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.
As we’ve come to expect from...
As we’ve come to expect from AA Midwest, our 350 core block was in great shape. Outlaw Racing Engines magnafluxed the block to check it for cracks, then bored and honed it .030-inch over. The block was then decked, and new cam bearings were installed as well.
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.
Radical engine combos often...
Radical engine combos often require specific rod lengths, piston compression heights, or dome volumes. The nice thing about a keep-it-simple approach is that a variety of off-the-shelf rotating assemblies will be compatible with your goals. Scat’s turnkey stroker kit includes a cast-steel crank, forged I-beam rods, 10.2:1 hypereu-tectic pistons, rings, and bearings. It comes balanced straight from Scat, cutting down on your machining bill.
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.