Building The Little 383 Small Block That Could

Building The Little 383 Small Block That Could

What do you do with a spent, worn out small-block Chevy engine that you pull out of your project car? That was the question we had when we started stripping our Swinger Nova Project Car.

Although several good ideas were laid out on the table during our brainstorming session, we decided to rebuild the power plant if at all possible. What follows is a summary on how we took our well-worn 1971 350 and made it into a really sweet, budget-oriented 383ci Chevy slated to make more than 430 horsepower, all destined for a 1966 Chevelle.


Step 1: Our Thought Process

During the Project-build meeting for Project Swinger, our Nova build, the team decided to scrap the existing powerplant in favor of newer technology and more power. Instead of scrapping the old 350ci engine, the suggestion to build a 383ci stroker engine with an Edelbrock Total Power Package was put out on the table.

One of these popular kits include Edelbrock’s E-TEC 170cc heads and was said to make 430-plus horsepower in a very affordable package. We were also especially interested in the potential performance of the Edelbrock E-TEC heads and what they would do on our Dynojet on this well-prepared 383. In our way of thinking, this was a true economy build, and the Edelbrock Total Power Package is reasonably priced and should make great power.

Step 2: The Plan

This was clearly the most difficult task in the project build. With so many performance parts manufacturers that produce some really great engine parts, the question became: “Where do you draw the line?” We broke down the criteria for selecting engine parts in several categories. Obviously we needed to make the selections based on measurable criteria, so that would add another level of difficulty in selecting the best parts for this build. In the end, we relied pretty heavily on experts. You!

We talked to the home project car builders, the engine shop specialists at JBA Performance, and we listened to the readers on our message boards. By word of mouth, we began to filter the selection of engine components down to a manageable level. We think that it is fair to say that our viewers planned this engine build as much as we did, and they did a remarkable job.

Short Block:

Engine Block: Stock GM 2-bolt
Crankshaft & Rods: Eagle Street Performance 383 Kit
– Eagle 383 crankshaft and I-beam rods
– Speed Pro .030-over Hypereutectic pistons
– Pioneer Flexplate and Balancer
Rings: Total Seal rings
Timing Chain: Cloyes timing chain and cover
Oil Pan: Hamburger oil pan
Gaskets: Fel-Pro gaskets

Long Block:

Rockers: Crane Gold Rocker Rams
Heads: Edelbrock E-TEC-170 cylinder heads
Cams: Edelbrock retro roller-camshaft
Intake: Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake
Valve Covers: Edelbrock Signature Series valve covers
Carb: Edelbrock 800 cfm carb
Distributor/Ignition: Petronix Flamethrower HEI performance distributor

Step 3: The GM Two-Bolt Block

The engine block we already had. It was a stock two-bolt block. Since we wanted a torquey engine with some big-inch power, we wanted it machined and bored .030-inch. With our larger crankshaft, that would give us a true 383ci stroker. It was hard to believe, but our worn-out block was stock bore. There was a lot of slop in the stock pistons, and the cylinder walls showed some scuffing from loose fit piston wear.

Proper machine work is key to engine longevity. Just slapping new rings and bearings in a used engine is asking for trouble.

Here is what JBA did for machine work:

  • Bore block .030-inch over to 4.030 inches and hone
  • Align hone the main bores
  • Thoroughly clean and hot tank the block
  • Check lifter bores and hone lifter bores
  • Deck the block
  • Paint the block

We needed to get the block checked for cracks or any other abnormalities, so our first call was to JBA Performance. JBA is well known for its performance parts and installation work. It also has a world-class engine building and machine shop.

Owner and founder, J. Bittle, has a very extensive background in road racing. He is a very focused competitor that was one of the first to bring intense organization to a pit crew. That level of organization is one of the elements that has made JBA successful in the high-performance automotive market.

General Manager, Bruce Tucker, was hand-picked by Mr. Bittle to maintain and grow the fundamentals of organized maintenance within the company. When you walk into any of the San Diego area JBA facilities, you can tell that the philosophy of clean and organized maintenance permeates through every level.

Once the Eagle crankshaft was placed in the block, end play can be checked.

JBA’s Engine shop manager, John Elderhorst, got involved early in the build process by making some recommendations, checking our part’s list, and adding the “oh by the way, you’re going to need,” parts to the list. John knew Chevy engines quite well, and was instrumental in selecting the right components that would work together to produce the power and durability that we were looking for. Clearly, we lucked out having JBA’s expertise and skill involved in this project.

Step 4: Building The Bottom End: Eagle Performance

We had selected Eagle Connecting Rods for this build, and after getting an education on packaged kits, we decided to check Eagle Specialty Products to see if they had a bottom end kit. Eagle is a well-known and trusted name for Hot Rodders and racers alike, so we were comfortable looking into a packaged rotating-assembly kit from them.

Talking to Robert Loftis at Eagle, we were able to find a kit that fit our goals exactly. Eagle has a street performer kit that is purpose built for a small-block Chevy 383ci stroker engine. The kit includes just about everything we needed to complete the engine build. Robert assured us that the rotating assembly would be fine for our horsepower range, and even up to 500 horses without fear of failure.

Here is the contents of the Eagle’s Street Performance Rotating Assembly Kit:

• Eagle cast crankshaft. 3.750-inch stroke, PN#103503750
• Eagle SIR I-beam connecting rods. 5.7-inch, PN#SIR5700BPLW
• Speed Pro Hypereutectic pistons. .030-inch oversized, -12cc dish top.
• Pioneer Flexplate.
• Pioneer harmonic damper.

After the block was fully prepped, we dropped the Eagle 3.75-inch stroke cast crankshaft into the two-bolt GM cradle with the use of the Clevite 77 bearings.

383 small block

JBA put plenty of assembly lube on the bearings during the assembly process. They have a very nice clean room where they do their work.

Eagle makes a lot of cast and forged crankshafts for small-block Chevy. You can check out the complete list of Eagle small-block Chevrolet cranks, but we chose ours because it came in the street performance kit, it was affordable, and can take up to 500 hp. Anything over that, or with nitrous, you’ll need a forged crankshaft for engine longevity. But there is nothing wrong with a cast crank for a reasonable street-budget engine.

It was time to install the Speed Pro pistons. The Eagle kit comes with Speed-Pro’s hypereutectic pistons, which are a great choice for street engines. Hypereutectic pistons have gotten a bad rap for hardcore engines, but for a street motor, they can’t be beat.

Speed-Pro’s are built with a FM244-alloy, which includes 16.5-percent silicon displaced through the piston. This allows them to have outstanding thermal expansion, which means better ring seal. They are also coated with Federal-Mogul’s Duroshield skirt-coating, which reduces friction, improves horsepower, and extends piston life.

383 small block

We chose to install the pistons with Total Seal Pistons Rings because we were curious about what kind of horsepower potential gains we could have. We used a fairly standard Total Seal ring combination, with a 1/16, 1/16, 3/16 ring package with a gap-less top ring. Top ring was gapped to .026-inch, and he second ring was gapped to .022-inch.

We talked to Keith Jones at Total Seal about the gap-less rings. Keith explained that the gap-less rings experienced less blow-by which increases horsepower and improves fuel economy. He added that with less blow-by, there would be less effect on the engine oil, keeping it cooler and cleaner. Cooler and cleaner oil makes for a longer engine life. We’re sure it will show in the dyno numbers.

We dropped the assembled Eagle rod and Speed Pro piston into the bore 8 times, and we were ready to move on! In terms of compression, the Eagle rotating assembly kit combined with the Edelbrock E-Tec 170 heads (64cc compression ratio) gives us a true 383 cubic-inch displacement with a 9.9:1 compression ratio. The goal of building a high torque, big-inch power in a budget small-block Chevy engine using quality parts was being fulfilled.

Step 5: Camming the 383 with Edelbrock And Cloyes

Despite the best laid plans of men, camming your engine still remains a bit of magic. Sure, companies like Comp Cams, Crane, and Lunati can grind you a camshaft, custom or shelf, that can do a great job, it also depends on your combination of parts exactly. This is where the Edelbrock Power Package excels. Edelbrock has done the work, and the dyno testing, for us. We selected the Edelbrock Hydraulic Roller #2201 which makes 435 dyno-verified horsepower with our Edelbrock E-Tec 170 heads.

The specs are:

  • .539/.548-inch lift with 1.6-ratio rocker arms
  • 234/238-degrees duration at .050-inch lift
  • 296/300 degrees total duration
  • 112-degree lobe separation

With the 383, we wanted a solid timing chain that was beefier than the stock setup, and one name immediately came to mind: Cloyes. Cloyes is another performance company that enjoys a great reputation in manufacturing quality automotive timing drive systems. For our application there were several choices in Cloyes product line, but we chose the Hex-a-Just True Roller Speed Set.


This timing chain set will allow us to quickly, and accurately, adjust the cam timing plus or minus six degrees in a minute. This adds greatly to the cruiser/racer engine that we are building. You could drive to the track with your cam timed for optimal street cruising. Then, when you get to the track, you can quickly adjust the cam timing for performance racing timing within a matter of minutes.

To make the timing adjustment even easier and quicker, we ordered the Quick Button Two Piece Timing Cover. The two-piece timing cover allows access of the cam sprocket timing adjustment without removing the entire timing cover. Removing the timing cover risks damaging the timing cover gasket. Cloyes two-piece timing cover makes the Hex-a-Just True Roller timing adjustment even easier. This was a have to have item for this engine and well worth the price tag in time saved.

Once we wrapped up the short-block, it was time to cobble together an oiling system. On the bottom end of the block, we added an Econo-Series Hamburger oil pan, part #1078, for small-block Chevrolet applications like our ’66 Chevelle.

Step 6: The Pan

Hamburger oil pans are well respected in the street/strip performance world, and the Econo Series is nice because it gives us extra oil capacity, built in windage trays, crank wipers and a magnetic oil plug for a reasonable price. These features help by keeping excess oil off of the crank and ensuring that oil is routed where it needs to be: in the sump where it can be picked up and used.

Step 7: The Edelbrock Power Package: Heads, Intake, Carb

We talked to Smitty Smith at Edelbrock to get the scoop on the Total Power Package kit, and explained why we were interested in it. Smitty told us: “I have the 383 Total Power Package in my daily driver. It’s got all the horsepower you would ever want or need. You can lay a tire mark on the pavement for sixty feet without trying”. Now that was a pretty descriptive explanation that we could easily understand, but we still wanted to see the raw data. Edelbrock has posted the data for the Total Power Packages on their website, but we’re going to overview the package we chose and why.

Edelbrock makes Performer and Performer RPM power packages, all dyno testing. The Performer series are designed for milder street engines that make power from idle to 5,500 rpm. The Performer RPM packages are for the more serious street engine that makes power from 1,500 to 6,500 rpm. We selected the Edelbrock Performer RPM Power Package for Small Block Chevrolet that included the E-Tec 170cc cylinder heads and is dyno-proven for a minimum of 435 hp.

Included in the package we purchased was:

  • Edelbrock E-Tec 170cc SBC heads, #PN 60979
  • Edelbrock Air-Gap Performer RPM intake manifold, #7516
  • Edelbrock hydraulic-roller camshaft (specs above) #2201
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM carb, 800 cfm (additional)
  • Edelbrock valve covers

The cornerstone of this Edelbrock kit is the E-Tech heads, which are designed for the small-block Chevy engine for use with the Vortec-style intake manifold. The secret to its power potential is found in a few key areas: a raised intake port is .200-inch taller than standard heads, the spark plugs are repositioned, and the exhaust ports are also .200-inch higher than standard SBC heads. All-in-all, there is more than a 20-percent increase in exhaust flow.

Although our Edelbock E-Tec 170 heads were assembled, we opted to supplement the heads with Crane Cams rocker arms. Tony Vigo from Crane Cams recommended the Gold Race extruded rocker arms due to their popularity and success in similar type builds.

After much discussion amongst the build team, we decided to try an old racer’s trick and install 1.6-ratio rockers on the intake and 1.5-ratio rockers on the exhaust. This should give us that little extra something in the power department. Plus, the gold anodizing on the rockers gave the engine a real bling-bling ass-kicker look.

There wasn’t any valve lash required, because the camshaft was a hydraulic roller. We did give the engine the required 1/2-inch turn of pre-load as Edelbrock recommends for hydraulic-roller applications.

According to Jim Hairston of PerTronix, “these units use new components, not remanufactured parts, and feature a specially engineered module and coil combination that operates without misfires up to a minimum of 7,500 rpm. That’s roughly 3,000 rpm higher than most enthusiasts report with their original HEI unit.

Our Pertronix HEI replacement

Hairston claims the Pertonix units will produce 67-percent more energy in the coil with 45-percent faster spark break-down time and deliver twice the energy across the spark gap when compared to the stock HEI system. PerTronix internal testing shows that spark duration and more energy to the spark allow wider plug gaps (.050- to .055-inch), increasing flame-kernel growth for more efficient combustion.

To go with the PerTronix distributor, we ordered PerTronix Flamethrower MAGx2 Custom Performance Plug Wires. These wire sets are pre-terminated for a perfect fit requiring no additional cutting, crimping or splicing. Featuring large diameter 8 mm silicone jackets to resist high temperatures, moisture, oil, and chemicals, they come in red, blue, or black, with Flame-Thrower white lettering.

These wires are designed with two current paths (spiral wound stainless steel alloy and carbon impregnated fiberglass center core) resulting in less than 500 ohm per foot resistance. These wire sets come with a lifetime warranty. Given that our goal with this engine build is to provide an engine that will give us the biggest bang for the buck in performance and longevity, a lifetime warranty more than justifies the cost.

PerTronix also made us a smokin’ deal on its newest product, the Flame Thrower Digital Rev Limiter. Protecting our engine was important, so we jumped at the chance to install an aftermarket rev limiter with the latest features. The Flame-Thrower digital rev limiter can be used with any 4, 6, or 8 cylinder engine using points, OEM electronic (GM HEI, Ford, Chrysler), or aftermarket inductive-type ignition systems.

This digitally controlled micro-controller-based unit provides much greater accuracy(+/-0.01-percent) than analog systems. Digital rotary switches permit easy setting and a resolution of 100 rpm for more accurate rev control eliminating the need for chips and jumpers. The Pertronix system uses a random pattern of spark stealing to control RPM. Pertronix claims the benefit of random spark stealing is quicker response time to an over rev-limit event.

A four-wire hookup and the rev limiter’s small size (2.5 x 3.0 x 1.4 inches) makes installation and fitment in many locations within the engine compartment easy.

Hamburger’s Performance Parts

Finishing off our 383ci engine build is a couple of trick parts from Hamburger’s Performance Products. Providing smooth transition of air flow from the carb to the intake, is a 1-inch carburetor spacer that is anodized red, made of T-6 aluminum, and guaranteed forever. While we are not big on having loads of anodized parts in the engine bay, a couple can highlight an otherwise visually boring powerplant. The Hamburger spacer came with mounting studs and gaskets, and fit well with the Edelbrock carb.

Fel-Pro Gaskets

The difference between good engine builders and great engine builders is the quality of gaskets that are used in the engine build. Gaskets are designed to seal engine components to the engine and keep the fluids inside the engine where they belong.


A gasket has to be tough enough to handle the heat and compression created by the engine. To choose the right gasket manufacturer, most mechanics rely on personal experience and word of mouth from other engine builders.

Our sweet big-inch small block.


During a recent engine rebuild of a dirt track race car engine, we needed to buy an engine gasket kit. A quick trip to Temecula Speed Center in Temecula, California, for the gasket kit and we got an informal education on gaskets from the owner, Art Englebrick. Art told us “many serious engine builder I have known uses Fel-Pro”. We know there are a lot good gaskets out there, but Fel Pro is always among the best.

We talked to Ron Rotunno at Federal Mogul, the parent company of Felpro, and he suggested the Felpro #2802 Full gasket kit for small-block Chevy’s. When the kit arrived at our shop, we found that it was very complete kit that included everything we needed for a complete overhaul. These gaskets and seals are know for being able to handle the wear and tear of performance engines.

Coming Up

In the very near future we will be posting a couple of video blogs on this engine build and a follow up article when the engine is installed and run on the dynojet chassis dynomometer. We are expecting some big numbers and years of high performance use out of this engine. In choosing the components for this budget engine build, we walked the line between economy and dependability.

A budget build of this kind is a balancing act of choosing the least expensive parts and the most durable components while keeping in mind that performance is the overall goal. I feel safe in saying that we have universally achieved these goals, and have provided a blueprint for a “true economic” budget stroker build.

Areas where we felt the biggest savings were achieved were buying big name parts that were sold as a kit. The Edelbrock Total Power Package and the Eagle Rotating Assembly kit offered us the premium components at decent pricing. Saving some dollars by buying these parts in kit form allowed us to buy some inexpensive engine protection in the form of PerTronix’s digital rev limiter. The deal with rev limiters is; you don’t realize how valuable they are until you need them. When you need them and don’t have one, you find out that they are worth the cost of an engine.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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