The latest magazine craze is building as powerful a small-block engine for as little money as possible. Car Craft magazine touts a 500hp small-block Chevy that runs small-chamber Dart Iron Eagle performance heads and almost 11:1 compression for less than $2,500-that's cheap. Even CCT recently published a story on a stroked over-the-counter small-block Ford by Ben Smeding and Hilborn Fuel Injection Engineering ("A Rumbling In the OC," May '05) that cranks out 500 hp at a very reasonable price.

We all know stroked small-block engines produce excellent amounts of horsepower without the larger size and extra weight of a big-block. And the key to big dyno numbers is often found in the compression ratio (high) the engine makes, the response and type of camshaft and valvetrain, plus the higher volume of air that flows through the engine. All this focus on big dyno numbers ignores the more important aspect: drivability. Sure, a big carburetor will flow more fuel to the cylinders, but the fuel consumption (gas mileage) will suffer-and so will low-rpm throttle response.

Because of this, it's important to remember the primary objective; in our case that objective was good horsepower in an engine that could be driven on the street with ordinary pump gas. And don't forget that California's pump gas is oxygenated during the warmer summer months.

Speed O' Motive's dyno-room has been the scene of many high-performance engine builds. George Ullrich generously works with a number of magazine editors to create informative and educational editorial. And the bottom line is that the dyno doesn't lie about how much power an engine produces. Or where in the rpm range it produces it best.

The type of performance you want to achieve is critical to the way you build your engine (or have it built). We suspect most of our readers are more concerned with the ability to pass a semi truck on an upgrade (with pump gas) than turning a sub-12-second quarter-mile pass with racing fuel at their local dragstrip. This preference to pass a semi equates specifically to higher mid-range torque, and not necessarily higher-than-normal compression ratios where peak performance might be influenced by the poor quality of the fuel mixture.

Advance engine timing also plays a critical role in engine performance, and again the engine will tell you how much advance timing it likes by each dyno run's results. You might think a cam/ valvetrain combination should be set at a certain degree, but the ignition will ultimately decide how much or how little will produce the optimum power. The dyno readout showed a maximum of 33 degrees at 3,200 rpm, but a maximum of 491.6 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm. The maximum horsepower reading was 428 at 5,200 rpm. What this tells us is that this engine should be a strong street performer, delivering the most power in the mid-rpm range when we want to put on an extra burst of speed.

Synthetic Oil - You Can Pay Now Or Pay LaterHow many of our readers use modern synthetic oil in their high-performance engines or in their late-model automobiles? Your guess is as good as ours, but we're part of the group that has switched to high mileage synthetic motor oil for our hobby vehicles and daily drivers. The key factor that has convinced us to switch is greatly improved longevity and wear protection over an extended period of use. Because we plan to keep most of our vehicles for extended periods, synthetic oil is a long-term investment.

We're not research chemists-but we have had recent conversations with one. Team Leader Bob Sutherland of Pennzoil is an articulate and passionate spokesperson for synthetic oil. He tells us that all synthetic oils are a blend of highly refined ingredients. There's some crude oil and some synthetic additives in all synthetic oil; it's just a matter of the level of modification in the process of refinement . . . more on that in a minute.