Dirt Cheap Performance Engine Project Intro
Paradise Garage

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© 2002 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

"Budget" is a term that differs quite a bit for Uncle Fred versus Warren Buffett.
No doubt you've seen the same magazine articles we have. "Budget Buildup!" they cry out. "Go Fast for Dirt Cheap!" they scream. Then, they don't tell you the actual costs, or you find that they happen to have a friend who owns a machine shop, or their idea of "budget" is more than your car is worth.

Yeah, we hate them too.

We decided it's time the Paradise Garage Charger be relieved of its pansy 150-hp (dyno-proven!) 318 oil smoker, and upgrade to something that'll put the car into the 13s. We want Mustang GTs to cower in fear and LS1 F-bodies to... well, at least break a sweat (those guys are fast). Since the 318 is a 17-second motor, we have a long way to go.

But money is as tight here as it is in your household, so budget means budget. No massive 440 buildups... yet. Our goal is to have the Charger down the dragstrip for as close to $1000 in parts and machine work as possible. That means finding a clean core and using as much of it as we possibly can. That means doing as much labor ourselves as possible. 13s for $1000? If it can be done, we'll be as amazed as you.

Let's be up front about one thing right now: we're cheating. We're not going to count the cost of tools in this buildup. They're sure as hell not free, but tools remain useful far beyond the engine assembly so we're just not counting them. We will, however, note when the job requires special equipment.

As with any engine project, ours has been scaled back as realities of cost set in. We selected the 360 specifically because it is the largest engine that will fit into the 318's space without substantial mods. Originally we planned to make it a stroker, but the cost of the stroker crank, rods, and pistons were prohibitive. We'll bore the block slightly but it'll be the stock stroke, hopefully with the very same crankshaft from our core engine.

Then we thought we'd put trick aftermarket heads on it, till we saw what those go for. So, we decided that we'll just learn how to port stockers instead. We might upgrade the stock valves; that remains to be seen. Some sources suggest we'll lose bottom end by doing that, and since we won't have the goods for a strong top end, there may not be any real-world payoff. The porting job is a no-brainer, but otherwise it will likely be the stock valvetrain.

So at least we could get the Edelbrock RPM cam kit, right? Well... Edelbrock requires adjustable pushrods because of the amount of lift on their camshaft. Even though the cost of the actual cam is quite reasonable, the adjustable pushrods are murder (about $225). Unless we score some good used ones, we'll have to run a milder cam.

We're definitely still getting the Performer RPM intake manifold though. But it might be an Air Gap model, and it might not. As for the carburetor, that's not set in stone either. The Carter ThermoQuad is popular among the Mopar faithful, but it doesn't match standard square-bore intakes, so by the time we rebuild one and buy the adapter we're looking at about $60, compared to (hopefully) scoring a used Edelbrock 1407 for about $100. The extra work doesn't seem worth it.

As for the rest, it just depends on how many parts are useable from our core engine.

* * * * *

     $150.00       1986 360 engine
     $200.00       1974-casting heads
     $102.00       Edel. 1407 carb
     $125.00       Edel. Perform. RPM intake

     $577.00 TOTAL
So far, we've spent a lot of money. We found a core 360 out of a 1986 Dodge truck for $150. It's complete from oil pan to intake manifold, though several of the parts on it are garbage. One of the tranny ears is broken off, and the exhaust studs are snapped off (typical for older cylinder heads). The truck oil pan probably won't clear the Charger's suspension. But still, so long as the longblock is clean, it should be a good starting point.

Then we bought an engine stand for it, and after our efforts to get it into the garage ended in a near-disaster, we bought an engine hoist and a load leveler. But these are Tools, so they don't count against our total.

The plan was to re-use the stock cylinder heads, perhaps ported slightly. Well, just like any other gearhead, sometimes the Perfect Deal comes along that is too good to walk away from. In our case it was a set of 1974-casting 360 cylinder heads that have 2.02" valves, double valvesprings, some port work, and looks like maybe a bit shaved, all for $200. Later, these will go to a machine shop to be cleaned, magnafluxed, and flow tested; once that money is spent, we'll know whether we got a steal or got took.

Have a look at our cylinder head comparison.