The Engine Masters Challenge competition has gained the attention of our readers, the automotive aftermarket, and many of racing's best minds. For 2003, our goal was to find the best-possible pump gas-urged domestic big-block 470-inch powerplant, and Jon Kaase of Winder, GA showed everyone how it was done.
Check out the power figures on his 460-based Ford engine. His final score of 1178.8 is a combination of the horsepower and torque averages between our target rpm levels of 3,000 and 6,500. The 745 peak horses show the engine is a model of efficiency, while a torque peak of 657.5 ft.-lbs. at 4,900 rpm backs up the power with grunt. Tested with a 14x3-inch Accel round air filter in place, and exhausting through a pair of Magnaflow 3-inch in/out mufflers, Kaase's Ford represents the pinnacle of what could be living under the hood of any late-'60s/early '70s street Mustang in the country with the Hooker headers he chose to run (they will fit an unmodified Mustang chassis).
The engine will be dissected and explored in detail (along with the second and third place winning powerplants) on our pages next month, but first we'll show you how the competition went down. For now, we'll share that the engine wore a set of Kaase's own (by design, not manufacture) Super Cobra Jet heads. Cast and sold by Ford Racing, these cylinder heads are available through your local Ford dealer, and fit our rules contention of being "factory replacement" parts. No mods are required to install them, and they share architecture (intake and exhaust patterns, along with rockers) with factory 460 heads.
Naturally, the heads are only one part of the puzzle, and Kaase's personal hand-finishing of these heads must figure strongly into the equation, but know the parts capable of winning the Engine Masters Challenge are readily available to you, and know the power potential living within them is evident on these pages. This is why the Challenge was created, and you can reap the benefits.
The 12 engines were all shipped to Westech from their respective Regional Qualifying sites. The engines were tested in an identical manner, and each builder was once again informed of the procedures to be followed. The engines would be loaded up on the dyno, with a safety checklist to be gone over prior to firing. Once the builder and the Engine Masters Challenge staff had approved the installation, the engine could be fired and brought up to our target temperatures. With coolant going into the engine at 160 degrees, we were confident the engines were operating at about 180 degrees, which represents a real number on the street. Oil temps were brought up to a similar level, and then the warm-up runs could be made.
The warm-up runs consisted of three pulls at 600 rpm per second, and served to both heat-soak the competing powerplants and ensure they were thoroughly heated up to replicate a street scenario. These pulls also provided preliminary data for the builders to see, should they choose to alter their tune in a 20-minute period to follow. Once the warm-ups were done, each builder was given twenty minutes to fine-tune the timing (through distributor movement only) or jetting (through freedom to change jets and air bleeds) to find their best score. Builders were not limited to the amount of pulls they could make during this time, but the clock would be their only nemesis. Some builders found power; others lost some. Some did both- finding a good tune, then making a last-minute change hoping for more, but ending up with less when the "real" pulls happened. This is racing, and in racing these things happen. In searching for the nation's Engine Master, such calls become the difference between making a name for oneself or learning an important lesson for next year.
The final part of the Engine Masters Challenge for the builders was the three competition pulls. These three dyno passes would be averaged together to find the horsepower and torque numbers used to develop each entrant's score. The ability of an engine to make consistent power over three runs is the key to winning the title, and factors like temperature increase from pull-to-pull becomes paramount. For our readers, this filters out engines making one "good" pull and not being able to back it up immediately. It sidesteps the "peaky" engines that don't make tremendous average power, but do well only within a slim rpm window. It's what makes the Engine Masters Challenge hard, and why it's such a big deal to win. Note that all of the power figures shown here (both peaks and averages) are derived from accumulated data averaged over the three "competition" dyno runs, and peaks on individual passes showed both higher and lower numbers. By sharing the average data, we can confidently post these numbers and know each of these engines can easily claim the power figures we've printed.
JON KAASE RACING ENGINES
Taking home the Engine Masters Challenge trophy required many nights of lost sleep and much personal effort from Jon Kaase himself. Known for his mastery of the IHRA Pro Stock engine formula and the needs of big-inch Fords (up to 815ci) in general, Kaase's motor never missed a beat. Power was copious, tuning changes were minimal, and temperature control was paramount. Kaase shared that much of his work focused on block mods, and we'll see exactly how much was done next month. We'll tell you two things - it's very trick and it's all legal per our rules.
Kaase showed up as the top qualifier, and was the last to run for this reason. He saw all the other participants run, and knew what he needed to grab the top spot. He claimed to have focused on little else but this Engine Masters Challenge engine for the last eleven months, and it showed. Having finished thirty-plus points ahead of the field proves the point--Jon Kaase kicked ass.
As the designer of the Super Cobra Jet cylinder head for Ford, Jon knew what he had to work with. Hopefully, the cylinder heads atop the engine will become a model for a street version, and when teamed with a Kaase-designed cam and matching intake, Ford fans can rejoice in knowing they've got the best-possible stuff for their 46-0-based combos. Congratulations to Jon Kaase and his supportive staff at Jon Kaase Racing Engines.
The 460 Ford has never gotten the respect it deserved as a capable street engine, but the performance of this particular example should change all that. We're looking forward to it.
Peak HP: 745@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 657.5@ 4,900 rpm
Avg. HP: 562
Avg. TQ: 616.8
Newport News, VA
If you're beginning to believe it would take a professional race engine builder to do well in the Engine Masters Challenge competition, here's proof you're wrong. The father/son team of Charles and Donald Williams are automotive technicians (they operate a repair shop in their home town), but they are not professional engine builders.
They decided to jump into the Engine Masters Challenge and give it their best shot. Donald's personal car (a Pro Street '77 Trans-Am) was ready for a new powerplant, so the timing was right, and the engine would have a home once the Challenge was complete. By working with some talented friends and focusing on the task at hand, Charles and Donald outran all but one other, and grabbed the Second Place check for doing so.
As we reported last month, this engine was assembled by flashlight during the week hurricane Isabel left the East Coast without power. So, take these points into consideration - a father and son, in their garage, with flashlights, assembled a big-block Chevy that took second place in our national dyno race. The engine, now forever named Isabel, made great power through its Weld Tech-finished Brodix heads. The heads were virtually untouched, save for resurfacing to fine-tune the compression ratio. To ensure maximum performance during our testing, and to make the most of their 20-minute tuneup time, the Williams' brought in carb maestro Charlie Morgan, who built the carb. The fine-tuning by Morgan brought every possible pony out of the engine, and proved to be a great move.
Congrats to the Williams', and look for this engine to be powering Don's Trans Am at the Hot Rod Magazine/Comp Cams Pump Gas Drags. These guys want to line their pockets with more Primedia cash, and they already know the engine is a player.
Peak HP: 699@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 633.5@ 4,800 rpm
Avg. HP: 546
Avg. TQ: 602.3
STEVE DULCICH & ROSS MARTINDALE PERFORMANCE RESEARCH
Steve and Ross are engine builders/researchers who spend plenty of time and effort in their search for horsepower. Steve is a frequent contributor to several car mags, and works on Chrysler products almost exclusively.
The engine Steve and Ross crafted for the Engine Masters Challenge is a great example of the popular 400-inch low-deck stroker combo. Relying on a stock 400 low-deck block and an offset-ground 440 crank, Dulcich and Martindale were able to make tremendous power and torque between 3,000-6,500 rpm. Their peak power numbers were mighty impressive too.
They had minimal oil pressure when the runs were finished, and admitted the engine would need more oil pump to be a solid street powerplant. It did survive our testing, but oil pressure was less than 20lbs upon completion. The situation was scary, but the engine lived.
Mopar fans should note the Chapman/MP cylinder heads topping the block and be sure to check in next month when we tear this engine down. There are plenty of solid tips and tricks for making power inside, and we'll have it all on the pages for you next month.
Peak HP: 752@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 641.9@ 5,500 rpm
Avg. HP: 547
Avg. TQ: 598.8
Adney Brown's Chevy is a great example for others to follow. It's representative of a well-designed 470-inch big-block Chevy that was truly built on a budget and makes killer power. Comprised of new, used, borrowed, and rebuilt components, the engine began as an exercise to "see what I could do," according to Brown. It then turned into a serious quest to acquire the perfect tune, and Adney was satisfied with his finish.
As we've reported, Adney worked with pal Randy Malik (who's Ford you'll be reading about soon) on the cam specs. By trade, Adney is a crankshaft builder, and one of his cranks lives in the belly of Malik's Ford beastie too. The teamwork of Brown and Malik may set the stage for future "team" efforts like this, as both competitors finished better as a result of working together. Certainly, both would give credit where it's due and admit they probably could not have done so well without the other. They also credit the owner of our Detroit-area Regional Test Site (Vince Impostato) for his assistance. By working with a great dyno shop and some trusted friends, Adney Brown and Randy Malik both proved the worth of partners, budget combos, and well-designed components.
Peak HP: 684@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 618.7@ 5,200 rpm
Avg. HP: 528
Avg. TQ: 579.9
Joe Sherman Racing Engines
Santa Ana, CA
After winning our inaugural Engine Masters Challenge last year, many were looking for Sherman to repeat. While he did not win, he certainly showed again how he is one of the nations finest designer/builder/tuners. Sherman's engine made plenty of steady power, and fine-tuning during his 20-minute adjustment period had little effect. We feel this shows how Sherman knew what the engine wanted, and did a god job in milking all possible power from it.
Did the big-block format affect Sherman? We say no, as the results were still impressive. The competition will certainly get tougher as time passes and more "tricks" are figured out to perform well in the Challenge. All the competitors read up on what Joe did last year, and many followed his techniques for developing a competitive engine this year. We credit Sherman for being open and honest about how he develops his killer combinations, and many others will benefit from his sharing of information in this manner. Joe Sherman has made the Engine Masters Challenge better, and finishing so close to the top once again says plenty about the man and his mastery of the craft.
Peak HP: 694@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 616.5@ 5,400 rpm
Avg. HP: 527
Avg. TQ: 580.1
DAVID AND RODNEY BUTLER
Jim Butler Performance
If there is any more question about the performance potential of the traditional Pontiac engine, these results should provide a clear-cut answer. Saddled with an inline-valve design by the factory and limited by our stern rules structure, the Butlers proved the old-school Poncho can run with the big dogs, and outrun most of them. The street-limited nature of our rules helped level the playing field, and the Butlers took full advantage. Pushing their well-developed crate engine package to its 92-octane limits, the Tennessee-based family of Pontiac engine builders delivered an engine capable of making power in the 645-horse (at peak) range run after run. The ample torque helped raise their average numbers, and fine-tuning upped their score from the Regional competition enough to finish 6th overall.
The addition of Edelbrock's Pontiac cylinder head made the difference, and the Butler's experience in working with the head is obvious. If you're a Pontiac fan and you're looking to kick some ass with a pump-gas Poncho, the results of the Challenge would recommend you make a call to Tennessee. The Butlers are a kind, honest group of straight shooters, and their aim is true.
Peak HP: 645@ 6,200 rpm
Peak TQ: 624.5@ 4,600 rpm
Avg. HP: 523
Avg TQ: 578.6
Twin Falls, ID
Mark is a dedicated builder from Idaho who wanted to make a statement about his business by participating in the Challenge. His ideas worked, and while he'd hoped for a higher finish, coming in seventh overall is nothing to sneeze at. We'd not heard about Mark's work prior to the Challenge, but we'll be keeping an eye on future projects he may be involved with. It's obvious he knows his stuff and can develop a very serious pump-gas Chevy. With the right chassis under it, this powerplant could prove to be a perfect street engine for any weekend toy. Check out the peak horsepower numbers--this motor is no slouch. With a bit stronger set of torque averages, he had the power to finish higher.
Peak HP: 711@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 610.4@ 5,600 rpm
Avg. HP: 525
Avg. TQ: 574.8
Bischoff Racing Engines
West Harrison, IN
Tony's Chevy-based racing engines are well known to drag racers, and its obvious Bischoff can make an engine sing on 92-octane as well. While Tony wasn't completely happy with the power figures the engine was making, it only tells us what kind of competitor he is. Bischoff told us repeatedly there was a few things he'd liked to do differently, and he's sure the combination holds more potential than what we were able to see here. We believe him, but we think it'll take another strong showing in Engine Masters competition to reassure our readers and all of his potential customers. We'll be looking for an application from Bischoff for 2004, and we'll be expecting fireworks from his entry next year. Now that Tony knows how the Challenge works, we expect him to take full advantage of his vast experience.
Peak HP: 672@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 592.4@ 4,700 rpm
Avg. HP: 520
Avg. TQ: 577.1
RM Competition Engines
Randy Malik's Ford was expected to finish in the top three, but fell to ninth after an aggressive tuning session. We saw Malik's score raise to a point where he'd have been competitive for third or fourth, but the last timing change he made during his tune-up time had an adverse effect. We give the participants the 20-minute tune-up time to assure them all is adjusted properly with respect to jetting and timing, but sometimes a tuner gets too greedy and tries to push the limits. While we'll always appreciate limit pushing, in this case it cost Malik some power, and affected his overall average.
Randy's Super Cobra Jet-headed Ford is better than the numbers reflect and everyone seemed to know it, but part of the allure of the Challenge is the opportunity to make or break your own tune-up with the pressure on and only 20 minutes to perform. Malik is not the first to go too far, and we're sure he's not the last either. Luckily for all involved, Randy assured us he'd be back next year with another creative and powerful entry to go after the big money. After seeing solid results from the Michigan native, and also the results generated by his partner Adney Brown (see FOURTH PLACE, above), it'd be tough not to accept his application for 2004.
Peak HP: 684@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 618.4@ 5,000 rpm
Avg. HP: 522
Avg TQ: 574.9
MPG Head Service
Another Super Cobra Jet-headed Ford; another Engine Masters Finalist. If you're a fan of the Blue Oval, it'd be hard to miss this fact. Only 5 Fords showed up in the Challenge, and three made it to the Finals. All 3 had Super Cobra Jet cylinder heads. Is this a clue for you?
Scott Main took on the additional challenge of building and testing his entry at the high altitude of Colorado, then worked diligently to sneak up on the tune once on the West Coast. The big Ford responded in kind and cranked out copious power, just not enough to break into the top five.
We understand how our nationwide competition may hold some advantage for those living in Southern California near where the Challenge is run. Certainly, this is true for all forms of racing, as local "track knowledge" can be an advantage. For Scott Main, getting this big Ford together on time and tuned to level where it stood proudly among the best in the nation is a huge accomplishment. Doing so from the thin air of Colorado makes the achievement even greater, and we congratulate Scott on his strong finish.
Peak HP: 671@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 619.1@ 5,100 rpm
Avg. HP: 522
Avg. TQ: 474
JAY KIDWELL/CRAIG BROOKS
MILE HIGH PERFORMANCE
We met Jay Kidwell at the Advanced Engine Technology Conference (AETC) last year, where we assisted in a presentation regarding the Engine Masters Challenge and announced one of the Presenting Speakers - namely the winner of last year's Challenge, Joe Sherman. Joe spoke to the crowd of gearheads about his Engine Masters experiences, and Jay Kidwell was ready to jump in and build a motor. This is the result- a solid big-block Chevy making good power and being competitive in the Challenge.
Another resident of Colorado, Jay and his partner Craig Brooks were both fighting the air like Scott Main. We heard from Jay regularly throughout his buildup with questions and updates, and we'd hoped he'd do well after his significant time investment. It wasn't easy, but the Mile High Performance team represented themselves with class and ended up finishing respectably. We anticipate their return, and we appreciate their intensity and good nature. It's cool when good guys do well, and both Jay and Craig were nice as could be throughout.
Peak HP: 682@ 6,500 rpm
Peak TQ: 601.8@ 4,500 rpm
Avg. HP: 520
Avg. TQ: 575.9
Nelson Racing Engines
Tom Nelson was unable to make it to the Finals competition due to other obligations. We spoke with him, and he shared how he'd have liked the chance to further tune his entry, but that he also did not feel there was enough left in the Mopar to win overall. Coming back from 12th to 1st, or even from 12th to 3rd, would have required a dramatic change, and Nelson knew it simply wasn't going to happen.
We saw the potential in Nelson's entry at the Regionals, and we expect to see and hear more from Tom in the near future. You can't keep a hardworking guy like Tom Nelson out of competition for long, and once we announce the parameters for the 2004 edition of the Challenge, we expect to receive an application from the Chatsworth, CA, builder. Still, the Regional results were exceptional; especially considering it was Nelson's first-ever big-block Mopar buildup.
With the results posted, the testing complete, and the unofficial winner named, we had the chance to look over the field and come to a few conclusions regarding 92-octane big-blocks, the Engine Masters Challenge, and street performance.
The 92-octane gasoline is key to making the Challenge both exciting and unpredictable. Builders are learning to squeeze the most out of these limited octane engines and really make some incredible power. We heard many participants and sponsors asking for higher (race-level) octane to truly showcase the potential within both the engines and the builders. We had to turn them down, and in fact we'd rather run the Challenge on 87-octane than 110-octane.
We genuinely feel the actual power numbers generated in the Challenge are less important than the competition itself. Seeing a variety of professional engine builders doing their best to work with the same 92-octane gas our readers fight with was refreshing. Knowing some of the best tuners on the planet were having to develop ways around low compression to make big average power numbers is beneficial to our readers, and in the long run, will be beneficial to all. Learning to curb detonation and preignition in low compression engines will guide researchers and racers to better efficiency by eliminating the hot spots where pinging starts. Using Engine Masters Challenge winners as models for street performance engines is a good move, and it starts with the capability to burn pump gas effectively when the engine is up to operating temperature and being heavily loaded. This is what we do in the Challenge, and is also why we do it in this manner.
The Engine Masters Challenge program, as a whole, is a good thing. It brings together an eclectic mix of builders and philosophies, and runs them against each other head-to-head. There is room for improvement, however, and we're not blind to it. The logistics behind shipping engines across the country, the difficulty of developing a truly fair rules package fair to all makes, and the need to effectively load and unload engines during testing are all being addressed for next year's rumble. We learned plenty, and the program will continue to evolve toward a higher level of competition. Look forward to where we're headed, as we're confident you'll be as excited as we are.
The Engine Masters Challenge will impact the current state of street performance. We know many of the engines you've seen may not be what you could comfortably define as "daily-driver street engines" and they clearly push the limit of the term "street engine." We think this is fine, as we expected limits to be pushed and innovation to be seen. To truly take Engine Masters Challenge information and make it work under your hood, we encourage you to look at these engines as "models" to build from. The tips, tricks, modifications, and parts used can all assist you in making more power in your street machine. Sure, some compression ratios are too high for your daily driver, and yes, some of the camshafts in these engines are too aggressive for a smooth idle. We know this. What you should be doing is seeing what works on engines of your favorite make and also those of other makes.
Next month we'll be offering a look inside the top three engines. We took plenty of measurements and photos, spoke at length with the builders, and even flowed the cylinder heads. The 470-inch dimensions of these engines should be able to offer readers a really solid benchmark to build from, and the top-end packages should work wonderfully on lower-compression street-type short-blocks our readers can afford, or already have.
We've included the contact information for the builders involved in the Challenge, and we'd recommend working with them on your own project. They have proven their knowledge to us without question. They've earned the respect of their peers and those who manufacture the parts that helped them do so well. They've researched the needs of a 470-inch engine on 92-octane and they figured it all out so you don't have to. So, as we've said before, of you've got a 440, 454, 455, 460, or 472-inch engine with a normal overbore, this information will help you go faster. All you have to do is pay attention, and work with those who've proven their knowledge in our forum.
Congratulations to all the Engine Masters Challenge finalists on your accomplishments. You're all experts, and we look forward to seeing more of your expertise next year, when once again we'll be on a nationwide search for the best engine builder in America. Who will be the next to hold the huge check and take home the coveted trophy? Will it be Jon Kaase again? Will Joe Sherman come back and win once more? Or, will we have an entirely different winner? Only time will tell, but we're already looking forward to crowning the next ENGINE MASTER!