on the surface. Running first in qualifying eliminations, the small Chevy set the mark early on, holding the pole position for most of the day. Up next, Revolutionary's 400 Chevy showed potential, but an apparent problem saw the score drop through consecutive dyno pulls.
We don't know very many guys...
We don't know very many guys who can take a set of antique factory "double-hump" iron Chevy heads and lead the event for most of the opening day of qualifying, but Dave Storlien (pictured) and partner Mark Welch seemed to do the impossible with their entry.
Despite the large difference in displacement, the two Chevys that kicked off the Challenge completed qualifying with relatively close scores. It was early evidence that the cubic-inch factor system would work as planned to equalize the effect of displacement. Rolling through the line-up, Semco's Pontiac entry was hampered by the premature onset of valve float, keeping the Poncho well off the mark set by Storlien and Welch. Shady Dell, known for its expertise with Chrysler's small-block, brought an imposing Indy-headed 340. It seemed that the cam choice on the small Mopar favored too high of an rpm range, with low overall torque, putting this Mopar engine out of the running.
Mopar fans got a real treat with the final engine of the first day's eliminations when the early Hemi entry from Hot Heads/Gene Adams Performance took the stage. Hot Heads is a company devoted to these fabled engines, but few recognized the potential of this engine type as the Chrysler 331 hit the dyno. Better known for performance in blown or fuel applications back in the day, or as nostalgic powerplants in contemporary times, the old-style Hemi silenced skeptics by handily taking the leading position on Day One. We wanted our new format to draw out unusual or innovative hardware while challenging the imagination of the builders. By the end of the first day of qualifying, our leader was a 1950s Chrysler Imperial engine, followed by an iron "fuelie-headed" 327. Cubes didn't seem to matter, and it was clear that circumstances were shaping up to make for an interesting Challenge.
Odd iron came out of the woodwork...
Odd iron came out of the woodwork with the event's open-cubes format. This early 331 Hemi is based on a 1955 Chrysler, and as built by the Hot Heads team, it rose to the top of the ladder on the first day of qualifying. Who says a Hemi needs a GMC blower and nitro to make power?
Day 2 of qualifying saw a variety of hardware entering the fray, kicking off with the 305 Chevy small-block from privateer David Kauffung. This could have been the sleeper combination, with a small-bore, long-stroke combination, which had proven successful in previous Engine Masters events. The engine proved to be a touch too mild, with a street-cruiser idle and a Quadrajet carb, and it was off the mark set by the leaders. It did, however, prove to be the most cost-effective engine all week, not even topping $2,000 total outlay. Neil Clayton from Wide Open Throttle hit the dyno with an aggressive-looking AMC 401, but a timing glitch created outrageous detonation. Neil and the crew corrected the problem; however, engine damage was evident in a near-complete loss of oil pressure. The AMC finished, but well off the expected mark. Bad luck also plagued the Dove entry, as the team battled severe valve float in its 427 FE Ford. The Cadillac specialists at Torque Inc. brought a big gun in the form of a 500-inch Caddy, the largest engine possible under the rules. We could feel the crush of disappointment in builders John Walker and Donovan Harrison as the Cadillac struggled well off its previous mark.
The calm was shaken when the 302 Chevrolet fielded by the Power Shop team of Joe Carroll, Jeff Burian, and Keith Malmay hit the dyno. Coming in as alternate participants, the team built this little Chevrolet on a budget, an assembly of used and borrowed parts that came together in a magic combination. Working forcefully and decisively in the test cell, the Power Shop gang was a team clearly on its game and playing for the money. What the engine lacked in cubes, it made up for in broad specific output-just the recipe for this event. A score of 2,408 put these competitors handily in the No. 1 spot.
Eliminations continued with a second Dove Ford FE big-block (also an alternate), this time a 352, but it fell short of the numbers set by the current leaders. Chevy engines seemed to take center stage when Tim Bartholomew's 350 small-block turned the dials to capture the second position in the standings behind the Power Shop 302. Like the Power Shop engine, Tim's small-block used a two-plane intake and a budget approach with off-the-shelf parts. Day 2 of qualifying finished with the 390 AMC of Kustom Kemps, but the iron-headed AMC was no threat to the leading Chevrolets.