Testing engines is like running a marathon. There are some spots where you're way behind and there are others where you're pulling ahead. But, the race is almost never done.

The race to make more from less with normal pump-gas engines is becoming increasingly harder to run. A lot of the difficulties come from finding a set of cylinder heads that'll make power but not break the bank. For ideas, we dove into our ever-enlarging pile of readers' letters to find out which set of heads they'd most like to see bolted on next. The clear winner in the iron head category was GM's Vortec, receiving more than 10 percent of the total votes. We know that the Vortec is a good head design, and it didn't take us long to make our decision.

VORTEC CHANGES
GM has really hit the nail on the head with its iron Vortecs. But unlike so many other replacement cylinder heads on the market today, the Vortecs require some different parts to bolt them on. It would seem at first glance that for the power they make, the Vortecs might be the best set of heads on the market. And that's not too far off the mark, except there's a catch, and like most good things in life, the extra power isn't free. While it's true that the Vortec castings will bolt right onto your favorite old small-block, just about everything else connected to them will have to be changed to make the engine run again. And the cost of all those changes can quickly add up. Basically, if you're building a new engine and don't have any top-end components yet, then the Vortec heads and all of their related components will be well worth the investment.

Starting from the top and working our way down, the Vortec heads require a different intake manifold, intake gaskets, intake bolts, valve covers, gaskets, and bolts, unless you already had center-bolt valve covers. The Vortec heads will also require new rocker arms, unless you were already using the self-aligning-style arms, and chances are really good that your old spark plugs won't fit either, so you'll have to buy a new set of those, too. The good news is that your exhaust should bolt up without a problem and you can reuse your same distributor. If you're running a Q-jet carb, it may also have to go depending on which intake manifold you choose to run. The Edelbrock RPM Air Gap Vortec manifold we ran is only offered in a square-flange design. Edelbrock offers its Performer Vortec intake with a Q-Jet pattern, but that manifold might not produce the same power we saw in our tests.

Then there's the matter of choosing the proper set of Vortec heads for your application. GM actually offers only one set: PN 12558060 (Scoggin-Dickey Performance Center-SDPC), so you'd think selecting the proper heads would be quite easy, but GM's ready-to-run assemblies will only take a cam up to about .460 lift before you run into trouble. If you want to run a cam with more lift (as we did), you'll have to machine the spring pockets in the heads, cut down the valve guide bosses, and install larger springs. The set of heads we installed from SDPC (PN SD8060A) came with bigger springs and all the required modifications and can safely take cams up to .550 lift.

So, add it all up and there's no denying the power potential of the complete package once you've bolted those Vortec heads in place.

PARTS FOR VORTEC POWER
Vortec heads PN SD8060A: (Two needed)

Edelbrock manifold PN 7516

Valve cover gaskets PN 10046089 (Two needed)

Center-bolt valve covers PN 12555270, 12555271:(One each)

Valve cover bolts PN 12338092 (Eight needed)

Oil fill cap PN 10108650 (One needed)

Intake gaskets PN 12529094 (One needed)

Comp Cams 1.5:1 rocker arms PN 1417-16 (One needed)

Intake bolts 5/16-18 x 1 1/2-inch: (Eight needed)

POWER RECAP
For this dyno test we thought we could do a little better by installing a set of Vortec cylinder heads and trying COMP Cams Magnum roller tip rocker arms. Our 355-cid small-block clocked in at 422 peak hp and 452 lb/ft of torque. Average horsepower and torque were at 339 and 426, respectively.

MOTOR SPECS:
GM four-bolt, 355-cid, 9.4:1 compression, GM Vortec iron heads (SDPC PN SD8060A, 64cc chambers, 170cc intake runner volume, 1.94/1.50 valves), COMP Cams 1.6:1 Magnum roller tip rockers (PN 1418-16), Edelbrock RPM Air Gap Vortec intake manifold (PN 7516), Speed Demon 750 carb, 1-inch open carb spacer, COMP Cams XE262H cam (262/270 adv duration, 218/224 duration at .050, .462/.469 valve lift, 110 lobe separation) straight up, 1 /34-inch Hooker headers, 91-octane Shell Unleaded fuel

VORTEC POWER
RPMTQHP
2600399198
2800408218
3000421240
3200430262
3400436282
3600440302
3800444321
4000448341
4200451361
4400450377
4600443388
4800438401
5000431410
5200421416
5400409421
5600396422
5800373411
Max452422
Avg426339

355-cid VORTEC SPECS
Bore / Stroke / CID:4.030 / 3.48 / 355 cid
Compression:9.4:1
Block:GM factory four-bolt 350
Crank:SCAT cast-steel PN 1101-11133
Pistons:Probe forged (PN 130212334-030)
Rods:Probe (PN 1201-10062) 5.7"
Rings:Total Seal Moly
Bearings:Clevite
Gaskets:Mr. Gasket and GMPP
Cam:COMP Cams (XE262H) 218/224 at .050, .462/.469 lift, 110 LS
Lifters:COMP (PN 858-16)
Chain:COMP (PN 2100)
Pushrods:COMP (PN 7372-16)
Rockers:COMP 1.6:1 (PN 1418-16)
Heads:GMPP Vortec (Scoggin-Dickey PN SD8060A)
Manifold:Edelbrock Performer RPM Air Gap (PN 7516)
Carb:Demon (PN 1402010VE)
Distributor:Pertronix (PN D1000)
Spark Plugs:Autolite AR103
Oil System:Milodon HV (pan PN 31505)
SOURCE
Automotive Racing Products (ARP)
531 Spectrum Circle
Oxnard
CA  93030
805-278-7223
Summit Racing Equipment
P.O. Box 909
Akron
OH  44309
Pertronix
440 E. Arrow Hwy.
San Dimas
CA  91773
800-827-3758
www.pertronix.com
Milodon
2250 Agate Ct.
Simi Valley
CA  93065
805-577-5950
www.milodon.net
COMP Cams Probe Racing
1650 W. 228th St., Dept. EM
Torrance
CA  90501
Mr. Gasket Company
10601 Memphis Ave., #12
Cleveland
OH  44144
216-688-8300
www.mr-gasket.com
Autolite Allied Aftermarket Division
105 Pawtucket Ave., Dept. KC
Rockford
RI  02916
Scat Enterprises
3-10/-370-5501
scatenterprises.com
Edelbrock
Dept. 5.0
2700 California St.
Torrance
CA  90503
310-781-2222
www.edelbrock.com
Total Seal
Phoenix
AZ
800-874-2753
totalseal.com
McKenzie's Cylinder Heads
Scoggin-Dickey (SDPC)
5901 Spur 327
Lubbock
TX  79424
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