‘Wheelin Ready Small Block

There are all types of wheeling you could be into.  Each takes a different type of suspension, drive train, tire and engine to perform at the absolute highest level.  You can build for a specific environment or you can try to generalize hitting the key points of each.  For the type of wheeling we have here in PA I decided to build for a little of everything when setting up my K5.  We will chat about the rest of the truck at a later date but for now lets talk engine.

The Engine

I started with a bare “010” casted four bolt main 350CI Chevy block.   The block went straight to the machine shop and got a good review.  They also reviewed the bearing surfaces on the stock crank.  I received a clean bill of health on everything aside from the cylinder walls.  A .030 over cut and hone job was in order as the remedy.   I also had the shop order a new set of hypoeutectic pistons, rings, and bearings.   About a week and 800 bucks later I had a ready to build block on the engine stand.

With the basics in place it was time to make some choices.  Like I said earlier, I was looking for an all ‘round solid setup.  For starters, I chose an aluminum head and intake kit from Edlebrock.  I wasn’t after anything crazy but I did upgrade to the .202 valves in the head.  The intake was an RPM Air Gap; A solid choice for medium RPM and torque plus it delivers cooler air to the engine like you would expect to see in a higher RPM intake.  The key piece to the puzzle was the cam.  I like the lumpy idle of the higher RPM street cams but had to take a different direction this time…  I opted for the Comp Cams 4×4 extreme.  There are a few different variants of the cam but my decision fell on the 600-4600 RPM option with Comp Cams part number 12-231-2.  The cam boasts good economy and excellent torque.   The cam is available individually, with lifters or as a complete kit.  I ordered through Amazon and beat prices of Jegs and Summit.

Comp Cams 4×4 Extreme The Full Kit

I topped the valve train with a set of roller rockers I got gently used from a fellow gear head.  While roller rockers are typically associated with higher RPM engines I figured a little less friction could benefit me as well.  They look fairly sweet too I must say…

Valve Train assembled and ready to go!

Finally, I topped the engine with a Holley Truck Avenger carb.  This thing is second to none when it comes to ‘wheeling carburetors.  The spec sheet mentions that spillover does not occur until 35 degrees; We will see

A Few Wheeling Trips Later

Overall the engine has worked out very well.  I have had it to Raush Creek and some of the other local trails as well.  The 4×4 cam and carb have been the most noticeable difference.   The cam is rated from 600 to 4600 RPMs and it performs like it.  The idle is smooth even turned the whole way back to 500 RPMs!  Letting the clutch out with your foot off the gas is no problem either.  The torque in the low end is amazing and perfect for the type of wheeling I do.  The carburetor needed some adjusting but works great as well.  The spec sheet said 35 degrees of tilt but even after having the truck all but on its side and back bumper I have not noticed any symptoms of fuel spillover.  The combination has truly proven strong so far!

Final Thoughts

For anyone looking to build an engine I suggest only a few key points: Research, ask questions from people more experience, and try it!  There might be a scientific way to get exactly what you need but what fun is that?   I don’t consider myself an expert on engines by any means but there are readers who are.  Jump to the forum and check out the appropriate tech forum for your vehicle type.  There is sure to be someone with engine experience there!

Wheeling for Cheap

There are nearly an unlimited number of ways to fund your four wheeling habit. Unfortunately, whether it’s an extra job, over time, or whatever it often keeps you away from working on your ride. Very few of us are lucky enough to have a few hundred to a few grand a month to put toward upgrades and fixes. I don’t have the silver bullet or magic snake oil for sale but I can share what has helped me keep the transfer case engaged for far less than expected.

Drive a Cost Effective Rig
For starters you should not be wheeling with your 2012 vehicle that you’re making payments on and that you drive daily. The very fact that you have payments probably means there is less cash free to burn on fixing stuff. You inherently break things when you take them any place more extreme than work and the grocery store. New vehicle parts are expensive because the aftermarket may still be developing. Also, junk yards hold fewer new vehicles. On the flip side, a solid used rig of 10, 20 or even 30 years in age will be cheaper up front and to maintain. Jeeps are plentiful as are Chevy and Ford pickups and SUVs. Decide what your wheeling ambitions are and shop around for relevant parts even before you buy the vehicle. Personally, I found Chevy engine parts to be the least expensive. They are also cheap to buy springs for since leafs are much cheaper than coils. Jeeps, on the other hand, have more suspension options for someone looking to get into serious rock crawling. A coil 4-link for my Chevy would easily out price a similar setup on a Jeep.

When in Doubt, Part Something Out!
Parting out vehicles the same make and similar model and year is a great way to get parts you need while selling things you don’t. You’re probably not going to make a mint but it’s a help for sure. For example, I recently bought a ¾ton Chevy pickup with a failed engine. I paid 400 bucks. The truck did have, however, a corporate 14 bolt and a Dana 44 that I was looking for. The typical price of these items? Around 300 for the pair. This is the part where it gets fun: the truck had a plow frame, I sold that for 100. The transmission is a TH400. NICE. I run a manual trans so it was for sale and sold for 200. Lights, fenders, rear window and other small goodies totaled another hundred fully covering the cost of the truck. Finally, I sold the junk engine, frame and body as scrap for close to another 100. I made 100 bucks and got a 300 dollar set of axles, see how that works? You may have noticed my prices are fairly modest. I often sell stuff to people I ‘wheel with. I try to treat them well and they do the same for me. I justify my wheeling expenses, rather than actually profit.

Buy Used
To build off of the previous idea you want to buy used stuff whenever possible. I’m not talking about cutting corners but rather being practical. Used parts are dirt cheap compared to new stuff. Let’s reexamine my previous example with the axles: A pair would be a few hundred bucks used but several thousand new. Also, if you buy used stuff from a friend you help them fund their projects. It’s a win-win, right?

There are really a lot of different ways to save big on your ‘wheeling projects and I know I have only touched on a few here. I have opened up section in the forum for everyone to chat further about ways to keep wheeling when the funding tapers off. Let me know what you thought of this article there as well! You can get to the discussion HERE!

-Schaeffer