Detractors of crate engines complain that the proliferation of off-the-shelf aftermarket parts has made it too easy to go fast, but the fact is, crate engines have become so powerful, so reliable, and so readily available, that their advantages have overcome their disadvantages (mostly cost) by a wide margin. While nobody is denying that there’s just something unbelievably heroic about how Ed Iskendarian ground his own camshafts, and how Vic Edelbrock Sr. invented the concept of aftermarket intake manifolds, the true legacy of hot rodding’s early pioneers wasn’t so much their fabrication abilities, but rather their foresight and business savvy to bring mass-produced performance parts to a power-starved public. Decades later, the crate engine formula merely takes the notion of easy, over-the-counter horsepower to the next level.
Without question, building a motor from scratch is a rite of passage that every enthusiast should experience at least once. Listening to your love child fire up for the first time is indeed a religious experience, but after you’ve got a few builds under your belt—and the headaches associated with them—the crate engine option makes a lot of sense. Any way you slice it, the convenience of picking out what you want online, clicking the “Buy” button, and having several hundreds of horsepower show up on your doorstep a few days later is tough to beat.
Furthermore, many popular crate engine combos are so well sorted out that it’s often tough to match the horsepower-per-dollar value that they offer, and nothing you build in your garage is going to come with a warranty. So whether you dig small-blocks or big-blocks, Chevys or Fords, EFI or carbs, or pushrods or overhead cams, there’s a crate motor out there with a radar lock on your engine compartment. To help you get started, here’s a closer look at 15 of the newest and hottest crate engines to hit the streets.
Built for the sole purpose of chasing down Chrysler Hemis on NASCAR’s high-banks during the ’60s, Ford’s Boss 429 big-block is legendary for both its performance and scarcity. According to popular folklore, fewer than 1,000 of Ford’s Hemi motors made their way into production cars, but fortunately, Jon Kaase Racing Engines is keeping the legend alive with its turnkey Boss crate engines. Like the original Shotgun big-block, Kaase’s 521ci combo is based on an ordinary 385-series bottom end that starts off as a production block bored .030-inch over. The bulk of the displacement bump comes courtesy of a forged 4.300-inch crank, steel rods, and 10.5:1 pistons. Of course, the big daddy in the mix is a set of Kaase’s all-new Boss ’9 aluminum cylinder head castings, which are fed by a Kaase single-plane intake manifold and an 850-cfm carb. Matched with a tame hydraulic roller cam, the product is a pump-gas-friendly 771 hp and 731 lb-ft of torque. Plus, there’s plenty spare airflow left in the heads in case you get greedy later. Upgrading to a marginally more aggressive solid-roller cam and a Dominator carb will kick the horsepower curve past the 900 mark. The Kaase Boss 521 comes complete with oil pan, carb, and distributor.
Bore/stroke: 4.390 x 4.300 inches
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Camshaft: 246/252-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 771 hp and 731 lb-ft