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Old 05-06-2011, 01:58 AM
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BB Chevrolet Engines: Ideal Years/Applications For Cheap Drag Racing Swaps

Hi All,

I have an '84 Camaro that was being set up by the previous owner for drag racing. I am considering dropping in a 454 and an appropriate transmission out of a junkyard or on Craigslist for cheap thrills. The car presently has a Powerglide transmission. Factory-stock engine should be just fine just to keep the fun/dollar ratio high.

What I am interested in finding out is what year motors are worth looking for in terms of power and reliability, and which should be avoided altogether. A quick search on the local Craigslist shows a large number of 454 engines and matching transmissions out of mid to late 80's vehicles (trucks, most likely) going for between $600 to $1500 for everything. Some are rebuilt and others are "low-mileage". While the prices look attractive, would they be worth the investment?

Also, would a Powerglide (probably stock) hold up behind a 454, or should I ditch for a beefed-up TH-350/400?

Thanks in advance!

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Old 05-06-2011, 02:14 AM
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A Glide is the transmission of choice today, but not a stock one. Most of them today are highly modified by professional builders or are completely new aftermarket units. The fellows used to tell me that up to 2800 lbs, a Glide works good. Heavier than that and the car will probably go quicker with 3 gears. Any 4.250" bore block would be a good starting point, I would think. I haven't done any of the Gen V or VI big blocks, but maybe one of the other fellows who dabbles in them will post experiences.
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Old 05-06-2011, 02:30 AM
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A stock glide won`t last behind a big block worth it`s skin. The reason for PG use is for drag cars that are interested in running consistant. Since the PG only shifts once and the first gear is so high then the car, depending on weight, will need really deep gears. If the car is almost full weight then it`ll need around 5.13 or lower gears and alot of stall converter.
One advantage of it is, the higher first gear reduces the chance of wheel spin but that shouldn`t be a concern if a TH350 or TH400 is used if the rear end is set up properly with good sticky tires.
Now on the 80`s 454`s. Dead players. By the 80`s rolled around the emissions standards were in full swing so they only came in low performance smog versions that have dirt low 7.9:1 compression. The base models also came with "peanut port" oval port heads which are awful flow wise as the small runners are made for torque. The high performance 454`s were gone by the time 1972 rolled around. The rest of the 70`s, 80`s and part of the 90`s were all awful dirt low compression smog engines. This is why most buy a 454 for the crank, rods and block, the rest they pretty much throw away. The Vortec 7400 would be what I`d be looking for, they came with factory hydraulic roller cams and since they already have roller tappets you can order a bigger roller cam for it without breaking the bank. From what I understand the Vortec big block heads aren`t that great so you`d be stuck trying to find some used older performance heads. It`ll all come down to what your looking to spend. Since I`m not a big block guy I can`t tell you which heads to look for but I`m sure someone else will chime in behind me and be able to tell you
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Old 05-06-2011, 05:53 AM
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The powerglide if built will hold up. But have to be built with different performance parts. If the car is heavier then you need a built TH350 or 400 turbo.

The heads of choice as far stock heads are the 049's an 781's. There could be some other heads out there that would work also, but time has proven what flows better. The two numbers I have listed are a good start.

If you go with a 4.250 bore then you have a good starter block. The 3.76 stroke will net you a 427 an the 4.00 stroke will get you a 454. The 454 combo with .060 bore makes for a puller at 468 cubic inches.
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Old 05-06-2011, 06:01 AM
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Now there is an impossible combo. Cheap drag racing or cheap big block.
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Old 05-06-2011, 07:39 AM
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A mild 454 with a 3 speed trans would be reliable and fun. Cast crank, 781 heads with 2.18/1.88 valves, around 9 or 9.5 to 1 compression(pump gas), RPM intake, 750/800 holley, 3500 stall, cam around 245 @ .050 and .570 lift will be easy on the valvetrain, rear gear depending on tire size
This should get you about 525hp at the wheels. Mid to high 11s and will last forever as long as you dont over rev it
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Old 05-06-2011, 08:46 AM
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seems like there are always late 70s and rearly 80s, 2wd 3/4 ton trucks with 454s and t400 trans.
for $500-$2500 this would be a good cheap combo
the problem is most have low perf heads
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Old 05-06-2011, 10:21 AM
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Good morning everyone,
Quote:
Originally Posted by BOBCRMAN@aol.com
Now there is an impossible combo. Cheap drag racing or cheap big block.
I suppose no racing is every cheap. I guess what I am ultimately after is cheap thrills while learning something. My thinking was that perhaps buying a used 454, investing a in good transmission and keeping my expectations low might be a nice combo.




Quote:
Originally Posted by techinspector1
Any 4.250" bore block would be a good starting point, I would think. I haven't done any of the Gen V or VI big blocks, but maybe one of the other fellows who dabbles in them will post experiences.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DoubleVision
Now on the 80`s 454`s. Dead players. By the 80`s rolled around the emissions standards were in full swing so they only came in low performance smog versions that have dirt low 7.9:1 compression. The base models also came with "peanut port" oval port heads which are awful flow wise as the small runners are made for torque. The high performance 454`s were gone by the time 1972 rolled around. The rest of the 70`s, 80`s and part of the 90`s were all awful dirt low compression smog engines. This is why most buy a 454 for the crank, rods and block, the rest they pretty much throw away. The Vortec 7400 would be what I`d be looking for, they came with factory hydraulic roller cams and since they already have roller tappets you can order a bigger roller cam for it without breaking the bank. From what I understand the Vortec big block heads aren`t that great so you`d be stuck trying to find some used older performance heads. It`ll all come down to what your looking to spend. Since I`m not a big block guy I can`t tell you which heads to look for but I`m sure someone else will chime in behind me and be able to tell you
I would personally like to keep everything under $2500. Now, that is what my wallet is telling me, and it doesn't know what a realistic budget for what I am trying to do is. I am willing to search, barter, and scavenge for good deals in order to keep the costs low. Now that I think about it, I am looking for a nice junkyard jewel. I would've never thought of the Vortec motor so I'm glad you brought that up.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Bowtie man
The heads of choice as far stock heads are the 049's an 781's. There could be some other heads out there that would work also, but time has proven what flows better. The two numbers I have listed are a good start.

If you go with a 4.250 bore then you have a good starter block. The 3.76 stroke will net you a 427 an the 4.00 stroke will get you a 454. The 454 combo with .060 bore makes for a puller at 468 cubic inches.
Any ideas what year motors those heads came on? or would I be better off just searching for a good set of heads with those castings?




Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
A mild 454 with a 3 speed trans would be reliable and fun. Cast crank, 781 heads with 2.18/1.88 valves, around 9 or 9.5 to 1 compression(pump gas), RPM intake, 750/800 holley, 3500 stall, cam around 245 @ .050 and .570 lift will be easy on the valvetrain, rear gear depending on tire size
This should get you about 525hp at the wheels. Mid to high 11s and will last forever as long as you dont over rev it
That's two votes on the 781's. As for the three speed transmission, in your opinion, a TH-350 will do? The rear end has a spool. I need to find more information on that and report back.




Quote:
Originally Posted by matts37chev
seems like there are always late 70s and rearly 80s, 2wd 3/4 ton trucks with 454s and t400 trans.
for $500-$2500 this would be a good cheap combo
the problem is most have low perf heads
See that's exactly what intrigued me. The prices are low, and I imagine will only continue to fall given the current economic situation and gas prices. So I figured, as uneducated as it may sound (but hey, that's why I am here ), that I could plop one of those set ups into the Camaro for cheap and just simply have fun with it. As for the low-performance heads, I've reading about those. I imagine a swap to better flowing heads shouldn't be over complicated?

On a related note, this article definitely got me hooked. The featuered shop uses the peanut heads: "Cheap Big-Block Chevy Engine Build - $2,650 Big-Block Chevy"..




-------------------------------------




Quote:
Originally Posted by techinspector1
A Glide is the transmission of choice today, but not a stock one. Most of them today are highly modified by professional builders or are completely new aftermarket units. The fellows used to tell me that up to 2800 lbs, a Glide works good. Heavier than that and the car will probably go quicker with 3 gears.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DoubleVision
A stock glide won`t last behind a big block worth it`s skin. The reason for PG use is for drag cars that are interested in running consistant. Since the PG only shifts once and the first gear is so high then the car, depending on weight, will need really deep gears. If the car is almost full weight then it`ll need around 5.13 or lower gears and alot of stall converter.
One advantage of it is, the higher first gear reduces the chance of wheel spin but that shouldn`t be a concern if a TH350 or TH400 is used if the rear end is set up properly with good sticky tires.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bowtie man
The powerglide if built will hold up. But have to be built with different performance parts. If the car is heavier then you need a built TH350 or 400 turbo.
I am seeing similar rules in my research as the ones you guys have mentioned.

I believe the car is around 3000 lbs in stock trim. The interior is going to be gutted. The stock gas tank has been replaced with a 5 gallon fuel cell. The car itself is a T-Top so it may be heavier than a coupe. I might possibly install a roll bar.

The car came with M/T slicks. Also, I was told by the previous owner that the car has a "spool" rear end.
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Old 05-06-2011, 11:29 AM
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the 3rd gen 82-92 camaro's are roughly about 3350-3550, depending on what model and motor cam in the car, i have an 87' z28 that i have redone for street/strip that weighs just less than 3700lbs (with my 250lb butt in it) so that should give you a better idea of how much your car weighs, gutting the interior will net you about 200-300lbs

the major issue with these cars (trust me i found out) is their 7.5 rearend, they aren't made to handle much of any power, you can put stronger axles, and a stronger carrier in them (i did) and you will still blow them with around 350-400tq. i didn't have my motor in my car 2 weeks when i hit about half throtle from a stop sign, with M/T drag radials and my ring gear cracked, which ended up causing all kinds of damage in side by the time i had the car off the road in a parking lot. after pulling the pan i had gear oil and metal soup in there. (of coarse my motor makes almost 500tq) but i learned my lesson and bought a complete 33 spline 12 bolt from moser (32-3300 to my door $$$)
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Old 05-06-2011, 11:52 AM
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My 781 heads were on a 454 from a 76 suburban. TH350 held up well also. The 7.5 axle has to go. You can take it out now or wait and break it on the first night out. I would still run the torque arm though. Build mounts off a 9'' or 12 bolt or Dana rear. Get the front mount off the trans.(You will only break trans mounts like this) and attach it to the trans x member. Dont screw up the pinion angle. BTW, for those with a more streetable car you can use the tailshaft from a vega to attach the torque arm to a TH350. They were torque arm also.
Not a lot of room for tires in stock wheel wells. 275/60 DOT or 26 x10 slicks.
3.89 gear is decent.
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Old 05-06-2011, 01:02 PM
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Hey my87Z,
Quote:
Originally Posted by my87Z
the 3rd gen 82-92 camaro's are roughly about 3350-3550, depending on what model and motor cam in the car, i have an 87' z28 that i have redone for street/strip that weighs just less than 3700lbs (with my 250lb butt in it) so that should give you a better idea of how much your car weighs, gutting the interior will net you about 200-300lbs
This one is an '84 Z28. I believe the T-Top models weight more due to extra reinforcement.




Quote:
Originally Posted by my87Z
the major issue with these cars (trust me i found out) is their 7.5 rearend, they aren't made to handle much of any power, you can put stronger axles, and a stronger carrier in them (i did) and you will still blow them with around 350-400tq. i didn't have my motor in my car 2 weeks when i hit about half throtle from a stop sign, with M/T drag radials and my ring gear cracked, which ended up causing all kinds of damage in side by the time i had the car off the road in a parking lot. after pulling the pan i had gear oil and metal soup in there. (of coarse my motor makes almost 500tq) but i learned my lesson and bought a complete 33 spline 12 bolt from moser (32-3300 to my door $$$)
Completely forgot about the dreaded rearend . I still need to check and see if it is the stock one (got the car a couple years and haven't touched it since). $3300 is way out of the price range for now. This may just send me back to drawing board.




------------------------------------------




Hey cal1320,
Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
My 781 heads were on a 454 from a 76 suburban.
That should get me started in the right direction.




Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
TH350 held up well also. The 7.5 axle has to go. You can take it out now or wait and break it on the first night out. I would still run the torque arm though. Build mounts off a 9'' or 12 bolt or Dana rear. Get the front mount off the trans.(You will only break trans mounts like this) and attach it to the trans x member. Dont screw up the pinion angle. BTW, for those with a more streetable car you can use the tailshaft from a vega to attach the torque arm to a TH350. They were torque arm also.
Good to have a recommendation on the TH-350. Thats two votes to ouster the 7.5" rearend. Thats good info on the mounts and torque arm. Glad you brought 'em up.




Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
Not a lot of room for tires in stock wheel wells. 275/60 DOT or 26 x10 slicks.
I don't remeber the tire size on the slicks on hand. I don't think the car is tubed.



Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
3.89 gear is decent.
4.11 would be ideal?




Not to go completely off-topic with this post, but, and I know what I'm about to bring up is nothing more than a temporary fix, at least behind the 454, how about a 4th gen rearend swap? I do have a rearend from a '95 Firebird, an Eaton posi, 4.10 gears and Strange axles. With some minor strength fixes, I imagine this setup would be fine behind a mild 350 with a TH350 setup, if not a big block. Any thoughts?
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Old 05-06-2011, 03:19 PM
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I understand what you want to do and will chip in with this. I disagree about using a TH350 behind a big block. Now, if you've spent money to beef it up, then it will work fine. But let me ask, did you ever see a TH350 behind a big block from the factory? I don't think so and there's a reason for that, because a big block will frag a stock 350. There are fellows who use beefed 350's at the drag strip, but it's because they're trying to find a couple of tenths due to the lighter rotating components as compared to a TH400.

Big block, TH400, 9" rear (measure a late 70's Bronco) for cheap, bulletproof fun. 049 or 781 heads from racing junk, ebay, craigslist, etc. Google "049 heads for sale".
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Old 05-06-2011, 06:03 PM
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The only way I would consider a TH350 behind a BBC would be if it was built to handle it. Other than that it would be a TH400.
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Old 05-07-2011, 12:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by techinspector1
I understand what you want to do and will chip in with this. I disagree about using a TH350 behind a big block. Now, if you've spent money to beef it up, then it will work fine. But let me ask, did you ever see a TH350 behind a big block from the factory? I don't think so and there's a reason for that, because a big block will frag a stock 350. There are fellows who use beefed 350's at the drag strip, but it's because they're trying to find a couple of tenths due to the lighter rotating components as compared to a TH400.

Big block, TH400, 9" rear (measure a late 70's Bronco) for cheap, bulletproof fun. 049 or 781 heads from racing junk, ebay, craigslist, etc. Google "049 heads for sale".
Thanks for the simple and straight-forward recipe techninspector1! I'm gonna start pricing shopping on this stuff and report back.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Bowtie man
The only way I would consider a TH350 behind a BBC would be if it was built to handle it. Other than that it would be a TH400.
Based on all the feedback from you and the other members, TH400 it is.
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Old 05-10-2011, 01:24 PM
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So, I went online did, some price shopping and here's what I found:

- 454 long block (with/without the 049 or 781 heads): $500, +/- $250 on local Craigslist.

- 454 long block with matching TH400 transmission (with/without the 049 or 781 heads): $800 to $1500 on local Craigslist.

- 049 heads: $400 to $750 depending on condition, on local Craigslist.

- TH400 (from a reputable builder/company): $1250, +/- $150, plus shipping. IO figure this wouldn't be an ideal part to buy used. Perhaps building it myself would be better?

- 9" rear (various measurements, with drums): $350, +/- $100 on local Craigslist. Still need to measure the one on the Camaro.

This puts the damage at about $2500, before any machine work and other needed parts.

I imagine the heads may need to be inspected at the very least. Possibly rebuilt with new components. New gaskets. Camshaft. Carburetor. Intake manifold. Complete tune up. Maybe a fuel pump. The rear end would have to modified. Plus new gears and axles.

Am I missing anything?

Last edited by lt1silverhawk; 05-10-2011 at 01:45 PM.
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