When it comes to customizing, we all do pretty much the same thing; we install aftermarket parts or take off the stock stuff and modify it to our liking. The first thing that comes to mind when you think custom is the exterior of the truck. Trick wheels and an altered stance are staples of a custom truck, but what about when you open the hood? Most of the time, people think of the motor as just a performance piece, instead of something to customize.
With this being the classic issue, we thought why not take a very common motor, the Chevrolet small-block, and dress it up in three different styles? We set forth to do three different looks, vintage, race, and full show, without spending too much money. We started with a bare long-block, so there are a few parts we needed just to make it a complete motor. If you already have a running truck, then you won't need some of the stuff we picked up, which will bring down the budget quite a bit. For the most part, the looks are wrapped around the valve covers, air cleaner, and intake manifolds. We will give you the mail-order prices on everything in here to help you decide what to get, based on your budget and some tips on the little things that take it from just a clean motor to a complete look.
All of the manufacturers we used in this story make components for other motors besides the Chevy. So, if you are a Ford guy, don't get your panties in a bunch, because we had you in mind too when we put this together. Instead of boring you with a bunch of fluffy words, we will cut to the chase and get on with it.
One of the things a lot of people overlook when it comes to engine detailing is the nuts and bolts. There are a lot of options on what to use, as you can see here, (from left to right) stainless, black-oxide, chrome, gold cadmium, and silver cadmium. We prefer to use black-oxide hardware against the raw aluminum and chrome hardware with the chrome finish. No matter if you want the bolts to show or blend in, pick a theme and stick with it. There is nothing worse than seeing black-oxide bolts in the manifold and silver bolts in the water pump.
1. For the vintage and race look, we ordered up a set of Hedman Elite series Hedders ($300). These long tube pipes will allow the motor to breathe like mad at the big end of the rpm range. They have been the staple of performance headers for many years, and we are really impressed with the company's Hi-Tech Coating (HTC). According to the company, the HTC is resistant to abrasion and chipping, and it allows oil and grease stains to be removed with polish or fine steel wool. The only problem these headers would pose is a ground clearance issues on ultra-slammed trucks.
2. We hit up Weiand to provide the intakes for all three looks, and it only took two: one raw aluminum ($118) and one with the new Everbright coating ($226). We selected the Action Plus dual-plane manifolds because they feature CNC-machining and a powerband that goes from idle to 5,500 rpm, which is perfect for most street motors. The new Everbright manifold coating is available on the most popular Weiand and Holley intakes. This new treatment uses proprietary vacuum metalizing technology, combined with a protective clear powdercoat to provide long-lasting, virtually maintenance-free polished looks.
3. JBA sent us a set of its Cat4ward Shorties Headers ($580) for the story. These headers feature stainless steel mandrel-bent primary tubes, 3/8-inch single-piece laser-cut flanges, and specific-length downtubes for better torque. The nickel finish was perfect for the show look, and if we slam the truck, the shorty design will stay off the ground. We also got a set of JBA's Powercable ignition wires ($62) that feature unique boot ends designed for maximum clearance with JBA Headers. Each set comes fully assembled and uses a wire-wound center and 100-percent silicone jacket.
4. To hook up all the black ACCEL 300+ plug wires ($80), we opted to use the Billetproof electronic distributor ($210) from ACCEL. It's a ready-to-run, self-contained electronic breakerless design in a CNC-machined billet 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum housing. It features easily adjustable high-performance mechanical and vacuum advance mechanisms, so you can dial in a perfect advance curve. It also comes with a vacuum lockout insert and a distributor gear that is compatible with flat tappet and hydraulic roller camshafts.
We got a hold of our friends at Trans Dapt for the classic-looking stuff. This company makes all kinds of vintage-looking products to feed the retro need. If you really want a period-correct engine, Trans Dapt also makes a full line of Chevy Orange powdercoated accessories. To go along with our swap meet Cal Customs valve covers ($25), we had the company send us a '55 Corvette-style louvered air cleaner ($45), chrome coil ($28), steel oil pan, which we painted satin-black ($52), chrome dipstick ($11), straight chrome thermostat housing ($11), and a set of high-lift wire separators ($15). If you don't like the 'Vette air cleaner, Trans Dapt also has a triangular unit ($45) that keeps that older look. The valve covers we picked up at the swap meet were in good shape but looked nothing like they do now. What you see here is after a lot of scrubbing and a few coats of paint. If you can't find this style of valve cover at your local swap meet, Trans Dapt has some ball-milled aluminum ones that could be painted to look like this. If you are building a retro-themed truck, which is usually simple and clean, this motor concept would keep with the theme without overpowering it.Cost for essentials: $187
For the race look, we tripped over to Proform Parts' website, because we knew the company would have a full line of GM-licensed products. We just really like the fact Proform makes a whole Chevrolet Black Crinkle Dress-Up Kit ($170), which includes one set of valve covers, air cleaner, timing chain cover, breather cap, eight wing nuts, and eight hold-down clamps. If you are not into black with red, the company also offers it in silver with blue accents. We also picked up a set of linear Bow Tie wire looms ($66) to hold the JBA plug wires and a high-flow aluminum water pump ($60). In this setup, we changed the manifold bolts over to a black oxide, threw on a factory thermostat housing, and installed chrome button heads in the timing chain cover. We left the dipstick ($11) and oil pan from the Vintage look on here, so if you are like us and don't have one, factor that into the budget. The black crinkle stuff with the red script combined with the red plug wires gives the motor that mean look. A race motor should look mean and angry.Cost for essentials: $207
We contacted Mr. Gasket for the show look, and by show, we mean shiny. The company has enough chrome in the catalog to satisfy all you shine-mongers, and every one of these parts came with gaskets and hardware needed to install. Mr. Gasket has a chrome dress-up kit ($56) that includes two short valve covers, two valve cover gaskets, one chrome push-on breather, chrome dipstick with tube, eight chrome hold-down clamps, eight chrome wing bolts, and two grommets. That provides some flash, but we wanted to go all out, so we also ordered chrome wire looms ($10), a chrome oil pan ($64), a chrome timing chain cover ($17), a chrome timing tab ($4), a chrome Mallory coil ($44), a chrome thermostat housing ($10), and a 14-inch chrome air cleaner ($24). Since this is all about flash, we installed the JBA nickel-plated headers and the red JBA wires. Couple all of that chrome with the Weiand Everbright manifold and chrome hardware, and this motor concept could blind you.Cost for essentials: $229