A Battle Of American Muscle 2007
From the February, 2008 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Steve Dulcich
Photography by Johnny Hunkins, Steve Dulcich
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.
Although the Challenge saw...
Although the Challenge saw a record 28 of 29 engines successfully complete the competition, that's not to say that mechanical problems were absent. The WOT team of Neil Clayton experienced distributor problems, leading to severe detonation, which knocked the oil pressure out of the AMC.
Qualifying continued for the third day, with a major reshuffling of the leader board and a glimpse into what would develop into the finals: a Ford versus Chevy shootout. Hinkle Performance carried the last hope for the Chrysler camp with a stout 340 entry. It certainly looked promising in the warm-up pulls, but when the hammer was dropped for the scored runs, the Mopar's numbers were decimated. A plug wire burned clean through on the header and cost this one its shot. A pair of FE Fords followed, the Blair Patrick 332 and Barry Rabotnick's 427. Both finished, but fell short of the numbers needed for contention, though Rabotnick's Ford pulled the highest peak horsepower numbers to that point, at 661 hp.
Decidedly, a tidal change occurred when the next engine hit the dyno, the School of Automotive Machinists' 351 Cleveland topped with the CHI 3V Cleveland-style heads. This top-end combination dominated the field in the '06 event, and the SAM entry portended the possibility of a repeat, with the team solidly grabbing the lead position from the Chevrolets, posting a score of 2,433.8. Performance Unlimited's 351 Windsor followed the 351 Cleveland with a strong showing, but it wasn't enough. Reinforcing the authority of the CHI Cleveland combo, McKeown Motorsports followed with a 400M CHI combo to strip Chevrolet from second position. Leadership had gone from a pair of small-block Chevys to a pair of CHI Cleveland Fords, with the first two of these brutal Cleveland combinations to run. Up next, the School of Automotive Machinists' second team entry would once again stir the pot, with an All-Pro-headed small-block Chevy 400 bumping the McKeown Ford to grab second place. SAM now held the top two spots with a 351 Cleveland and a 400 Chevy, and it seemed that Chevrolet power was going to put up a serious battle to prevent a Cleveland rout.
If there was any doubt about the potential of the CHI Cleveland combination, the next engine would be a wake-up call. Bob Moore and Scott Main from MPG Heads have been competitors in the Engine Masters Challenge since the beginning in 2002. These guys were hungry, they were due, and this time they came packing serious iron in the form of a 400M with the dangerous CHI combo. Pulling the handle on the DTS dyno, the dials spun with a staggering display of power. Those in the know were stunned-the MPG team's engine was recording numbers that shattered the field. With subsequent pulls, a devastating drop in score gave evidence to what was going on inside the engine. The camshaft was wiping several lobes while the team stood by in disbelief-132 pre-event test pulls without incident, and the cam fails on the three that really count.
Another full day of qualifying lay ahead, and with it came some of those competitors who had earned the position in the ladder based upon prior results. Kicking off the day's competition, Ron Shaver brought the only big-block Chevrolet, a 454-based entry. Shaver's big-block fell short of expectations due to scavenging difficulties compromising the sensitive exhaust combination developed for this engine. Randy Malik's 327 Chevy, Automotive Machine's Buick 400, Traco Engineering's 350 Chevy, Weingartner Racing's 350 Chevrolet, and Performance Crankshaft's 318 Mopar followed, and though all exhibited strong performance, none were able to conquer the leader board. Former Engine Masters Champions Jon Kaase (2003, 2004) of Jon Kaase Racing and Tony Bischoff (2006) would be the last to run in qualifying.
Power Shop's little 302 Chevy...
Power Shop's little 302 Chevy was the star of the second day of qualifying, posting a high score that would see it into the finals and an eventual fourth-place finish. The AFR-headed small-block was an alternate engine built on a budget that made good.
Kaase was next, and he would play the poker hand. In the warm-up dyno pulls, the 400M Cleveland/CHI combination showed the numbers required to make the final field. Kaase simply shut down for the 20-minute tuning period that followed and completed qualifying with three easy pulls, putting the engine in second place with Bischoff still to run. Interestingly, Kaase was torn when it came time to claim the engine's cubic inches to calculate the score. New rules state the participant must claim his displacement by which the average power is divided to determine the score. If the engine measures over the claimed cubes-even fractionally-the competitor is disqualified.
Unbelievably, Kaase was running a reground NAPA cast crankshaft in his 400 Ford. He knew minor stroke inaccuracies could conceivably put the engine fractionally over the engine's nominal 403-cid displacement, depending upon which journal was measured. But then, Jon also knew that most of the journals would measure safely under 403 cubes and that claiming one extra cube would cost a precious six points of score. In the end, Engine Masters tech official Wesley Roberson instructed Kaase to key the number of his choice, and Kaase depressed the "4" key for 404 cubes.
Buck Hinkle brought a Mopar...
Buck Hinkle brought a Mopar that appeared to have what it would take to give the Ford Clevelands and Chevy small-blocks a run for the money. An ignition secondary lead that fried clean through put an end to this Mopar's chance.
As it stood, the SAM 351 Cleveland and Kaase 400M were one and two, both bearing nearly identical CHI 3V cylinder head and intake combinations. If there was to be a challenger, it had to be Bischoff and his Chevrolet. It takes guts to bring 400 cubes of 23-degree Chevy to play against the canted-valve Fords, but it takes more than that to be competitive; Bischoff has the know-how and the racer's savvy to bring it on. Bischoff's Chevy looked strong in the warm-ups, and its score improved with tuning by Bischoff's BES Racing team. With a qualifying score of 2,461, Bischoff secured the top qualifying position and set the stage for a vicious Ford/Chevy shootout in the final eliminations.
It was all Cleveland Fords versus Chevy small-blocks in the finals, pitting, in reverse qualifying order: the McKeown 400M Ford Cleveland/CHI at 2,406.4; Power Shop's AFR-head 302 Chevrolet at 2,408.4; SAM's All-Pro-head 400 Chevy at 2,427.8; Jon Kaase's 400M Ford Cleveland/CHI at 2,429.5; SAM's 351 Cleveland/CHI at 2,433.8; and at the top position, Bischoff's BES Racing 400 Chevy bearing Australian Racer Pro heads with 2,462.1 points. Going in, it was hard to guess what these serious competitors had up their sleeves. The middle of the pack was separated by a mere six points. While Bischoff seemed to have a substantial margin, Kaase held pat in the qualifying rounds, making fellow competitors wonder what hand he might have yet to play. Somewhat down, McKeown is always a dangerous competitor, and the Power Shop engine was within striking distance. It was anyone's game.
Joe Carroll from Power Shop...
Joe Carroll from Power Shop was understandably excited with his Chevrolet's performance and the fact that the smallest engine in the competition was right in with the big boys to the end. We also liked that it validated our cubic-inch format.
McKeown, on the bump spot, began the final eliminations with the intent of making up score. Sometimes she just has nothing more to give, and despite an intense tuning effort, the 400M dropped in score in the finals. Power Shop followed and fared better, bumping the qualifying score a few points, but with a tally that still was not threatening to the leaders. This 302 did make it perfectly clear that the contest was more a test of engine builder's talent than choosing a "magic" cubic-inch combination. The 302 curbed many an engine far exceeding its displacement. Next was another Chevrolet, the SAM 400. This engine rolled in very strong on the torque and hit with an explosive rush of power when the overlap turned on its tight lobe separation cam. In between, there was a noticeable dip in the torque curve that made the difference between placing and an outright win.
Kaase is always a man to watch when the subject is engine building, and his 400M had not seen a wrench since the shipping crate was opened. Kaase worked the timing during the tuning period, watching the score surge over the numbers posted in qualifying. Still, it would be a tight race against Bischoff's leading marks. It appeared as though the hungry Ford was asking for more fuel. Kaase weighed the possibilities, electing not to risk a change. Kaase found 13.8 points in qualifying, putting his effort into the lead position but at a score below Bischoff's qualifying numbers. The SAM 351 Cleveland was next, an engine that qualified within striking distance of the score just turned in by Kaase. The team needed to find score and worked the tune during the allotted 20-minute period. It was just worked a little too hard, with repeated test pulls leading to heat soak and a significant point drop from qualifying.
It all came down to Bischoff's Chevrolet. Ironically, Bischoff's BES racing had won the Engine Masters title the previous year using a 400M-based engine with a CHI 3V combination, exactly the combo he faced now in Kaase's Ford. Although the number posted in qualifying showed a margin of superiority, most of the finalists were down in score compared to their qualifying numbers. And during the warm-ups, Bischoff's engine was no exception. It was razor-close to Kaase, and Bischoff could feel that this one was anything but in the bag. He had to find power, but he also knew the danger of defeating himself in the hunt for a more powerful tune.
Bischoff's direction to his experienced crew was awe-inspiring. It was as if he instinctively knew where to go, what to do, and how to do it-no questions asked. The engine responded with more power with every move, and every move was executed with unreal precision, wasting no precious time in the process. Bischoff then cut the flurry of activity at the heels, directing the BES crew to clear the cell and let the engine cool for the remainder of the allotted 20-minute tune-up period. The race-savvy Bischoff played his hand to perfection, and the dyno scores were the proof. Tony Bischoff and his crew of Richard Kolb, Brett Vonder Meulen, and Brad Nagel pulled it off for a back-to-back Engine Masters victory, taking it home for Chevrolet.
|Final Results |
|2007 Jeg’s Engine Masters Challenge |
|Place ||Competitor ||Engine ||Score |
|1st ||BES Racing ||400 Chevy ||2,448.2 |
|2nd ||Jon Kaase Racing ||400M Ford ||2,443.4 |
|3rd ||School of Automotive Machinists ||400 Chevy ||2,430.6 |
|4th ||Power Shop ||302 Chevy ||2,412.2 |
|5th ||School of Automotive Machinists ||351C Ford ||2,406.6 |
|6th ||McKeown Motorsports ||400M Ford ||2,379.1 |
Inside the test cell, the...
Inside the test cell, the students from UNOH showed the skill, knowledge, and ability to work under pressure, and this quickly won the confidence of the competitors and event staff. Student teams catered to all engine dyno installations and removals and assisted during the tune-up period of the competition.
Mark McKeown also made his...
Mark McKeown also made his presence felt on Day 3 of qualifying with a strong showing from his 400M Ford. It provided enough to make the final field, holding on for sixth place in the finals.
Day 3 of qualifying was all...
Day 3 of qualifying was all about the School of Automotive Machinists, who swept into the No. 1 spot with its 351 Cleveland Ford and grabbed a hold of the No. 2 position with its second team's 400 Chevrolet.
Two-time champion Jon Kaase...
Two-time champion Jon Kaase brought a 400M Ford full of custom handiwork. Kaase left the engine untouched for qualifying, setting himself up for a place in the finals and an eventual runner-up finish.
The Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge...
The Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge closes with the official teardown inspection. Tech official Wesley Roberson was so impressed with the capabilities of the UNOH student assistants that he enlisted them to fulfill the teardown duties.
A champion in 2006, Tony Bischoff...
A champion in 2006, Tony Bischoff led his crew through a ferocious tuning session in both the qualifying and final eliminations, landing the top qualifying position and eventual victory for BES Racing.
BES Racing once again walked...
BES Racing once again walked away with the gold for its unequaled effort in extracting power from its Chevrolet entry. Will the modest Bischoff (right, standing) be back next year? We'd love to see it.