Back in the Stone Age, when Members Only jackets and David Hasselhoff were still relevant, hot rodders built 383ci small-block Chevys. With simplicity and affordability on its side, the 383 was the street/strip setup to have back in the ’80s and ’90s. In the enlightened age that we live in today, however—replete with raised-deck aftermarket blocks and stroker cranks that grow on trees—that archaic combination just seems so last, last, last decade. In some respects, it’s easier to build a 600hp 454 small-block with today’s aftermarket arsenal than it was to build a 400hp 383 with yesteryear’s repurposed stock cranks and junk cylinder heads. Be that as it may, very few people have $15,000 to blow on an engine build, which begs the question: What happens when you combine old-school pragmatism with the cutting-edge technology infused into modern engine hardware? The answer is you hit a sweet spot on the horsepower-per-dollar spectrum, and we have the proof to back it up. Thanks to a value-packed stack of parts from Scat, Summit, and EngineQuest, we just put the finishing touches on a 446hp 383 built for a grand total of $4,360. Best of all, this low-buck recipe is ridiculously easy to replicate.

The impetus for this build started innocently enough as a simple refresh job of the 350 small-block that came equipped in our ’68 Nova project car. That wheezy combo was replaced by a potent Dart 400ci SHP crate motor kicking out 523 hp long ago. Like most hot rodders, we couldn’t bear the thought of letting a perfectly good motor go to waste, so we hatched a plan to rebuild the tired 350 on the cheap. The original plan called for honing the block, turning the crank, dropping in new rings and bearings, sliding in a hotter cam, and topping it off with a set of EngineQuest aluminum cylinder heads. Unfortunately, tearing the motor down revealed a cracked block and a crank that was beyond salvageable. This discovery required a slight change of plans, and since the crank needed replacement anyway, it only made sense to stroke it while everything was apart.

Easy Displacement

In need of a core motor, we contacted the good folks at AA Midwest to see what they had in stock. For $500, they set us up with a 350 short-block equipped with factory four-bolt main caps. Upon contemplating our stroking options, it became quite clear that what made the venerable 383ci small-block combo so popular decades ago still applies today. Factory 350 cores are plentiful and inexpensive, and when punched out .030-inch over and matched with a 3.750-inch stroke crank, the result is a healthy 33ci bump in displacement without having to grind the bejesus out of the block. Try to cram a 3.875- or a 4.000-inch crank inside a production block, and the additional grinding required at the bottom of the cylinders to help clear the rod bolts often breaks right into a water jacket. Furthermore, the extra stroke, when paired with a stock 9.025-inch deck block, pushes the piston wristpins uncomfortably close to the crowns, and shortening up on the rod length to compensate further compromises the already unfavorable rod-to-stroke ratio imparted by a longer-stroke crank.

The happy 383, on the other hand, eliminates many of these drawbacks. For those who adhere to the long-rod school of thought, it’s possible to run 6.125-inch connecting rods with a 3.750-inch stroke in a standard deck height block and still retain a reasonable 1.000 inch of piston compression height. While rod-to-camshaft interference can become an issue with long-duration grinds, small base circle cams offer an easy solution. So while a Gen I Mouse motor build is somewhat ordinary in a world that’s gone LS-crazy, building a venerable 383 still makes a whole lot of sense.