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Hot Rodding Made Simple: Affordable Turn-Key Crate Engines

If there were ever a time to jump into the hot rodding game, now would certainly qualify. View any number of classified ads and you’re guaranteed to either find a running project car or a full-roller (sans drivetrain), on the cheap.

Most of them will easily fit the budget, any number of crate engines and provide you with a formidable driver. Now more than ever, aftermarket companies are churning out a multitude of parts, components, and even full-tilt race engines. Of course, our garden variety readers don’t necessarily need to delve into the world of high-zoot race mills, however, many still love to go fast on a cheeseburger allowance.

As matter of fact, most of the aftermarket drivetrain industry is offering up crate-style electronic overdrive transmissions with controllers, and even boxed up rearends ready to bolt-up to the frame. Trust us, the aftermarket is running full steam ahead and there really is no end in sight. Though, finding a project car is only half the battle.

Luckily, finding a reliable engine for your project car or daily driver is even easier. To clear the air, we’ve located and described each of our favorite small-block Chevy crate engines available through the aftermarket. We hit up some of the most popular engines available and include all you’ll need to know about each engine and provided dyno numbers where applicable. We assure you, you’ll find what you’re looking for and well within  your price cap. Read on to find out which small-block Chevy crate engine is right for you. It really couldn’t be any easier…

Crate engines, like this small-block from the Edelbrock assembly room illustrates the care in which each engine is built. Notice the piston rods and main caps have all been numbered. Furthermore, cylinder heads in the background have all been stacked and organized for future builds.

A Sign Of The Times

In years past, supplying your ride with a decent powerplant turned out to be a daunting task. Luckily for most, these days it’s not terribly difficult as most aftermarket companies are banging crate engines like the Mission Tortilla factory. Just take a look around at your next local cruise or drive-in dive, don’t be surprised to find a pre-assembled crate engine sitting between those framerails.

Sure, a custom built mill offers up supreme potential and bragging rights, too. However, with the availability of off-the-shelf, fully built engines, that option is losing momentum. Not to mention that most aftermarket companies, which provide crate engines, offer up warranties to boot!

With the availability of crate engines increasing, even aftermarket companies such as BluePrint Engines are offering up potent LS-mill crate engines to satisfy even the most die hard enthusiast.

Drop In And Go

As you can see, there really aren’t any drawbacks; just drop and go. Although handling your very own engine conjures up a sense of self-importance, there’s really no beating a combination that has already been developed and tested like a turn-key crate engine.

A clean assembly room prohibits dust or air-borne contaminants from entering the bare engine, which could damage the engine.

The crate engine concept is not a new idea either. For years, powerhouses like GM Performance Parts and Edelbrock have been producing the ultimate bang for your buck in affordable crate engines.

It was only until recently, privateer performance shops like Pace Performance, Blueprint Engines, and Patriot Performance have been able to also supply the aftermarket with fully assembled, traditional crate engines to fit any variety of wallets.

The cross-hatch markings inside each cylinder illustrate the honing process. This particular short-block is ready for the top end assembly to be installed.

Crate engines offer up the racer lifestyle at only a fraction of the cost.

The Crate Engine Phenomenon

More or less, consumers can simply flip the pages of any number of catalogs available or just surf the Internet to locate a desired powerplant. It’s painfully simple. However, there are a slew of terms that are frequently used but offer up little if any explanation to what they truly mean.

The align-honing process is quite complicated. While we can’t go in depth with the procedure, align-honing the block before assembly is a critical step during the engine build. Check with your favorite crate engine supplier and ask for more details regarding how your crate engine was machined and assembled.

Generally speaking, defining a crate engine is simple and for our purposes, “crate engine” refers to an engine that’s shipped complete, at least up to the cylinder heads. For demonstration purposes, the engines you see here include small-block Chevy turnkey engines, which come complete from carburetor to the oil pan.

These days, it’s normal to see most crate engine blocks in the four-bolt main architecture. The four-bolt main blocks are stronger and more reliable.

With four bolts securing the main bearing caps, the amount of flex within the crankshaft as compared to the weaker, two-bolt main structures are reduced. However, that’s not to say a two-bolt main variation couldn’t handle daily driving with moderate horsepower figures.

While some higher-end crate engines rely on a set of aftermarket fasteners, some crate engines are still built with the factory-style bolts. Ask your local crate engine supplier which types of fasteners were used in your engine before you purchase it.

Crankshafts also play a vital role in crate engines. Again, it all comes down to how you plan on using your new-found power. For the most part, a cast crankshaft can handle most, if not all of your driving duties (Up to 600HP). Cast crankshafts are still plenty strong, although if you plan on a more demanding environment, than finding a crate engine with a cast crankshaft could outweigh its increased cost. If you plan on adding more RPM, boost or nitrous, a forged unit can certainly qualify to meet those needs.

Again, just as important as the crank are the pistons, too. Pistons can also come in three different flavors: Cast, hypereutectic and forged pistons. Depending on the supplier, again, a cast piston would be able to handle a variety of driving styles.

The difference in these two types of crankshafts, visually, is hard to discern. However, the forged (far left) crankshaft can withstand more rpm and punishment than its weaker, albeit, more affordable cast crankshaft.

Moreover, if your driving style includes some bolt-on upgrades down the road such as, nitrous or a supercharger, the forged internals can save you a ton of headaches in the long run.

Cylinder Heads

Crate engine suppliers like BluePrint Engines are now including their own custom set of aluminum cylinder heads to a variety of their crate engines. These aluminum 195cc lungs from BluePrint include performance ports and combustion that are as-cast, high-quality 21-4n stainless steel valves, Viton seals, double springs, and other high-performance features.

Cylinder head options, too, are populating a majority of turn-key crate engines. As it’s become cheaper to produce race-style cylinder heads, they’re becoming quite the norm on many crate engines.

Depending on your application, an iron set of lungs is the most affordable option on a crate engine rather than the aluminum route. The trade off occurs as iron is more detonation prone and retains heat longer. That’s not all bad news either  but the aluminum option means a lighter front end and is easier to port and repair when needed. Some cylinder heads packages (depending on the supplier) come with complete CNC machining for superior flow.

Again, it’s important to make sure you cylinder head selection is properly matched to your specific rodding needs. Call ahead to your crate engine supplier and ask for more information.

Today's modern crate engine packages contain top-notch engine building techniques, block quality assurance testing, and high-quality components, which add strength and promote longevity.

Though a long-block crate engine comes nearly complete aside form the intake manifold, the engines which are sporting a manifold can come in two options including either, dual or single-plane manifold designs. For daily driving, a dual-plane manifold can provide a flat torque curve; keeping the power right where you need it.

Typically, a single-plane offers up more high rpm flow. Take note of which manifold is installed on your crate engine.”

However, depending on the cubic-inch and camshaft size, a single-plane manifold might offer up the best of both worlds. Of course, nearly all of these circumstances come down to your specific needs and personal budget. It’s important to keep these key elements in mind when you’re searching and preparing to purchase your turn-key crate engine.

If you plan on a simple alternative to what you’re currently wheeling, a complete, iron-headed small-block can satisfy nearly any hot rod. However, if you plan on some weekend warrior-like racing, be prepared to spend a little more on upgraded internal components like a forged crank and pistons.

Chevy Small-Block Crate Engines

Here we’ll list our favorite small-block Chevy combinations, and cap the price at $6,500 to keep it well within any builders’ budget. What’s more, we’ve even sprinkled in some late-model crate engines, too, just as a means for fattening your powerplant knowledge.

The ZZ4 is most certainly nothing new. However, it’s still a potent powerplant. With no more than a simple set of aluminum cylinder heads and a high-lift camshaft, this engine pumps out 355 hp and 405 pounds of twist with ease.

GM Performance Parts ZZ4
Horsepower: 355
Torque: 405
Cost: $4,400

Where would we be if it were not for the GM small-block, which has lead the way? Of course, it all started with GM’s venerable 283ci small-block. Fast forward to present and The General is pumping out more crate engines than you can shake a stick at.

Literally, no matter if you’re into an all out race-mill or require a powerplant with slightly less features, GM Performance Parts can hook you up with any number of potent engine packages.

GM uses new parts that are designed to work together the first time and even offer up a 12-month warranty; an unmatched value. Really there is no sense in rebuilding your current, clapped-out engine. GM Performance Parts can get your project vehicle, hot rod or daily driver up and running in no time.

GM Performance Parts ZZ4 Engines Feature:

  • Displacement: 4.00-inch x 3.480-inch (bore x stroke)
  • Compression: 10.0:1
  • Block: New GM 4-bolt main 1-piece rear main seal
  • Crankshaft: Forged iron
  • Pistons: Hypereutectic flat top
  • Camshaft: Hydraulic roller
  • Lift: 0.474/0.510-inch intake/exhaust
  • Duration: 208/221 intake/exhaust @ 0.050-inch on 112
  • Rocker arms: 1.5:1 stamped steel
  • Manifold: Aluminum dual-plane
  • Cylinder heads: Aluminum L98
  • Carburetor: Holley 770cfm
  • Distributor: GM HEI

GM’s ZZ4 crate engine package includes a forged steel crankshaft, and street-friendly hydraulic roller cam and lifters. Up top sits an aluminum set of Corvette cylinder heads, dual-plane aluminum hi-rise intake manifold and a 770cfm Holley carburetor. Rounding out the package, GM also ships everything you’ll need to fire this crate engine in your garage.

GM Performance developed these ZZ4 crate engines, which are evolved from the popular ZZ series of small blocks that power thousands of street rods, hot streetcars, circle track racers and drag racers. Falling on years of serving the performance industry, GM made sure to stuff the ZZ4 full of their most reliable components. Included are a set of 5.7-inch powdered metal connecting rods and an internally balanced crankshaft.

GM also plant a heavy-breathing set of their tried-and-true cast aluminum ’87-91 Corvette L98 cylinder heads, which have 58cc combustion chambers, and a 163cc intake runner volume. They have also feature a ’55-86 bolt pattern with “D” shaped exhaust ports and center bolt valve cover patter layouts. Even exhaust heat crossover passages and the ends of the heads are drilled for standard accessory bolt patterns including angle plug configurations. Cast iron long-style water pumps are used with standard, “V” belt rotation and ’79-86 power steering pump bosses.

Delivering spark is a reliable GM HEI with a large cap and internal coils are installed. With a long history of successes in circle track and drag racing as well as street rods and other performance applications the ZZ4 may just be the bullet for your next project. These ZZ4s are not intended for marine use and should only be used in ’73 and earlier pre-emissions street vehicles or any rear off road vehicles.

Edelbrock customers have the in-house, Edelbrock dyno available for your small-block engines. Ask Edelbrock for more details when ordering up your small-block crate engine.

Edelbrock E-Street Crate Engine
Horsepower: 315
Torque: 385
Cost: $3,399 & UP

Edelbrock is no stranger to the hot rodding scene. With more than enough proven performance parts and cutting-edge innovations, Edelbrock has shown its ability to handle any aftermarket need.

Edelbrock’s crate engine program offers up supreme bang for the buck in their brand new, fully-assembled engines that are virtually ready to run and deliver classic Edelbrock performance…right from the crate.

To bring it home, Eric Blakely, Director of Advertising, adds, “Our Edelbrock E-Street crate engine line is focused at giving budget conscience consumers a variety of brand new, high-quality engine choices at an affordable price.”

Edelbrock makes ten power levels available. These engines include high-quality Edelbrock manifolds, carbs, cylinder heads, camshafts, and water pumps (optional). Customers also have the option of having their crate engine coated in there different finishes as cast, polished, and EnduraShine.

Edelbrock offers up their E-Street crate engines, which come complete from carb to pan and even include a distributor to the mix. These carbureted packages start at $3,995

Edelbrock isn’t leaving anything out of their crate engine packages either. Some crate engines are equipped with MSD distributors. Whether it’s an MSD Pro-Billet Ready-to-Run and high-performance coil or the Pro-Billet HEI, these distributors are set-up with a special advance curve designed especially for Edelbrock Crate Engines.

Adding to the overall value, Edelbrock crate engines also include a 24 month, unlimited mileage insured warranty. With this exclusive crate engine warranty, you get classic Edelbrock proven performance backed by a proven warranty for complete peace of mind. One of the great features of this warranty is your right to choose a service facility.

Short- or Long-Style Water Pumps

Order your crate engine with or without an Edelbrock water pump. Choose from short- or long-style pumps. Short-style #8810 for most 1955-72 cars, trucks and street rods. Long-style #8811 for 1969-87 cars and 1973-86 trucks

 

Edelbrock Crate Engines Feature:

  • Displacement: 4.00-inch x 3.480-inch (bore x stroke)
  • Compression: 9.0:1
  • Block: New GM 4-bolt main 2-piece rear main seal
  • Crankshaft: Cast iron
  • Pistons: Cast aluminum
  • Camshaft: Hydraulic flat tappet
  • Lift: 0.420/0.442-inch intake/exhaust
  • Duration: 204/214 intake/exhaust @ 0.050-inch on 112
  • Rocker arms: 1.5:1 stamped steel
  • Manifold: Performer: Aluminum dual-plane
  • Cylinder heads: Aluminum E-Street with 64cc chambers
  • Carburetor: Edelbrock 600cfm
  • Distributor: MSD

Upon Edelbrock’s approval, you have the flexibility of choosing any ASE-certified facility nationwide to take care of your warranty claims. Whether you’re close to home or on a cross country cruise, we’ve got you covered. Just be sure to activate the warranty card included with the engine, and submit it to Edelbrock within 30 days of purchase.

Edelbrocks E-Street crate engine is full of low-end twist. With nearly 400 ft/lbs available, crusiing and spirited driving couldnt be any more enjoyable.

Pace Performance Fast Burn 385
Horsepower: 385
Torque: 385
Cost: $6,590

Not one to drop the ball, Pace also has their performance packaged up in a ready-to-fire, dual-quad small-block 350ci. The Pace Performance Fast Burn 385 begins life as a GM ZZ4 short-block, which includes a super-strong forged steel crankshaft with matching piston rods for heavy swinging. From there, Pace then adds GM Fast Burn aluminum cylinder heads and adds value by installing a strong set of stamped steel 1.5:1 rockers to the mix.

Gregg Gorup, Marketing/Creative Manager adds, “Pace Performance has developed a complete line of true, turn-key Chevrolet Performance crate engines.

Pace works closely with other performance manufacturers such as Edelbrock, Holley, and Comp Cams, which adds their suggested parts to the already formidable turn-key packages.”

Not leaving anything to chance, Pace adds a ton of performance goodies to sweeten the deal of their Fast Burn 385. Each Fast Burn 385 receives nearly everything you’ll need to fire these up, almost immediately from the crate.

Along with a fresh set of polished finned aluminum valve covers, each Fast Burn 385 gets a matching air cleaner, aluminum Edelbrock dual quad 500cfm intake, a pair of Edelbrock 500cfm carburetors with performance fuel pump plumbing. Pace also adds a performance distributor, wires, looms and even the spark plugs, too!

Not stopping there, Pace even goes as far as to add a 14-inch auto trans flexplate, HD start with bolts, oil filter with adapter, and an 8-inch harmonic balancer. Of course, it’s all to insure its turn-key and ready to fire.

Pace Performance has developed a complete line of true, turn-key Chevrolet Performance, works closely with other performance manufacturers such as Edelbrock, Holley, and Comp Cams, which adds their suggested parts to the already formidable turn-key packages.

Pace Performance Fast Burn 385 Engines Features:

  • Displacement: 4.00-inch x 3.480-inch (bore x stroke)
  • Compression: 9.6:1
  • Block: GM 4-bolt main, 1-piece rear main seal
  • Crankshaft: Forged steel
  • Pistons: Hypereutectic aluminum
  • Camshaft: Hydraulic roller
  • Lift: 0.474/0.510-inch intake/exhaust
  • Duration: 208/221 intake/exhaust @ 0.050-inch on 112
  • Rocker arms: 1.5:1 stamped steel
  • Manifold: Edelbrock aluminum dual-plane
  • Cylinder heads: GM aluminum Fast-Burn with 62cc chambers
  • Carburetor: Dual 500cfm Holley’s
  • Distributor: MSD

Pace not only offers up a potent mill for cruising but benefits from future, Pace modifications with the ability to upgrade its current Fast Burn 385. These options not only add an overall value to each engine but also coax additional ponies from this package. What do we mean, well, if 385hp just isn’t enough, Pace can upgrade you to 430hp with the addition of their HOT cam and 1.6:1 self-aligning rocker arms. At that point, what’s stopping you?

Patriot Performance 383 Stroker
Horsepower: 501
Torque: 492
Cost: $5,385

Knowing that the foundation for every serious build begins with the block, Patriot began their crate-engine 383ci program utilizing only the best from the aftermarket. Patriot Performance begins with Dart’s versatile line of SHP short-blocks. Internally, the Dart blocks are adorned with an Eagle rotating assembly, including KB forged slugs with a flat top. Additional internals consist of their large, hydraulic camshaft spun by a double-roller timing set.

Patriot Performance begins thier 383 Stroker package with a Dart’s line of SHP offerings, which are packed with an Eagle rotating assembly and KB pistons.

For heavy breathing, Patriot relies on its very own set of aluminum Patriot cylinder heads. These high-flow heads come with 2.02-/1.60-inch intake/exhaust valves, 64cc chambers, and 190cc intake runner volumes. A set of Scorpion or Harland Sharp roller rockers are relied on for valve control.

Patriot then installs a dual plane Dart manifold and even adds an MSD HEI Streetfire ignition to the mix as well. Of course, it’s all dyno tested to the tune of 501hp! Do the math, that’s $10.74 per horsepower; an unbelievable package for the everyday cruiser or weekend warrior drag car.

Patriot’s philosophy is spawned from their service to producing reliable packages. We spoke to Scott Heaxt, Patriot Performance CFO, “Patriot’s turn-key crate engine started it’s high performance engine program over four years ago. Today we provide a high quality performance turn-key crate engine for the small-, and big-block Chevy. These engines are designed to cater to everyone from the street performance to all out drag racing. ‘When it’s on the line’ is our motto, and has put several in the winner’s circle in both drag racing and boat racing. We are very proud of our engine program but more important is our customers and continuing to provided the highest quality engine that is affordable to most enthusiast.”

Patriot’s crate engine packages delivers a ton of low-end grunt. Just take a look at this dyno chart with just over 400lb-ft. of torque at a low, 2,500rpm.

  • Displacement: 4.00-inch x 3.850-inch (bore x stroke)
  • Compression: 10.7:1
  • Block: Dart SHP 4-bolt main, 2-piece rear main seal
  • Crankshaft: Eagle cast steel
  • Pistons: KB forged flat-top
  • Camshaft: Hydraulic roller
  • Lift: 0.562/0.580-inch intake/exhaust
  • Duration: 247/253 intake/exhaust @ 0.050-inch on 110
  • Rocker arms: 1.5:1 stamped steel
  • Manifold: Dart aluminum dual plane
  • Cylinder heads: Aluminum Patriot Performance Freedom Series with 64cc combustion chamber
  • Carburetor: Dual 500cfm Holley’s
  • Distributor: MSD HEI

BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker
Horsepower: 430
Torque: 450
Cost: $4,495

BluePrint’s stroker small-block is no slouch. With over 430hp on tap, a complete engine and a warrany to boot, what more is there?

BluePrint Engines offers up their 430hp 383ci stroker engine to the crowd with a ton of performance parts, options, and a warranty to seal the deal. To start things out, BluePrint begins with a strong foundation using a GM 4-bolt main, 1-piece rear main seal block.

Each block is then align honed, and bored honed to within 0.0002-inch straightness and roundness. Cylinders are then sonic tested for thickness.

BluePrint’s rotating assembly includes a new, cast steel crankshaft, hypereutectic pistons with a Hastings moly-ring package, and H-beam rods packing 150,000 psi rod bolts. BluePrint also adds in a High-volume Melling oil pump, a hydraulic roller camshaft, and a heavy-duty double-roller timing set.

Up top, BluePrint adds a set of their aluminum lungs, which feature hardened retainers, springs and swirl polished 2.02-/1.60-inch intake/exhaust valves to handle extra breathing.

“BluePrint’s GM engines give you brute, honest horsepower that’ll leave others in your rear view mirror. Produced from hand-picked, seasoned four-bolt main blocks and precision built to exacting specifications, every engine in our lineup is ready for years of dependable performance!”

BluePrint makes sure its performance is all available to run on pump gas with 10.1:1 compression. Additionally, BluePrint dyno tests each package and ships each engine with results! Much like the others, BluePrint also sweetens the deal with a 30-month/50,000 mile warranty. All you’ll need to add is a 400ci weighted harmonic balancer and small-block 350ci weighted flexplate/flywheel.

BluePrint 383ci Engines Features:

  • Displacement: 4.00-inch x 3.850-inch (bore x stroke)
  • Compression: 10.0:1
  • Block: GM 4-bolt main, 1-piece rear main seal
  • Crankshaft: Cast iron steel
  • Pistons: Flat top hypereutectic aluminum
  • Camshaft: Hydraulic roller
  • Lift: 0.528/0.536-inch intake/exhaust
  • Duration: 230/240 intake/exhaust @ 0.050-inch on 112
  • Manifold: Aluminum dual plane 
  • Cylinder heads: BluePrint aluminum 195cc
  • Carburetor: 750cfm Edelbrock
  • Distributor: HEI 

Which One Is Right For You

With so many options on the table, the choices are seemingly endless. From docile, low-compression crates to slightly mild engines at your fingertips, the small-block you choose is contingent on your intended applicaiton. Keep in mind, these aren’t slapped-together rebuilds. These crates offer new assemblies and better still, most come with warranty to seal the deal. If you’re looking for a basic small-block for your project car or daily driver that will deliver years of trouble-free operation, you’’ll be hard-pressed to find a better buy in the guide we’ve provided above. Make sure to check out our complete list of sources to get in contact with your favorite supplier!

Sources

Edelbrock
Phone: (310) 781-2222
Patriot Perfromance
Phone: (888) 462-8276
GM Performance Parts
Pace Performance
Phone: (888) 748-4655
BluePrint
Phone: (800) 483-4263


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