Chevy 540 Big Block - Power-Packed Mark V
Built to Rock
From the February, 2009 issue of Custom Classic Trucks
By Cam Benty
One horsepower per cubic inch. Back in the 1950s, that was the target. Those newfangled overhead pushrod engines that revolutionized how passenger car engines were created only served to heat up the power-per-cube race. When the new Chevrolet big-block engine was introduced in 1965, it lit the fuse for bigger power and renewed the focus on the power-per-cubic-inch wars.
Today, making big horsepower is still the ultimate goal; the one-horsepower-per-one-cube-of-displacement target is but a mere dot in the rearview mirror of old aspirations. But complications to the engine-building process have surfaced recently. For many builders, the engines they create must make excellent power and still be compatible with today's low-quality pump gas (91-octane). In addition, they must be able to generate adequate vacuum and excellent daily-use drivability. Just as today's performance cars are compatible with formerly antiperformance style options, such as A/C and power steering, most current engines don't need 114-octane race fuel to avoid detonation while hitting the big power figures. The fact is no engine builder wants to tell his clients their freshly built engines require such coddling. Why should they when proper component selection will help them avoid such behavior?
A Little Big-Block History
The big-block Chevy engines of today come in a variety of shapes and styles. While the Mark IV, introduced in '65, went through some initial changes, it was not until '91 that the Mark V engine came to be. Today, the Mark V and its brother, the Mark VI, which debuted in '96, are good platforms for engine builders, offering great versatility and availability over the seemingly harder-to-find Mark IV engines. Featuring strong internal webbing, an integrated oil pan gasket, and a one-piece round rear main seal to avoid oil pan drips, the Mark V was perfect for our needs. Paired with the hot-performing RHS Pro Action aluminum cylinder heads, we were excited about the potential for what we believed would be an excellent combination for our street-based project.
The selection of the Mark V platform was the work of engine builder Jim Shewbert, who was hired to create the potent big-cube engine for Ted Yurek's '70 Chevelle. The car, while outfitted with a number of advanced suspension upgrades, was a true dual-purpose machine; both track and cruise time were planned for the beautiful blue-and-SS-stripe-clad heavy Chevy. While the engine was assembled in Southern California, the Chevelle was expected to run on pump gas once dropped between the inner fenderwells of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho-based Chevy. Owing to the huge amount of distance between L.A. and Idaho, it was imperative that the engine be powerful and reliable.
A man of many engines, Jim...
A man of many engines, Jim Shewbert has been building and racing engines, including anything from alcohol Funny Cars to Pebble Beach Concour-winning multimillion-dollar classics, for 35 years. The challenge this time-building a streetable 540-cid Mark V big-block Chevy that could run on pump gas and make over 600hp.
The Mark V big-block requires...
The Mark V big-block requires oil-system bypass valves to make it compatible with an engine-mounted oil filter system....
...Forget these bypass valves...
...Forget these bypass valves and you can kiss your engine goodbye, as oil will not circulate properly through the engine. And don't forget that threaded plug that fits in the oil-pan rail, as shown here.
Building the Mark V engine was not unique, for the most part-a fairly straightforward assembly using Scat 6.385-inch 4340 H-beam connecting rods, Akerly & Childs Xtreme rings, and 4.5-inch-bore Keith Black hypereutectic aluminum pistons. The pistons feature a 1/16-inch top moly piston ring and a similar-sized cast-iron second ring. The pistons have a flat-top, making for excellent flame propagation, and when used with a 9.800-inch deck block they generate 10.25:1 compression. An Eagle forged steel crankshaft was used with a 4.250-inch stroke, making for 532-cid total displacement (540 cid for you government workers)
The cylinder heads were state-of-the-art RHS Pro Action 360cc aluminum heads. The heads started plenty clean from the factory with excellent airflow and internal water jacketing for consistent temperature control, and were ported to the next level by Toby Allison. Because of the high horsepower Jim wanted to generate, he felt a Toby porting job would help eek out the engine's top horsepower numbers.
In the valvetrain department, Shewbert clearly wanted a big camshaft to take advantage of the high-flow cylinder heads, horsepower, and torque-handling attributes of the super-strong Mark V short-block (see the CamQuest 6 sidebar). To that end, he selected a camshaft that featured large lift and duration numbers requiring a mechanical roller valvetrain, which included COMP's new Endure-X mechanical roller lifters. In combination with the big camshaft, the COMP Cams tech line folks (800/999-0853) helped him select appropriate valvesprings, retainers, lifters, spring cups, lash caps, and even the Pro Magnum roller rockers used with this combination.
Topping the engine was a Dart intake ported by Allison and a Demon-reworked 850-cfm carburetor. Big-tube exhaust headers and low-restriction Flowmaster tailpipes were slated for use, along with a five-speed manual transmission and high-performance clutch.
On To The Dyno
The folks at Westech Performance were hired to test the limits of our engine. Engine builder Jim Shewbert installed the camshaft with four degrees of advance, along with the Dart intake, Demon 850-cfm carburetor, and MSD ignition. Using 91-octane fuel, Westech's Steve Brule fired the engine and spent a considerable amount of time warming the engine, then resetting the valves and warming the engine again with some short low-rpm pulls. After an hour of break-in time, they proceeded to make some test runs to see if we had done the proper homework.
The Mark V required a few jetting changes, and we adjusted the timing slightly during our four test pulls. In the end, our 540-cid Mark V big-block turned out an impressive 649.2hp at 6,200 rpm and 613 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm. The most impressive part of the engine's power and torque output was the consistent power delivery. From 5,700 through 6,700 rpm, the engine maintained a minimum of 640hp-less than a 10hp variance for over 1,000 rpm. In addition, the torque level reached 590 lb-ft of torque starting at 4,100 rpm, and stayed above that level through 5,700 rpm. This is usable street horsepower that would be more than up to any race challenge encountered by the classic Chevelle.
Shewbert likes to run Manley...
Shewbert likes to run Manley stainless steel valves for all his engines. These measure 2.250-inch intake and 1.880-inch exhaust.
Toby Allison reworked the...
Toby Allison reworked the entire length of the ports and valve bowls....
...The RHS Pro Action cylinder...
...The RHS Pro Action cylinder heads work great from the factory and run well without modifications....
|540-cid Engine BuildUp-Specs and Parts List:|
|Fuel:|| Pump gas|
|Block:|| GM Mark V block with 4.5 bore and 9.800 deck|
|Crankshaft:|| Eagle-forged crankshaft-4.250-inch stroke|
|Connecting rods:|| Scat-6.385-inch length|
|Pistons:|| KB hypereutectic-10.25:1 compression, flat-top |
|Heads:|| RHS Pro Action 360cc aluminum-Mark IV-style, 360cc intake runners|
|Piston Rings:||Akerly & Childs rings, 1/16 top second cast-iron, 1/16 top moly ring, 3/16-inch stainless expander|
|COMP Cams 306AR-10 mechanical roller camshaft||Lift:|| 0.680/0.680-inch intake/exhaust Duration: 306 degrees intake/319 degrees exhaust|
|Lobe centers:|| 110 degrees|
|COMP Cams Valvetrain:|
|COMP timing chain with degreeable offset key-degreed at 4 degrees advanced :|
|COMP Cams rocker studs, guideplates, and lash caps, 10-degree machined Keepers|
|COMP Cams Pro Magnum Roller rockers|
|COMP Cams titanium retainers-COMP Cams PN 731-16|
|COMP Cams 10-degree machined keepers|
|COMP Valvesprings PN 944-16 |
|COMP Cams Endure-X mechanical roller lifters-PN 866-16|
|COMP Cams heavy-duty pushrods-PN 7131-8 intake, PN 7141-8 exhaust|
|Additional parts list:RHS Pro Action cylinder heads 360cc-intake runners-all Mark IV-style, 116cc chambers ported by Toby Allison * Manley valves-2.250-inch intake stainless steel valve, severe duty (0.250-inch-long valves); exhaust valve-1.880-inch stainless by 11/32-inch exhaust valves (0.100-inch-long valve stems) * Heads ported and polished by Toby Allison, who match-ported the intake, did the bowl, blended the intake bowl to the seats, ported the entire exhaust port, and shaped the guides * Competition Specialties-rear main seal adapter (converts Mark V to Mark IV crankshaft) * Fel-Pro head gasket (allows a Mark IV cylinder head to adapt to a Mark V block); Teflon-coated gasket includes 0.041-inch stainless steel O-ring embedded in the gasket * Dart single plane intake manifold-port matched by Toby Allison * NGK spark plugs - 5/8-inch head-requires small plug * Hooker headers 2/125-inch primary tube-length to be determined * ARP head bolts * Competition Specialties-Mark V front cover * ATI front dampener * MSD plug wire 8.8mm and billet distributor 6AL ignition box * Demon 850-cfm jets-88 primary and 94 secondary jets, original power valve used * Akerly & Childs bearings-rod and crank, special chamfered bearing because of big radium in the crankshaft * Milodon-oil pan (30951), pickup (18310), and pump * Adams Machine, Lancaster, CA-all engine machining and balancing (owner Mark Adams)|
...Valvespring cups were used-another...
...Valvespring cups were used-another COMP Cams component.
The Mark V big-block requires...
The Mark V big-block requires oil-system bypass valves to make it compatible with an engine-mounted oil filter system. Forget these bypass valves and you can kiss your engine goodbye, as oil will not circulate properly through the engine. And don't forget that threaded plug that fits in the oil-pan rail, as shown here.
The Mark V engines feature...
The Mark V engines feature a full 360-degree main seal that helps reduce oil drips over time.
Why the Mark V?
The Mark V engine was an intermediate step in the evolution of the big-block Chevy, fixing problems encountered with the Mark IV engine, most notably leaky mains and oil pan gaskets. The Mark V engine does not use a bolt-on oil filter bypass and required the installation of check valves into the engine to make it work with such systems. (If you forget, the engine will appear to make proper oil pressure, but it will be missing the engine and only circulating through the oil filter system-for the time your engine will continue to run.
CamQuest 6 Asks, "Can We Do Better?"
Our 540-cid Chevy big-block Mark V engine was a standout performer. It did everything we asked it to do. But did we optimize the performance? Did we get everything we could from the combination? Knowing that we were up for anything the learning curve might throw our way, we decided to test our camshaft knowledge against the newest programming available from COMP Cams-the CamQuest 6 Cam Selection Software.
As touted in the ad materials, the CamQuest 6 is a PC-based camshaft selection program that allows the user to find the right camshaft by answering a few application-specific questions from the program's dropdown menus. Sounds simple enough, so we took the program for a testdrive.
First, we input the parameters required by the program, such as engine type, compression, carburetion, cylinder head type, etc. The program offers up an amazing number of possibilities. For our Mark V big-block engine, the program was easy to understand and required little intuitive thinking on our part to fill in the grids accordingly. Our only "gray" area occurred with regard to the flow figures of our ported RHS Pro Action 360cc cylinder heads. Having the exact measurements here would give us more accurate information in terms of the total calculation, but we were comfortable in running the simulation with the data we had in hand. The CamQuest 6 calculated the data and kicked out a number of good, better, and best camshaft choices. Interestingly enough, our model RA306-10 (0680-inch lift and 306/319-degrees duration, 110-degree lobe centers), the one that generated 649hp on the Westech dyno, was not the top CamQuest 6 camshaft selection. So what did the CamQuest 6 recommend? Camshaft grind number RA296ER-8 with less duration and more lift on 108-degree lobe centers.
To determine how much better the smaller-duration camshaft would be, we did two virtual installs using CamQuest 6. As it was the top pick, the program used grind RA296ER-8 and displayed the results, along with all of the recommended ancillary COMP Cams parts like lifters, retainers, springs, locks, and other parts that should be used to achieve optimum performance. Grind RA296ER-8 (the top CamQuest 6 camshaft selection) features 108-degree lobe centers, with only 296-degree intake duration (304-degree exhaust). Lift was increased to 0.714 inches. Our new estimated horsepower-nearly 689hp. Torque-655. So why the 30hp difference? We decided to investigate.
The RHS Pro Action heads use...
The RHS Pro Action heads use high-quality guides. These were lightly honed to create an excellent valve to guide fitment.
A light coating of white grease...
A light coating of white grease was applied to the COMP Cams rocker studs' threads before they were torqued in place. The white grease ensures they will come out if necessary without damaging the aluminum cylinder head. COMP Cams also makes the pushrod guideplates shown here.
This camshaft installation...
This camshaft installation tool from Gear Head Tools is handy for sliding in the camshaft without damaging the fragile camshaft bearings. Note that the camshaft was liberally lubricated with COMP Cams break-in lube prior to installation.
According to Westech's Steve Brule, the camshaft chosen for the dyno test featured a large amount of duration-too much for the application due to the engine's limited compression. With a pump gas-compatible engine such as this, the increased duration actually allows cylinder pressure to be reduced, slightly lowering peak power.
"This type of engine (540-cid Mark V) can handle a lot of lift, but too much duration is a detriment," says Brule. "The excessive duration, however slight, actually bleeds off intake charge. It negatively affects the volumetric efficiency and increases the exhaust gas temperatures. But the higher lift is not a problem; in fact, it gets the valve moving slightly quicker, helping fill the cylinder more fully, making more power. As long as you don't have valve to piston problems, lift is only a positive thing."
The camshaft selection process has long been a black art by both pro and novice engine builders, leaving lots of room for interpretation. How do you know you have purchased exactly the right camshaft for your engine? In the past there has been only one way-to trust in the expertise of those who are believed to be experts. Today, real experts are easy to find, such as those answering the phone at the COMP Cams Cam Help hotline. Unfortunately, many builders don't make the call and rely on their friends and pseudo experts to advise them. With engine building requiring not only cubic inches, but also cubic dollars to build big power, it's safe to believe there are now two very reliable sources for camshaft advice-Cam Help and CamQuest 6
Mark V Quick Spotter Guide:
* One-piece oil pan gasket
* 10-bolt timing cover with gasket (the Mark VI uses a six-bolt cover with an O-ring)
* Includes oil cooler option in the galleys for a remote oil cooler
The Keith Black hypereutectic...
The Keith Black hypereutectic pressure cast-aluminum pistons were dressed with Akerly & Childs piston rings and set at 10.25:1 compression.
Gear Head's 4.500-inch spring...
Gear Head's 4.500-inch spring compressor was oiled up, and the Keith Black pistons were tapped in place.
The Scat 6.385-inch connecting...
The Scat 6.385-inch connecting rods feature ARP bolts.
Each rod cap nut was torqued...
Each rod cap nut was torqued to 85 lb-ft before installation. The crankshaft is an Eagle-forged unit with a 4.250-inch stroke.
The COMP Cams timing chain...
The COMP Cams timing chain lower gear can be installed three different ways, allowing for significant flexibility in engine timing. We put our gear on straight.
Don't forget the camshaft...
Don't forget the camshaft button, which removes endplay in the camshaft.
As with any engine buildup,...
As with any engine buildup, it is important to know the engine camshaft's exact timing. For our purposes, Shewbert set the camshaft at a 4-degree advance.
Shewbert loved the COMP Cams...
Shewbert loved the COMP Cams adjustable timing chain system. To get the 4-degree advance he wanted, he simply used an Allen wrench to set the timing and locked it down with the camshaft timing gear bolts.
The timing chain cover from...
The timing chain cover from Competition Specialties was a nice final touch. One way to tell the Mark V from the Mark VI engine is that the Mark V has 10 timing chain cover bolts-the Mark VI, only six.
The oil filter fitting for...
The oil filter fitting for the Mark V (left) differs from the standard Mark IV mount. They can't be confused.
The Milodon oil pump and pick-up...
The Milodon oil pump and pick-up are high-volume units installed in this manner.
Our initial installation of...
Our initial installation of the Milodon pan was a learning experience. The pan rails interfered with the 4.250-inch stroked rods at the main rail-every one of them. We located the right Milodon part to avoid this. Make certain you ask the right questions when ordering your parts, especially if your engine has over 4.000-inch stroke.
This Fel-Pro head gasket features...
This Fel-Pro head gasket features a special O-ring that ensures proper sealing. They work great with the RHS Pro Action heads.
The RHS Pro Action aluminum...
The RHS Pro Action aluminum cylinder heads were installed dry over the Fel-Pro gaskets, and ARP 12-point head bolts were used to apply the squeeze.
For this application, Shewbert...
For this application, Shewbert used COMP Cams lash caps. White grease was used to fully lubricate the caps on the top and bottom.
COMP Cams Pro Magnum Rockers...
COMP Cams Pro Magnum Rockers were used with this high-horsepower and torque engine. They work great on the street as well as the racetrack.
Although hydraulic roller...
Although hydraulic roller lifters work great on a street application such as this, Shewbert preferred the mechanical version for this high-lift application. These new COMP Cams Endure-X roller lifters are extremely versatile.
Shewbert selected the Dart...
Shewbert selected the Dart single-plane intake manifold for the 540-cid engine for its great high-horsepower capability.
A staple with many engine...
A staple with many engine builders today, this Demon 850-cfm carburetor proved a worthy component for this dual-purpose application.
This lightweight aluminum...
This lightweight aluminum water pump was mounted in this manner.
The Gear Head Tools oil pump...
The Gear Head Tools oil pump primer drops down the distributor hole and is turned with an electric drill to pre-prime the engine before firing.
Shewbert prefers MSD ignition...
Shewbert prefers MSD ignition products for this engine, including the MSD billet distributor and MDS 6AL ignition box.