Not all craters are created "equal". Be careful. "Price" shopping is also not always a good idea. Cheaper is only better if you HAVE to have "cheaper" due to constraints. With a '77, you have some pretty early iron there. You can build it "cheap" or you can build it "nice". Pretty tough, even for a Chevy these days, to build a nice one cheap. Only you can decide what you want. If you have future "plans" for the car as a performance or "show" or "cruiser" or any other specific application, buy an engine that fits into that plan.
There are GM craters in a range of performance and price. Most of the 300-400 HP versions I've seen were pretty good. Some of the "bigger" ones have shown piston and bearing issues if pushed hard. A forged crank is always a good idea with the small block. There are other large companies building "crate" small blocks. Most are at a much higher level (and therefore, cost) than the ones you see from GM in the mail-order houses. I've been in one Edelbrock 383. Pretty nice work. He leaned it out and burned a piston. Tuning problem, not engine problem.
The point is, pick what level you're heading for, and buy appropriately. If your budget can "stand" a higher priced, more powerful engine, and that strikes your fancy, don't think the GM is necessarily higher quality. Dart, World, etc. all build GOOD engines.
As heavy as the '77 is, consider a 383. It will have better drivability combined with performance.
I build "customs", and don't sell craters. I offer this from what experience I have with freshening or "cleaning up" craters. I do know, the cheap remans aren't a good risk.
Yeah, some of the aftermarket crate engines use low-end parts, like re-sized rods and cheap imported pistons and heads. And local shops can be hit and miss, unless you can find a guy like Jim who seems to know his stuff.
I think the 330hp/350 GMPP crate engine is a lot of bang for the buck. Or for a budget buy, the basic Goodwrench engine works pretty well with 500-600 cfm 4bbl carb and dual exhausts.
If your car is down and it's your only driver, a crate engine is a great time saving option. Slap it in and go in wayyyyy less time than you will spend building an engine or having an engine built. You can buy mild to wild crate engines depending on your budget and desires. As 55_327 pointed out, the Goodwrench 350 can be bought for a pretty "budget friendly" price. It's available right now for $1500 with FREE SHIPPING. It responds well to upgrades. Chevy Hi Performance mag did a series of progressive upgrades, you can find the series on The Goodwrench Quest here: Gm 350 Crate Engine Build | Find Information on Gm 350 Crate Engine Build at Chevy High Performance Magazine
"Crate engine" is the term used originally for a new engine from the dealer, made with all new parts shipped in a "CRATE"
Now everyone uses the term and it doesn't mean **** and you very well may get just that.
There is no standard, its all apples and oranges.
GM has new crate engines and GM performance book has lots of good choices if smog laws are not an issue.
Yes one can build a better engine with better new parts, newer close clearance forged pistons, cam that fits your usage, better timing, better crank, well, better everything is possible.
The problem now is to find a shop that knows how to do everything perfect.
There is the rub, I would say 10% of engine shops are any good.
Will they warrantee "high performance"?
So a new GM engine has a good warrantee. That can save you real headaches, it is fast and cheaper.
Ford, have some also but beware, many dealers sell generic reman engines and may not be worth what you think your saving.
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