In our first installment of the Project Tiger’s Eye engine build series we walked readers through the ins and outs of assessing a used small-block core and the steps a professional machine shop takes to turn it into a useable foundation upon which a stout power plant can be built.
In this previous article Derek Ranney, owner and operator of L&R Engines of Santa Fe Springs guided us through those steps and provided us with expert insight. After describing what it takes to test and deem a core useable, Derek and his team walked us through the machining process; from boring and line honing to decking the block.
L&R Engines is a third generation-family run engine shop that specializes in building engines for classic restorations and racing applications alike.
In this article Derek employs the aid of one of his senior engine techs to show us step by step assembly of what will become our Kustom 1950 Chevy Fleetline’s heartbeat, a 383ci small-block Chevy.
The goal of this engine build has always been simple, straight to the point, and no frills. Project Tiger’s Eye needs a power plant to handle long distance cruises; from Sin City to Chicago. Knowing this, we set out to build a power plant that had proven reliability, and rated high when it came to peace-of-mind. It was these two tenants that motivated us versus building a performance application or running a unique mill. Remember, know what you intend to do with your vehicle and build according to those specific needs.
Why Opt For The Small-Block Chevy?
The small-block Chevy is legendary for both its bullet proof reliability as well as its plentiful aftermarket support. This makes it the viable choice when choosing an engine for a vehicle that will see frequent road trips, long drives, and prolonged cruises. Frequent long distance driving from state to state is probably the riskiest application in terms of Tiger’s Eye’s intended use. The thought that you can find a maintenance or replacement part for the small-block in any shop across the country gives us the peace of mind we need when cruising the contiguous in classic, pre-technological amenity fashion.
Major Elements Of A Power Cruising State-Line Sled
To create 383 cubic-inches of small-block power, our 350 cubic-inch block is receiving a rotating assembly from SCAT (PN 1-92302BIE). Our rotating assembly came balanced and the part number conveniently includes a flex plate. The cast crankshaft features a 3.750-inch stroke, and utilizes a stock-length 5.700-inch connecting rod.
If we were building an engine that was destined to be run hard, we would have chosen a forged crankshaft. Project Tiger’s Eye is a four-door Chevy that is being built to be an enjoyable cruiser, so the cast crankshaft is a great money-saving option. In fact, a cast crankshaft is fine when used in the right application. A general rule of thumb is that 500 horsepower is the accepted limit when using a cast crankshaft.
When it came time to choose a camshaft, we felt that a hydraulic roller-tappet style would best fit our application. They are virtually maintenance free, and deliver more than adequate power potential. For our build we used a Lunati Voodoo camshaft and lifter kit (PN 20120711LK), their 1.5:1 rocker arms (PN 15300-16), and timing chain set (PN 93117).
According to the guys at Lunati, “The camshaft in this kit will deliver decent power in a mildly-modified engine, as well as excellent throttle response.” With .515/.530-inch lift, 219/227-degress of duration at .050-inch lift, and an LSA of 112, the power range is 1,800 through 6,000 rpm.
This was really the perfect camshaft for the long-distance-capable Chevy we are aiming to build.
Rounding out the top end of our build, we utilized Edelbrock‘s Performer RPM heads (PN 60895). This part number comes with 64cc chambers, 2.02/1.60-inch valves, and 3/8-inch rocker studs. Between the heads sits an Edelbrock Performer intake (PN 27014), and on top of that, a 650 cfm Thunder-series carburetor (PN 18064).
Finding Our Stroke – Assembling The Heart
The techs at L&R got right to work and walked us step by step on how to assemble a refurbished block. Follow along as we show you the process: from properly installing the rotating assembly and fastening the rockers to the front end accessories that make this block shine.
It’s What’s Inside That Matters
Q&A Guideline: Cast, Hypereutectic, or Forged Pistons?
Cast – Suitable for use in stock-style rebuilds / Not recommended for performance usage.
Hypereutectic – Suitable for any normally-aspirated engine with less than 600 horsepower.
Forged – A “must have” for any high-performance engine build making more than 600 horsepower, or when using a power adder.
When it comes to pistons, for a mild-performance application, at a minimum, a hypereutectic piston should be used. Although not quite as “strong” as a forged piston, the hypereutectic is more than adequate for a normally-aspirated engine that is producing less than 600 horsepower. To build the compression our engine will need, we chose SpeedPro pistons (PN H860CP30).
These pistons feature a flat-top design with two valve reliefs. The pistons also have coated skirts, which will help reduce friction and wear. The coating also helps when a piston reaches either end of the cylinder. When the stroke of the rotating assembly reaches full travel distance and starts to travel in the opposite direction, it decelerates for a millisecond. This change in direction can cause a piston to slap against the cylinder wall. With skirt-coated pistons, the engine will run more quietly, because the skirt coating acts as a cushion between the piston and cylinder wall.
Although floating wrist pins would help the engine run more efficiently, it can also increase the initial cost of machine work. To install floating wrist pins, the connecting rods would need to have bronze bushings installed in the small ends. The added cost of machine work is the only reason we decided to stick with press-fit wrist pins. In this application, we are not searching for every bit of horsepower the engine can develop. This is a reliable, long distance cruiser build.
Digging Deep – Assembling The Bottom Half
While many “old-timers” have always used engine oil or transmission fluid to coat parts during assembly, a proper assembly lube is a must — especially if the engine will be sitting for any length of time before it is started. A proper assembly lube will remain in place until the engine is running and can pump its own oil. If you use motor oil, over time, the oil can drain off of the surfaces where it was applied.
When it comes to installing the crankshaft into your engine block, cap walk is a huge concern that needs to be combated. Detonation is one of the main causes of cap walk, and when detonation occurs, everything flexes and the crankshaft wants to literally leave the engine if it is bad enough.
This uncontrolled movement of the crankshaft is what causes the main caps to move and bounce in their registers. This movement/bouncing causes the cap and the block to scrape against each other, and this can cause pitting and metal transfer. In our opinion, ARP bolts/studs help curb cap walk, and are mandatory with high-performance engine builds. They are cheap insurance on any engine. We ordered our ARP bolts in a kit (PN 534-9804), and the peace of mind that we get by using these bolts is definitely worth it. Why worry if your factory bolts can live up to the job when this kit is so inexpensive?
Our block was manufactured after 1986, and therefore has a one-piece rear main seal. Using this style block also mandates an oil pan to match the later-style seal set usage.
In order for any engine to run efficiently, a quality piston ring is needed. Piston rings have the task of sealing the area above the piston from the area below the piston. Our rotating assembly included Speed Pro pistons, and these conveniently included a full set of cast-iron rings. When selecting the proper rings, be they cast, moly, or chrome, you first need to know what conditions the engine will be operating.
Consider this: will your engine be subjected to unusual speed or load conditions, stop-and-go short-trip driving, or will it be operating in a high dust or dirt environment? If the vehicle is to be operated as a daily driver, it really doesn’t matter which type of rings are selected from a standpoint of the life of the engine and piston rings. On the other hand, if non-traditional driving conditions are going to exist on a regular basis, then one type of ring face-coating will be more appropriate than the others.
A moly ring has a very high resistance to scuffing, as does chrome, but a chrome-faced ring does not exhibit moly’s oil-retention capabilities. Chrome rings are also harder to “seat” in the cylinder bore. Cast-iron rings have a durable wear surface that is great under normal operating conditions. They are also less costly than the Moly or chrome-faced rings. That’s why we chose to use cast rings.
Finally, we could install our Moroso oil pump and pump driveshaft (PNs 22101, 22070) and Canton pick up and oil pan (PNs 20-020, 15-010T). The oil pump is Moroso’s standard volume/standard pressure unit. This Canton oil pan was the perfect choice for our block; it accommodates a 1-piece rear main seal, a passenger-side dipstick location, and is conveniently clearanced for stroker motors.
When it came time to seal the engine, we chose FelPro gaskets throughout. The head gaskets are their multi-layer steel (MLS) design (PN 1142). MLS head gaskets are becoming standard equipment on just about everything from stock engines to all out race units.
Unlike composite gaskets, which are made of different materials pressed into one solid gasket, an MLS gasket is constructed of three or more pieces of steel that are only attached together at a few points, typically by rivets.
The most interesting aspect of the MLS design isn’t that it is made of layers of steel, but what is done to the two outside layers of the gasket. A bead embossed into the steel that goes around the cylinder bores, the water passages, and even the oil drain back holes between the block and head.
When the cylinder heads are bolted to the block, the gasket is compressed but the sealing beads aren’t crushed flat. It’s these beads that provide the seal. Another feature of the MLS design is that it’s easy to make the inner piece (or pieces) thicker or thinner, so that you can change the compressed thickness of the gasket without affecting the quality of the seal. We are using a .041-inch compressed-thickness gasket.
MLS gaskets do require an extra degree of quality in regards to the machined surfaces of the head and cylinder block. Each type of FelPro head gasket – whether it be PermaTorque MLS, PermaTorque, solid or perforated core, single-layer embossed steel, or another type, they all require a specific surface finish requirement. If the head and block surfaces are too smooth, the gasket can move when the engine is running, and cause a leak. But, if the surface is too rough, the gasket will have a difficult time conforming to surface imperfections, and may also leak.
As great as the MLS gaskets are, L&R opted to coat them with Permatex’s fast-drying all-purpose High Tack Gasket sealant. It dries to a highly tacky, non-brittle film, and is a reliable general adhesive that remains tacky. It will definitely help keep the head gasket seal, and it remains effective at temperatures of negative 65 degrees, all the way to 500 degrees. If your engine has sensors, it is sensor-safe, and resists gasoline, oil, and antifreeze.
As an aside – to measure the surface finish of the block and head, a Roughness Average (Ra) is used. The Ra is the average of the micro-inch measurement of peak-to-valley roughness of a “flat” surface. The lower the Ra number, the smoother the surface is.
FelPro recommends a surface-finish of 60 to 100 Ra with cast-iron heads and blocks, and 50 to 60 Ra for aluminum heads. FelPro also uses proprietary head gasket coatings and facing materials that are designed to fill in minor surface imperfections, and allow for improved sealing.
When you are talking to your machinist about the work he will be performing, make sure to let him know what head gaskets you are using.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, our MLS gaskets are sealing the surfaces under a pair of Edelbrock aluminum heads (PN 60895). Cylinder heads are what allow your engine to breathe, and really contribute to making any power, or not. According to Derek at L&R, “The final 10.4:1 compression ratio will work perfectly — even with the gas that is available in California.”
The final compression ratio is 10.4:1, which is perfect for 91 octane, Especially with aluminum heads. – Derek Ranney, L&R Engines
Aftermarket roller rocker arms have been around since the ’60s, and while the basic design is still used, they have definitely been the recipient of upgrades over the years.
They are built stronger, but lighter than units of the past. A more obvious benefit of installing roller rockers is that their is a reduction of friction and wear. Stock rockers slide over the end of the valve stem, putting a considerable amount of side pressure on the stem as they move. This creates friction, and wears the stem and valve guide. A roller rocker has a small roller that rolls over the end of the valve stem, which virtually eliminates side load on the stem and greatly reduces wear.
They can also be ordered with different ratios that can increase your camshaft’s lift without actually pulling the camshaft.
Once the rocker arms were adjusted, we wrapped up at L&R by putting the final touches on our block before heading back to our in-house shop.
Proform has a plethora of accessories for the small-black Chevy, parts that are often overlooked but definitely required to get the job done. With their extensive catalog of offerings we were able to find our timing pointer (PN 141-200), timing cover (PN 66151), thermostat housing (PN 141-500), distributor clamp (PN 66987), and dipstick (PN 66130) without any issues.
With 99% of the engine buttoned up it was time for our engine to return to our shop so we could finish assembly and install the power plant into Tiger’s Eye’s frame. After the long-block was resting on the mounts, we were able to install our “shorty-style” Hooker headers (PN 2312HKR), and our MSD distributor and wires (PNs 8362, 5554).
Being a custom-built application we are still test-fitting pulleys and will need to mock up a custom mounting bracket for our large-case alternator from Tuff Stuff. Maintaining the theme of an engine with a high-polish chrome finish, Tuff Stuff was the perfect line of front-end accessories to go to for both reliability and show-quality finish.
With 99% of the engine all buttoned together and installed between the frame rails, we can’t wait to get the body reinstalled so we can put the car on the dyno to see what sort of numbers this power cruising mill will put down.
Stay tuned, the next leg of this journey will see us measuring for a driveshaft, hooking up the exhaust system, and onto fabrication to get our body ready for wreaking havoc on the roads.