It's no secret that V-8 engines installed by the factory in light-duty trucks have been, for the most part, detuned versions of passenger-car V-8s. Whether a particular V-8 configuration first appeared in an automobile or a truck can vary. A good example to illustrate this point is the 348 and 409ci Chevrolet V-8 that was initially utilized as a truck engine and then elevated to a higher state of tune for use in passenger cars. Sticking with Chevrolet as an example, the 327-inch small-block engine that was first introduced in '62 cars wasn't available for service in light-duty trucks until '66. So what is this all leading up to? I'm sure some of you have already recognized the subject vehicle of this tech feature is the '72 Ford F-100 shortbed Styleside I've entered against Classic Trucks' associate editor Grant Peterson's '68 F-100 in a build-off. The only ground rule presented to us at the start of the contest was that we should attempt to explore opposite directions. Right out of the gate, Grant had plans to modernize his '68 with a late-model overhead-cam mod-motor and lay his truck down on Fatman Fabrications' trick new setup to ditch the F-100's twin I-beam front suspension along with one of Fatman's four-links on the rear. With it clear that Grant was going the lowered road with no apparent limits on how much money it took to get there, my direction was obvious-I'd build a lifted Gasser for as little as possible.
When it comes to building a high-performance engine, there's no getting around it-a person has to spend the money it takes to get high-quality parts. But with a little planning and the right knowledge, the bucks can be kept to a minimum. The first stages include finding the right truck for the right price. This is where I really got lucky. When I spotted my '72 F-100 in Dunsmuir, California, for the asking price of $800, I didn't decide that I absolutely wanted to buy the truck until I lifted the hood and found out it had a V-8 engine. True, it was only a little 302, but that's a whole lot better than the 240-inch six-cylinder engine that most of these trucks left the factory with.
The next stroke of luck was that I bought my truck from an honest person. The previous owner told me he had overhauled the 302, and when I tore the engine down, I discovered it still had a standard cylinder bore, but there were a lot of new parts in it, including a pair of rebuilt cylinder heads. In addition to trust, before I decided to tear the 302 down and hop it up, I determined the motor had good compression and spark plug color, and it didn't seem to make any bad noises or burn oil. Once I had this out of the way, the next step was to research and then buy a camshaft, carburetor, and headers designed to be compatible and deliver the most gains in the rpm range I would be running at most of the time.