9. Boutique Power
On the flip side of the Green Power coin, we’ve got the biggest boom in classic boutique power ever seen. PHR’s Engine Masters Challenge gives us a front seat to the innovation and modernization of vintage engines, and we’ve been noticing a distinct resurgence in popularity of fringe engines. And more importantly, new parts with design tweaks are letting them make real power and living to tell the tale afterward. Some of the best developed are John Kaase’s Boss 429-based Fords (shown here), which don’t actually use a single FoMoCo part, and range up to 1,000 streetable horsepower. Dart has even recently breathed life into the perplexingly powerless GM 8.1L with a new set of heads and intake that should clear up most of the biggest big-block’s woes. For the ambitious, new blocks are even available with the typical round of Dart strengthening.
Hot rod shops are noticing the swing in interest toward boutique power and are responding with everything from first-gen Hemis and modernized Y-blocks, to Nailheads, Ford SOHCs, Pontiacs, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Chevy “W” power, and even a sampling of European exotica V-12 powerplants. Old iron is making a big comeback, and it’s never been more powerful or reliable.
What’s the worst part about upgrading to EFI? Tuning it, of course. Complicated software with dozens of parameters and tables is much more esoteric than the familiar screws and jets on a carb. That fact has been the number-one reason most rodders have stayed away from EFI, but that’s all changing; plug-and-play self-learning is finally bringing EFI to the masses.
The latest crop of self-learning EFI systems requires no professional tuning whatsoever; they really are just bolt-on and crank. Some systems may require a few brief easy questions answered, like engine displacement, but when it comes to making it run spot-on, that’s all handled by the software and your right foot. The learning comes from the computer adjusting parameters based on engine demands and your driving style.
They’re not just for cruiser cars either; today’s self-learning systems—like the Holley system shown on the next page—can handle even aggressive performance engines making big horsepower. Like weekend corner carving or quarter-mile blasts? No problem; FAST tells us that their EZ-EFI system can handle the needs of the vast majority of their enthusiast customers. You even get two flavors: standard port injection style with fuel rails, or throttle body style for the ultimate in stealth. Check out the special feature in this issue (see “Ingenious Injection,” p. 54) for the lowdown on this growing EFI trend.
Remember what we were saying about staying in school if you want to be at the forefront of the future of hot rodding? Here’s a prime example; use of both CAD and FEA is rapidly on the rise in the top tiers of the hot rodding industry. Computer-aided design has been an indispensable tool for engineers needing to create precise 2-D and 3-D models of parts before production for a couple decades now, but what quickly became common at the OEM level was still quite uncommon to hot rodding until recently. Now, it’s exploding with just about every new part. On top of that, we’re also seeing hot rod shops increasingly employing CAD to design specific parts for projects—especially if those parts may also go into production afterward.
Perhaps ironically one of the biggest beneficiaries of the technology has been full-frame conversions for muscle cars. With the demise of the Crown Vic’s Panther chassis, OEMs have officially abandoned the full frame for passenger cars. Hot rod shops, however, are fully embracing and improving it. The Roadster Shop, for example, creates each new application for their new and expanding Fast Track muscle car chassis line in CAD, then uses their CNC plasma tablet to cut the rails from four pieces of 10-gauge steel. The same chassis that was under The Roadster Shop’s phenomenal flat gray ’70 Challenger (PHR July ’10) is the same one seen in the design here.