Our '66 Mustang, Project Street Fighter, has gotten a complete suspension overhaul and recently its straight-six engine was removed to make way for something new. We wanted something that was as reliable as a crate engine, but something that was still special. We didn't have to think very long to figure out the perfect engine builder for the job: Smeding Performance. When it comes to building crate motors, Smeding delivers quality custom engines at the crate motor price, with the savings to match.
You don't get good at something by doing it just once; it takes a lot of practice and repetition to become a master at your task. Ben Smeding of Smeding Performance attributes his success to this procedure. Ben's first career wasn't in the automotive business at all. He paid his bills with a job in the produce industry. He filled his spare time building cars for himself and worked with his friends on their cars. Since he was working out of his home garage, he couldn't do everything himself and had to outsource his machining to the local machine shop. The parts never came back how he wanted them; they were always just slightly off. Ben felt that if he had the equipment, he could do a better job himself. That light bulb in his head shined bright, and Ben started collecting the appropriate machinery. He ended up ditching the produce industry and started working for a speed shop to get closer to what he really wanted to do.
In time, Ben had enough side jobs and equipment that he could expand from his two-car garage to an 1,100 square-foot shop he built next to his house in Sacramento, California. Now with plenty of room to play, Ben started accepting more evolved jobs. He found himself doing high-end port work like cylinder head modifications for Pro Mod engines. At this point, Ben had one helper in the shop working with him, and more jobs than they had time for. It was time to quit the speed shop and work on the engines full time. He spent two years in his house-side shop until he decided to bite the bullet and move into a 3,300-foot commercial space in Rancho Cordova, California. He traded all his budget equipment for the latest and greatest. He took on another employee and started doing full engine building jobs. He worked on mostly high-dollar race engines with a lot of compression and rowdy camshafts. The pace set by these customers left Ben exhausted, since racers always want a little more even when there is nothing more to have. They often want things done while they wait. Ben says: "If you don't think you have enough time to do something, you won't enjoy doing it." He switched gears to the crate engine market and has found great success. At the first opportunity, Ben grabbed the shop next door to expand his facilities to 5,800 square feet. In this space he builds and tests his own line of crate engines.
When we approached Ben about building an engine for our project Street Fighter Mustang, he had several questions for us. When you're choosing an engine combination, there are a lot of factors involved. Ben said that most of the people who come to him think they know what they want, but actually don't. Based on the subject vehicle, transmission, and type of driving the customer will be doing, Ben can point them in the right direction. He will only run what he knows works because at the end of the day, it's his name on the line, not the customer's. In our case, we had a '66 Mustang with a five-speed manual that we wanted to drive hard at the track and on the street. Ben determined we needed a 427-inch small-block Ford. The "Cobra Special" packs 560 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. It is a great fit for our project because we chose tall gears and love the idea of all power all the time rather than waiting for 4,000 rpm to hit the happy spot.
Here you can see the difference between Smeding's custom KB-piston (left) and a factory-st
The main bearing clearances are far tighter than most engine builders use. Smeding can do
Instead of using stocker I-beam cast-iron rods (right), Smeding uses 4340 forged steel H-b
Here's a close up of Smeding's custom-ordered crankshaft built specifically for this engin
All Smeding's engines are strokers because of their power curve. "Though peak horsepower is what sells someone on an engine, the torque curve is what is really important and makes the customer happy," Ben says. They get this impressive torque curve by using a long-arm crank. Along with the leverage advantage, they squeeze more torque out by making the engine as efficient as possible. That's where other builders falter-they throw too big of a camshaft at an engine and use the peak power gain to compensate for the torque loss.
Ben and his team of builders at Smeding only build small- and big-block Chevy, and small-block Ford motors. A machinist or engine builder who works on everything from Ferrari engines to go-kart engines won't have the intimate knowledge of any particular engine, just a general mechanical understanding.
Out of Smeding's four-model Ford lineup, we chose the most potent of the bunch: the 427 Cobra Special. The 427 Cobra Special is described as a quick-revving, maximum-effort performance engine that's not for the faint of heart. On dyno day, the combination made 566 hp at 5,600 rpm on pump gas. Even more impressively, the first torque reading on the dyno at 2,500 rpm was 442 lb-ft, and it never let up. This curve is what Ben Smeding has built his reputation on. He builds some of the most streetable, absurdly torquey, and reliable crate engines.
Everything you see here minus the rings and timing set were custom made for Smeding's 427s
Rather than messing with a donor block, Smeding starts with a fresh Dart block with splayed four-bolt mains. These Dart blocks are extremely rigid; this strength allows the Smeding engine to have extremely tight clearances. The tighter clearances give them the ability to use a standard-volume oil pump and to keep the amount of oil flinging around the block down to a minimum. The Dart block comes fitted with a one-piece rear main seal, which has proven to seal better than the older two-piece design. Once they've decked, line honed, and clearanced the block for the stroker crank, it's onto installing the rotating assembly.
Before the crankshaft goes in, it's spun on a balancer and brought to within one gram of a zero balance. Most crankshafts are built with heavy counterweights to compensate for many different piston and rod combinations, and then are balanced at the machine shop. The problem with that is that the balancer can't tell you exactly where the unbalanced part is. Smeding's buying power has allowed him to have a 4340 forged steel crankshaft built with counterweights matched to their piston and rod combination for each cylinder.
Attached to this special crank are H-beam race connecting rods that are also made from 4340 forged steel. The rods are 6.2 inches long compared to the stock length (5.96 inch). The longer rod lowers friction because the reduced angle of the rod and piston places less stress on the thrust surface of the piston. The rod is connected to the crankshaft with ARP bolts, and installed with a tight clearance of 0.0018 inch. The main bearings are also given a tight fit at 0.0018-0.0022-inch. When this measurement is increased, the oil flow increases exponentially, requiring more oil volume to maintain pressure.
The pistons are forged units designed by Smeding. (They recommend using a forged piston when power levels exceed 500 hp.) For less powerful engines, Smeding prefers hypereutectic pistons because they expand less with heat, allowing the builder to fit them snugly. Our 427 needs the density of the forged piston not only because of its power, but also because of the piston's small size compared to a piston used with a shorter rod. These pistons were designed by Smeding, who owns the dies, and are manufactured by KB pistons. It's a full-floating piston, meaning that the wrist pin is assembled with snap rings rather than being pressed in. Any place Smeding can reduce friction, they do, since it's ultimately free horsepower and gives parts a longer life.
The Dart block comes with these billet steel four-bolt splayed main caps. The outward angl
Just because they always use the same parts on their engines, doesn't mean they skip any m
Smeding never lets an engine out of their shop with an oil leak. One of the ways this is p
Smeding's engines use high-silicone bearings with tight clearances to keep control over the moving parts. The Total Seal rings on the Windsor are a low-friction design. The upper ring has a bevel on the inside top edge that gives it a positive twist. The upward tilt of the outside of the ring gives a better combustion seal. The second ring has a chamfered underside that also gives it a negative twist for a better seal against the cylinder wall without increasing friction. Finally, the oil ring they use is an ultra low-friction three-piece stainless steel set. All together, the low oil volume and low-friction rings and bearings give this engine about 20 hp over an engine with looser clearances and standard rings.
The heart of this engine is really in the cylinder heads and the camshaft. When these two parts work in harmony, the most power for the least amount of fuel is produced. Smeding started with AFR's 205cc head, and gave it his own runner and combustion chamber design. They gave these specifications back to AFR, who now produces a special CNC ported head branded by Smeding. They run 2.08/1.60-inch Ferrea valves with 8mm stems. The springs are specific to the hydraulic roller camshaft that's in every 427 Cobra Special. The idea of bigger being better doesn't apply to camshafts. A larger-than-necessary cam may increase high-rpm power, but hurts driveability with a rough, zero-vacuum idle, and poor throttle response. That's why they've chosen a modest COMP grind with 232/240 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift, 0.565/0.574-inch lift, and a 112-degree lobe separation angle to create usable vacuum at idle and to broaden the powerband. This is a very fast acting cam, meaning that it waits a long time to open, then it opens and closes at a fast rate. This aggressive lobe design can only work with a roller lifter.
The intake is one of the only out-of-the-box parts on this engine, aside from the Scorpion rocker arms. The aluminum Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake also fits the build without modification. Many shops choose to port match the intake to the cylinder head, but that can hurt the torque curve. The step from smaller intake manifold runner to the larger cylinder head runner increases torque, just as stepped headers are well known for.
Finally, the crowning jewel of this engine is a meticulously calibrated Demon carburetor. The engine comes with a 750-cfm Speed Demon, but with our emphasis on racing, we chose to use an 850-cfm Mighty Demon. With the carb and Pertronix ready-to-run distributor, it's time to start the break-in and dyno testing procedure. First they get the engine running, dial in the timing, and basic carburetor settings. They then put a little bit of load on the engine, 5-10 seconds at a time, with increasing resistance each time. They do this about 100 times then start with light power pulls. They look for the right air/fuel ratios before starting the full-power recorded dyno pulls. They generally make three or four pulls, but will continue until the engine produces consistent numbers. This number must meet or exceed those of the crate engine's description. In our case, we got a bonus 6 hp and 4 lb-ft of torque. In addition to the power levels, they simulate light load cruising to check the air/fuel ratio.
If you've decided you must have an engine just like ours, you won't be able to visit them in the Sacramento area anymore because they are moving their equipment and employees to San Antonio. There, they will occupy an 11,800-square-foot shop that dwarfs the establishment they work out of today. No worries though, shipping is still only $200 anywhere in the United States. Smeding's turnaround time is between 3-5 weeks, which is pretty quick when it's made to order. These are built to order and don't sit on the shelves. Each engine comes with a two-year unlimited mile warranty, which is hard to come by these days. Next month, this pup goes into our Mustang project car with a brand-new Keisler five-speed transmission to let us stretch this Windsor's legs.
Ben Smeding specially designed the ports and combustion chambers on these heads to work on
Here, the Canton pickup specific to the road race pan used gets bolted to the standard-vol
You can really see the work that has been put into this head on the CNC machine. The shape
Where The Money Went
This list represents what it would cost to have the engine built buying the parts a la carte, and having a decent engine builder assemble everything. Though many of the parts used in Smeding's crate engines aren't available to the public, we've still provided estimated mail-order pricing that compares favorably to similar items.
Smeding 427 Cobra Special
Small-block Ford Windsor
Displacement: 427 ci * Bore: 4.125Stroke: 4.00 * Compression ratio: 10:1
|PART: ||DESCRIPTION: ||PRICE: |
|Block: ||Dart four-bolt (31355235) ||$2,248.95 |
|Crank: ||Smeding custom forged 4340 ||$800.00 |
|Connecting rods: ||Smeding H-beam forged 4340 ||$450.00 |
|Bearings: ||high-silicone race bearings ||$145.00 |
|Pistons: ||KB custom by Smeding ||$800.00 |
|Rings: ||Total Seal low-friction ||$120.00 |
|Heads: ||AFR custom by Smeding ||$1,900.00 |
|Head gaskets: ||Cometic multi-layer ||$130.00 |
|Gaskets/seals: ||custom made for Smeding ||$50.00 |
|Camshaft: ||COMP hydraulic roller (35-522-8) ||$249.75 |
|Lifters: ||COMP (851-16) ||$209.95 |
|Pushrods: ||Elgin (34B) ||$74.98 |
|Rocker arms: ||Scorpion 1.6 ratio (SCP2018) ||$259.99 |
|Timing cover: ||aluminum timing cover ||$120.00 |
|Timing chain: ||true-roller custom for Smeding ||$85.00 |
|Intake manifold: ||Edelbrock Victor Jr. (2981) ||$279.95 |
|Carburetor: ||850-cfm Mighty Demon (5563020-GC) ||$449.99 |
|Oil pump and pickup: ||Melling (M83) ||$28.95 |
|Oil pan: ||Canton road race style (15-660) ||$239.95 |
|Oil pickup: ||Canton (15-661) ||$39.95 |
|Oil pan gasket: ||Engine Tech one-piece silicone ||$28.00 |
|Harmonic balancer: ||Pro Race (64269) ||$305.00 |
|Distributor: ||Pertronix Flame Thrower (D231800) ||$240.39 |
|Spark plug wires: ||Moroso custom by Smeding ||$65.00 |
|Spark plugs: ||Autolite (3924) ||$12.00 |
|Hardware: ||ARP ||$275.00 |
|Oil and filter: ||10W40 non-synthetic and Fram filter ||$32.00 |
|Misc. fluids: ||assembly lube and sealants ||$25.00 |
|Labor: ||machining and assembly ||$1,900.00 |
|Dyno time: ||dyno and tuning ||$700.00 |
| Total: || ||$12,264.80 |
|Smeding Performance’s Crate engine price ||$9,995.00 |
|THE COST SO FAR |
|The car || ||$3,800.00 |
|Battery replace and relocation ||Nov. 2008 ||$299.00 |
|Radiator and fans ||Dec. 2008 ||$1,398.12 |
|Spindles, front brakes, wheels tires ||Jan. 2009 ||$3,067.04 |
|Trunk rehab and tool box ||Feb. 2009 ||$40.48 |
|Rack-and-pinion steering, column, & wheel ||Apr. 2009 ||$3,012.00 |
|9-inch rearend and brakes ||May 2009 ||$4,631.02 |
|Rear suspension ||June 2009 ||$2,918.00 |
|Front suspension ||July 2009 ||$3,034.00 |
| Engine bay cleanup w/engine sale ||Aug. 2009 ||-$394.75 |
|Smeding 427 Windsor ||Sept. 2009 ||$9,995.00 |
|Total || ||$31,799.94 |
|ON THE DYNO |
|427CI WINDSOR |
|RPM ||TQ ||HP |
|2,500 ||442 ||210 |
|2,600 ||452 ||224 |
|2,700 ||461 ||237 |
|2,800 ||470 ||251 |
|2,900 ||477 ||264 |
|3,000 ||484 ||276 |
|3,100 ||486 ||287 |
|3,200 ||486 ||296 |
|3,300 ||485 ||305 |
|3,400 ||489 ||317 |
|3,500 ||498 ||332 |
|3,600 ||507 ||348 |
|3,700 ||516 ||367 |
|3,800 ||525 ||380 |
|3,900 ||535 ||397 |
|4,000 ||544 ||414 |
|4,100 ||551 ||430 |
|4,200 ||557 ||445 |
|4,300 ||561 ||459 |
|4,400 ||563 ||472 |
|4,500 ||563 ||483 |
|4,600 ||564 ||494 |
|4,700 ||564 ||505 |
|4,800 ||563 ||515 |
|4,900 ||562 ||524 |
|5,000 ||560 ||533 |
|5,100 ||557 ||540 |
|5,200 ||553 ||548 |
|5,300 ||550 ||555 |
|5,400 ||545 ||560 |
|5,500 ||538 ||564 |
|5,600 ||531 ||566 |
|5,700 ||519 ||563 |
|5,800 ||506 ||559 |
The camshaft is off COMP Cam's shelf with 0.565/0.574-inch lift, and 232/240 degrees of du
Every engine Smeding builds uses a multiple-layer steel head gasket by Cometic. They give
With the heads torqued on, the rest of the valvetrain can go in. This includes the hydraul
Edelbrock's Victor Jr. intake manifold is one of the most popular intakes on the market. S
A lot of the value in these crate engines comes from the dyno testing. There is no better