Whether a person is a dyed in the wool small-block Chevy lover, or a hardcore Bow Tie hater, there is no denying that the little "mouse motor" has reigned supreme for almost 60 years. Unlike other Detroit brands with developmental changes that dictated breaking the mold with each new series of V-8 introduced, Chevrolet has been able to maintain a direct lineage to its original external dimensions. On the inside, the six-decade evolutionary process has led to a highly evolved OHV pushrod engine that shares few components with its ancestors.
To reap the benefits of both worlds-state-of-the-art performance with an "old-school" flavor-we started with one of the best high-performance bargains on the market today: a $2,990 PowerCrate 350 from YearOne. The fully balanced and blueprinted PowerCrate 350 is dyno tested to produce over 400 hp, and 400 lb-ft of torque with a 9.5:1 compression ratio on 92-octane pump gasoline. The basis of the PowerCrate 350 is a four-bolt main, seasoned 350 block bored out 0.030-inch, which brings it out to about 355 ci. It uses a nodular iron crankshaft with hypereutectic pistons connected with powdered metal connecting rods, ported Vortec cylinder heads, 1.6:1-ratio rocker arms, and a hydraulic roller camshaft. Not to get too far off the subject, but in the future we intend to tune our PowerCrate 350 to run on 105-octane E85, and then report back on it by publishing before and after dyno results.
Returning to the premise of our "old-school" build, we weren't interested in creating a late-model engine that would fool even the pickiest of small-block aficionados. But it was a good indication we achieved the nostalgic look we sought when Nick Licata, editor of Camaro Performers, took a look and thought our Chevrolet Orange Vortec motor was a high-horsepower 327 out of a mid-'60s Corvette. To create the illusion, it took only a minimum of changes that individually wouldn't have been nearly as effective. The first step was to repaint the PowerCrate's standard hi-temp black engine enamel finish with a super glossy coating of Plasticoat Chevrolet Orange engine enamel. The formulas Plasticoat uses for its spraypaints are an exact match to the factory original colors and can withstand up to 500 degrees of heat. Once we had the color change handled, the next step was to swap out the PowerCrate's chrome-plated, late-model center-bolt valve covers and add a set of ram's horn-style headers. To get the exact look we were after for the valve covers, the hot ticket was a pair of finned sand-cast aluminum Corvette script models from PML of Inglewood, California. In keeping with not forsaking an ounce of performance to achieve a nostalgic look, the ram's horns we selected were from Speedway Motors of Lincoln, Nebraska. Although available in cast-iron, our first choice was the unpolished stainless steel versions that are also offered fully polished. All three versions come standard with internally cast individually directed porting, as opposed to dumping from one big open chamber.