Anyone who read the saga of our Budget Sledgehammer 350 build (see "Budget Sledgehammer," Nov. 2006) will realize that this is going to be a hard act to follow. As a reminder, we made 445 lb-ft and 447 hp for $3,463.85 from a 350-inch, pump-gas, late-model Vortec junkyard core. That's one outstanding achievement, so I could see a little help here would not be out of order

The Enginequest-headed Sledgehammer cranked out power at the rate of $7.80 per lb-ft of torque and $7.75 per horsepower. The primary goal here is to produce torque and horsepower at a similar cost. Certainly making power on an everyday budget is no problem, but when dollars are shaved off, producing big output numbers becomes far more difficult. If the budget had been $5,000 (or even a little less) for a 500hp motor, we could have gone into that knowing it could be done. A short while back I sat in on the build and testing of a 10.5:1 Dart-headed 383 stroker at T&L. This broke the 500hp barrier by a couple of horsepower and made almost 500 lb-ft in the bargain. Maybe that's the next story

But back to our current project-the Sledgehammer numbers set a standard, but to get to where we finished at that $3,500 budget, we had to find an engine, take the chance the bores, pistons and crank were still near perfect, ship it across town, strip it, clean it, machine it, and assemble it. With this follow-on story, the idea is to add one more ingredient to the build: ease of ownership. These days there are tons of really good speed parts at very cost-effective prices, so it follows it should be possible to acquire a cost-effective engine already assembled and ready to run. If this is the case, then instead of chasing around town after good used parts, all you need is to pick up the phone and order an engine. After parting company with the requisite amount of money, the only job left is to sit back until a fully detailed, dyno-tested, turnkey 383-inch small-block Chevy arrives at your front door. But new parts? Assembled and dyno tested? Can this really be done while still rivaling the cost per lb-ft and horsepower of the Sledgehammer? We came really, really close. But wait a moment-budgets, even on the lower rungs of the ladder, can differ by a few hundred bucks, depending on your goal and your budget. That being the case, we will toss in one more ingredient: optional upgrades.

As a semi-broke, do-it-yourself kind of guy, I was very familiar with building on the cheap, but when labor costs get figured into the equation, I was way out on a limb. This is where I needed help. I got help from ex-Busch engine builder, Lloyd McCleary, the boss at T&L Engines in Stanfield, North Carolina. These days, 95 percent of Lloyd's business is in custom-built crate motors. The guy practically lives on a dyno and is extremely knowledgeable in the art of putting together functional, cost-conscious engine combinations. This, in part, comes about because Lloyd is often called upon to dyno test speed parts for speed equipment manufacturers. A function that, due to T&L's close proximity, is very convenient for me. If there is a piece of speed equipment out there for a small-block Ford or Chevy, chances are, he has dyno tested it in some combination with other functional performance parts

Starting Point-455 hp For $3,732
T&L's bargain basement, no frills, $2,995 383-inch long-block assembly is our starting point. This features a comprehensively detailed, enameled block (your choice of color) containing a balanced Scat 9000-series crank, stock replacement Scat 5.7-inch rods, Sealed Power pistons and a Performance Products crank damper for a rotating assembly. For heads, a set of Dart Iron Eagles delivering a 10.4:1 compression ratio are used. The valvetrain is a flat-tappet hydraulic cam, spec'd for your application operating the Iron Eagle's valves via aluminum roller rockers. A high-performance, two-plane, air-gap-style intake is also supplied with this combination. To make all this run in turnkey form, we added one of Lloyd's custom 750 Holley carbs ($439), a fine looking Pertronix Flame Thrower billet distributor ($199), and a plug cable harness. This brings the total to $3,732. Not bad, considering everything but the block is new, fully assembled, and dyno'd. The question is: How much power does this combo produce? As it happens, in all respects, other than the distributor, I built this bottom end combo a couple of years ago to test out-of-the-box Iron Eagles. For a cam, a single-pattern COMP Extreme Energy single-pattern grind with 270 degrees of seat duration (226 @ 0.050) on a 106 LCA was used. The ignition in this instance was an HEI equipped with an MSD module

This engine, on a DTS dyno, cranked out 483 lb-ft and 455 hp. As for cost-per-lb-ft and horsepower, the figures work out to $7.68 per lb-ft and $8.20 per horsepower. That's a better price per lb-ft of torque than the Sledgehammer, but a little worse on cost per horsepower.

At this point, this engine represents a sweet turnkey deal for sure, but let's analyze why the extra 9.5 percent of displacement given by the 383 over the 350 produced a near proportional gain at lower rpm, but failed to do so at the top end. Here, the use of a flat-tappet cam meant that though duration was close to that of the Sledgehammer, lift, which a bigger engine really needs, was about .030 inch less. Also, the stock-length 5.7-inch rod, when paired with the longer 3.75-inch stroke of the Scat crank, meant that rod angularity was up, and this increases bore friction. The effect of these two factors negatively impacts output by ever increasing margins the higher the engine goes in the rpm range. Let's see what can be done to rectify the situation

Six-Inch Rods-476 hp For $3,882
By replacing the Scat stock-length 5.7-inch rods with a set of Scat's 4340 6-inch rods ($150 as a T&L upgrade), we can almost restore the 383's rod/stroke ratio to that of a regular 350

My own tests have shown that at the power level we are dealing with, the longer rod is worth about 4-6 hp, along with torque gains starting as low as the engine could be pulled down to. Not only that, the longer rods are mechanically noticeably quieter.

A roller cam like Sledgehammer's (with its associated higher lift to boost top-end output) is certainly not in the budget yet, but we do have another option. A slightly longer duration flat-tappet cam giving the greater area under the curve would suit our 383 needs for a better top end. Using the same engine (see graph) with 6-inch rods and associated lower-compression height pistons, and a single-pattern cam of 234 degrees @ .050 (instead of 226) proved the point. Going this route on the cam increases the percentage area under the curve by about as much as the displacement increase. The accompanying dyno graph shows the engine made peaks of 490 lb-ft and 476 hp. All this for an outlay of $3,882, and everything is new apart from the block.