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
Mod motors might be coming into their own right now, but the pushrod 302 still has plenty of fight left in it. For decades, people have been stroking their 302s to 347 ci by combining a .030-inch overbore with a 3.400-inch crank. Now Ford Racing has upped the ante by taking the same formula, but with the addition of a massive 4.125-inch bore afforded by the Boss 302 siamesed-bore block for a total of 363 ci. In applications where engine bay clearance is at a premium, the 8.200-inch deck block will fit in just about anything, and the forged rotating assembly is ready for abuse. Airflow comes from a set of Ford Racing 204cc aluminum castings, and when combined with an Edelbrock Super Victor intake and 750-cfm carb, Ford says that the 363 is good for 500 hp. The Boss 363 is offered in long-block trim complete with an oil pan and water pump. Throw on an intake, distributor, and carb and you’re ready to get cookin’.
Bore/stroke: 4.125 x 3.400 inches
Camshaft: 232/240-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 500 hp and 450 lb-ft
You got to love boost. Plop a positive-displacement TVS huffer on top of an already potent Gen IV long-block, and great things will happen. Not only does the GM Performance Parts LSA small-block pack 556 hp, it boasts the streetablity afforded by a modest hydraulic roller cam. The LSA crate motor is the same lump that powers the Cadillac CTS-V and the upcoming Camaro ZL1, which means that it’s essentially a detuned LS9. Somewhat surprisingly, GM has enough faith in the LSA’s electronics to fit the short-block with powdered metal rods and hypereutectic pistons, but rest assured that this thing is bulletproof. It comes complete from supercharger to oil pan, and also includes the coil packs, injectors, water pump, and balancer. Just add a computer, wiring harness, and an accessory drive and fire it up. Best of all, the LSA offers 87 percent of the LS9 crate motor’s power for 66 percent of the money.
Bore/stroke: 4.065 x 3.622 inches
Camshaft: 198/216-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 556 hp and 551 lb-ft
In 1970, GM unleashed the 454ci LS6 big-block, one of the most legendary motors from the muscle car era. While it was officially rated at 450 hp, and rumored to produce closer to 500, neither figure comes close to the 711 horses that Mast Motorsports’ LSX 454 churns out. The kicker here is that the Mast 454 is a Gen IV small-block, not a big-block, and it gets the job done with a mild hydraulic roller cam. The pump-gas-friendly combo boasts a GMPP LSX block, a forged rotating assembly, a FAST intake manifold, and Mast’s own LS7 cylinder head castings. Built with drop-in-and-go simplicity in mind, the 454 comes complete with an oil pan, water pump, fuel rails, injectors, coil packs, a wiring harness, all necessary engine sensors, and Mast’s M90 stand-alone computer.
Bore/stroke: 4.185 x 4.125 inches
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Camshaft: 246/260-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 711 hp and 633 lb-ft
Like most crate engine manufacturers, Smeding Performance offers a full line of mega-horsepower small- and big-blocks. In recent years, however, customer demand for a no-nonsense, economically priced small-block Chevy led to the development of the E-Series 383. For about the same money as you’ll spend reconditioning a well-worn 350 core, Smeding will build you a 420hp 383 that includes a brand-new GM four-bolt block, a cast-steel crank, forged rods, and hypereutectic pistons. The top end consists of an Edlebrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold and carb, as well as a set of aluminum heads. The 383 includes a new distributor, spark plugs, plug wires, oil pan, and balancer. All you need to add is a water pump. Smeding is so confident in the durability of its motors that it includes a three-year, unlimited-mile warranty.
Bore/stroke: 4.000 x 3.800 inches
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Camshaft: 230/236-at-.050 hydraulic flat tappet
Output: 420 hp and 450 lb-ft
Whether drag racing in NHRA Pro Stock, road racing in IMSA, or fielding four NASCAR Sprint Cup machines, Jack Roush has always been loyal to the Blue Oval. It takes a real Ford guy to appreciate the FE big-block, and Roush offers a killer 511ci variant of the often-overlooked family of Ford motors through his aftermarket parts division. The 511 has all the right stuff, including a Shelby aluminum block, Scat cast crank, and forged rods and pistons. The cylinder heads and dual-plane intake manifold are from Edelbrock, and a Holley 750-cfm carb supplies fuel. There isn’t much else you need to buy after ordering the 511, as it includes a road-race oil pan, carb, MSD distributor, alternator, water pump, and breathers. Roush even backs up their 600hp mill with a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty.
Bore/stroke: 4.375 x 4.250 inches
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Camshaft: hydraulic roller (specs classified)
Output: 600 hp and 625 lb-ft
Let’s say you’ve just blown up your small-block Ford, but you want to reuse your current top end assembly. Dart’s 427ci turnkey short-blocks are the perfect solution. Taking advantage of the 351W’s generous architecture, the combo starts off as a Dart SHP block that’s been opened up to 4.125 inches, and fitted with an internally balanced and forged rotating assembly. You’ll have to come up with your own induction package, water pump, camshaft, oil pan, and ignition system, but most of that can be swapped over from your old motor. Dart reports that when fitting its 427 short-block with a set of Pro 1 heads, a single-plane intake, a 750-cfm carb, and a 236-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam, the setup puts out 550 hp.
Bore/stroke: 4.125 x 4.000 inches
Output: 550 hp and 545 lb-ft
Call it heresy if you wish, but from a numbers perspective, the Mopar Performance Gen III 426 Chrysler Hemi crate motor sacrifices nothing to its hallowed Gen II forbearer. That’s because it packs just as many cubes, even more power, and all in a lighter weight design. The Gen III combo utilizes a siamesed-bore aluminum block as its foundation, which is stuffed with an all-forged rotating assembly. Combined with high-flow aluminum heads and a healthy hydraulic roller cam, the product is 540 hp and 530 lb-ft of torque. The Gen III 426 Hemi crate arrives at your doorstep fully dressed with an oil pan, intake manifold, water pump, coil packs, and a balancer. The necessary wiring harness and computer are also available through Mopar Performance.
Bore/stroke: 4.000 x 4.125 inches
Compression ratio: 10.3:1
Output: 540 hp and 530 lb-ft
You’ve got to hand it to Ford. Instead of taking a breather following the success of the new DOHC 5.0L Coyote motor, Ford hopped it up even more to wring out another 32 hp. That brings the horsepower tally to 444 for the 2012 Boss 302 Mustang, and this same motor can be had through Ford Racing. The tricks applied to the 5.0-liter to create the Boss 302 mill are standard hot rodding tricks, but the results are impressive nonetheless. The primary changes include CNC-ported cylinder heads, a higher flowing intake manifold, and slightly larger camshafts. Moreover, the Boss 302 has been beefed up with a forged rotating assembly, and a bump in compression to 11.0:1. Motors ship complete from intake to oil pan, and include a water pump and balancer. Factory computers and wiring harness are sold separately through Ford Racing.
Bore/stroke: 3.623 x 3.653 inches
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Camshaft: 221-at-.050 (intake); 224-at-.050 (exhaust)
Output: 444 hp and 380 lb-ft
The GM LS7 is one of the baddest production small-blocks ever built, but unfortunately, it’s hampered by a tiny 211/230-at-.050 cam. If you want to know what happens to a stock LS7 once an extra 30 degrees of cam duration and a bit of head porting are thrown into the mix, look no further than Schwartz Extreme Performance’s LS7 crate package. To take advantage of the extra cam duration, Schwartz also installs a GMPP single-plane intake manifold, and matches it up with a factory 90mm throttle body. These simple tricks are good for a staggering 730 hp on pump gas. Schwartz’s crate LS7 includes a calibrated factory ECU, wiring harness, oil pan, fuel rails, injectors, and a water pump. For an extra $1,400, Schwartz will add a trick carb-style air cleaner assembly that hides the throttle body and MAF sensor, and throw in a set of billet valve covers as well.
Bore/stroke: 4.125 x 4.000 inches
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Camshaft: 240/259-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 730 hp and 572 lb-ft
Shafiroff Big-Block Chevy
With 15.0:1 slugs, this Shafiroff 565ci big-block Chevy is the only non-pump-gas-compliant motor of the lot, however, since it makes 1,000 hp naturally aspirated, it’s hard to care. Obviously, a motor like this is geared toward bracket race machines or cars that see very little street time, but throwing this thing in any half-decent chassis is a recipe for guaranteed 8-second timeslips. Shafiroff starts with a low-deck Dart Big M block, opens up the bore to 4.600 inches, and stuffs it with a forged rotating assembly. Brodix BB-3 Xtra conventional 24-degree heads and a SuperMod intake provide the airflow, and a Holley 1,150-cfm Dominator carb keeps it fueled. The 565’s price of admission includes a Moroso oil pan, an MSD distributor, and a carb.
Bore/stroke: 4.600 x 4.250 inches
Compression ratio: 15.0:1
Camshaft: solid roller (specs classified)
Output: 1,000 hp and 795 lb-ft
Ever since its introduction in 1991, traditionalists have been discounting the Ford mod motor platform, blasting it as a high-tech way of posting lowly horsepower figures. Sure enough, power has gradually crept up over the years, but the big quantum leap forward came with the introduction of the new DOHC 5.0-liter in the ’11 Mustang. What this little beast lacks in cubes it makes up for with high-flow heads and lots of revs, kicking out 412 hp at 6,500 rpm. Compared to its 4.6L forbear, the new 5.0L “Coyote” features a slightly larger bore and a smidgen more stroke. Furthermore, the 5.0L’s four-valve heads are the best-flowing mod motor castings Ford has ever built, and thanks to variable valve timing on all four camshafts, the little 302 puts out a respectable 390 lb-ft of torque. Perhaps the best news of all is that the new 5.0-liter is available as a crate motor from Ford Racing. To make retrofitting one into your Blue Oval as easy as possible, Turn Key Engine Supply bundles everything you need to fire up your new DOHC small-block in addition to the motor itself. Ordering up a new Coyote through Turn Key gets you a new 5.0L motor, tuned computer, front accessories, coolant hoses, a complete fuel system, a starter, and a harness that boasts an easy five-wire hookup.
Bore/stroke: 3.623x3.653 inches
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Camshafts: 221-at-.050 (intake); 224-at-.050 (exhaust)
Output: 412 hp and 390 lb-ft
It’s no secret that modern small-blocks can often match their big-block counterparts in the horsepower department. Nevertheless, big-blocks will always reign supreme in the streetability and torque departments, thanks to their displacement advantage. Granted, 555 ci isn’t all that big for a Rat motor these days, but Edelbrock’s crate big-block Chevy produces nearly 700 hp at just 6,000 rpm. That equates to a gloriously bloated low and midrange grunt that small-blocks can only dream of, all while idling like a baby. Designed with the assistance of famed Pro Mod racer Pat Musi, the Edelbrock 555 boasts a Dart Big M block, forged internals, Edelbrock E-CNC heads, a Victor Jr. intake, and a Pro-Flow XT standalone EFI system. The 555 comes complete with a Moroso oil pan and Mallory distributor. If you’re looking for the ultimate balance between streetability and performance, it’s hard to go wrong with the Edelbrock EFI 555.
Bore/stroke: 4.560 x 4.250 inches
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Camshaft: 248/256-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 697 hp and 643 lb-ft
As hard as it is to believe, the original 5.7L all-aluminum LS1, the motor that started the Gen III/IV revolution, is no longer in production. Fortunately, if you still want one, you’re in luck because Street and Performance purchased a stockpile of the last 100 LS1s that GM built. They’re essentially the same motor that came in the ’04 GTO, and Street and Performance will outfit them with your choice of a plastic or aluminum intake manifold, and either a cable-actuated or drive-by-wire throttle body. The $5,500 sales price gets you a complete motor, but Street and Performance has every accessory necessary to get you up and running. S&P has probably performed more LS swaps than any other shop in existence, and as such, it offers a full line of custom wiring harnesses, calibrated ECUs, and front accessory drive systems.
Bore/stroke: 3.900 x 3.622 inches
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Camshaft: 196/207-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Output: 350 hp and 365 lb-ft
Any collection of sentences purporting to be a crate engine buyer’s guide would be remiss without a Gen II Chrysler Hemi. Arguably the gold standard of horsepower since the ’60s, old-school Hemis have been stomping their Detroit rivals for decades, and the Indy Cylinder Head 572 certainly lives up to the Hemi’s fabled reputation. Packing 572 cubes and 770 hp, this pump-gas Elephant has all the right stuff, including a World Products block, forged rotating assembly, Indy S/R aluminum heads, and Indy dual-quad intake manifold. The Hemi’s manly 272/280-at-.050 solid-roller cam is reason enough to buy this motor, and we’d argue that its prodigious displacement could easily tame another 20 degrees of duration. The Indy 572 comes with a Milodon oil pan, dual Edelbrock 750-cfm carbs, MSD billet distributor, and plugs and wires.
Bore/stroke: 4.500 x 4.500 inches
Compression ratio: 10.75:1
Camshaft: 272/280-at-.050 solid roller
Output: 770 hp and 725 lb-ft