Let's face it. Pretty much anybody who knows a torque wrench from a Torx socket can put together a small-block V-8 making 300 ponies. That formula has been around for, probably, half a century.
But that's yesterday's news. The reality is, the market has expanded far beyond your choice of any small-block crate engine as long as it puts out 300, 350, or 385 horsepower. Today's marketplace dictates a much wider range of choices, for both street and race cars. It's not uncommon to see manual transmissions with anywhere from three to six forward speeds, and automatics having as few as two or as many as six forward speeds, with or without overdrive. Final drive ratios range from very low to very high. And vehicles can tip the scales from less than a thousand pounds for roundy-round racers all the way up to three tons or more for large SUVs and other trucks, all of which help form the market for crate engines.
So how does a particular configuration engine make it from drawing board to delivery truck? Turns out, at least for one leading supplier, in a surprisingly businesslike manner.
At BluePrint Engines the first...
At BluePrint Engines the first step in developing a new engine is a meeting of the minds representing all departments, being addressed here by Brian Divis. This arrangement allows for input from engineering, production, parts procurement, sales and marketing, pricing, and others. Each representative literally has "a seat at the table," providing an efficient forum for input right from the start. This prevents the possibility of getting halfway through development of a new engine only to find a deal-breaker in the form of unavailability of parts or costing issues that might put the final price out of reach.
Picture any large manufacturing company, no matter whether it makes refrigerators, dog food, or after-shave lotion. You'd expect a product to grow from idea to prototype to production, all along the way subject to the input of sales, marketing, engineering, production, and quality control and, inevitably, the bean counters.
In fact, that's pretty much the way it works at Blueprint Engines, a division of Marshall Engines, which supplies one of the industry's broadest selections of their BluePrint performance crate engines. In fact, they offer more than 65 different crate engine part numbers, including V-6's to V-8's, small block to big block, short block to fully dressed, street or race, with OE or aftermarket heads and blocks and cranks in configurations ranging from mild to wild. And their engines are sold virtually everywhere, from speed shops to leading catalog and on-line retailers like Summit Racing and Jeg's. We asked them to explain just how a new design gets to join their family. They were kind enough to detail the steps involved in the development of their recently introduced 500 hp IMCA small-block Chevy crate engine, p/n BP3838CT.
"We're in constant contact with race sanctioning bodies and racers, as well as the various companies that supply us with engine components," explains BluePrint's Product Manager Keith Kirk." This way we're always up to date on the latest standards and rule changes, which allows us to offer engines that are legal, and competitive, in many different venues. This helps us hold down costs for the racers while offering long-lasting engines with predictable horsepower and torque. Since IMCA is one of the dominant sanctioning bodies we set out to build an engine that would be competitive in both price and performance and, of course, legal, not only in IMCA racing but also with other sanctioning bodies with similar rules. We happily accepted the challenge. With the development of this engine we wanted it to be versatile so it could be used in many venues -- IMCA, Dirt or just local sanctioning."
"We selected a target power rating and price point," explains Loren Pabian, Production Manager for BluePrint Engines. "We knew that we needed to make in the vicinity of 500 horsepower while maintaining a specific price target, for competitive reasons."
Initial planning meetings began with participation by all relevant departments-sales and marketing, engineering, production, parts procurement, packaging, shipping and, of course, the bean counters who help assure that the finished product will be affordable to the end-user.
"With this engine in particular, and with all our engines in general, it's up to sales to verify the need in the marketplace, and marketing must confirm that the engine can be sold with success and confidence," explains BluePrint Product Manager, Keith Kirk. "With this engine our sales people determined that there was sufficient potential for such an engine, so we launched an initiative and feasibility study to see if we could build a suitable engine at a competitive price."
Initial planning includes...
Initial planning includes performance targets and key engine parameters and specifications. In the case of this 383 cubic-inch circle track engine, a key goal was to achieve approximately 500 horsepower and 500 ft-lbs. of torque in an rpm range best suited to circle track racing. Here Brian Divis (right) explains to Dru Freese some of the block, piston, and connecting rod specs that will form the basis of this new engine.
With the need tentatively established in the first couple of meetings, engineering was tasked with creating an engine that would meet the entire target criteria -- horsepower rating, torque rating and price. "At BluePrint Engines all initial development work is done on computer using various software packages from companies like Audie Technology and Dynomation," explains Pabian. "The initial design is done on the "Dynomation " simulation software, but later in the process we can tie together the simulation software, with our "Cam Pro Plus" machine and our flow bench, using "Pro Flow" software and controls. Everyone knows that the key to power is in the heads, cam and manifold. Tying all this together early on in the process enables us to see what we need and even check multiple parts to see if they will deliver the output, all before we ever assemble the first prototype."
"Our research and development team is then charged with building up a prototype engine that we subject to exhaustive testing for power, durability and practicality. One of our five dyno cells is dedicated to testing performance and prototype engines, and it really got a workout with this particular project. Our engine development program typically involves extensive parts interchange before we ever get down to tuning for every last horsepower. We spend a lot of time with cam profiles, whether the final configuration calls for solid or hydraulic flat-tappet cams, or roller camshafts. Depending on the desired configuration, we also experiment with different types of OE and aftermarket cast iron and aluminum cylinder heads. And of course we'll try a variety of combinations of intake manifolds and carburetors, as rules or customer needs allow, to see which performs best in the desired rpm range," says John Nickel, BluePrint R&D Supervisor.
"After trying four different cylinder head designs on this particular circle track engine, we were actually able to achieve about 522 horsepower with one particular head configuration," adds Nickel. " However durability concerns caused us to request a change in the casting that resulted in a small but surprising drop in power. We tested other heads and still found, that even with the small drop in hp, our first choice was still the best choice. A little hp was sacrificed but durability and longevity were increased, and the engine is still a great investment for dollars spent and hp gained.
Horsepower and torque come...
Horsepower and torque come from the right combination of intake, heads and camshaft. BluePrint Engines will test several brands of heads and camshafts to come up the best combination. By connecting the flow bench software to the "Cam Pro" machine and then downloading all data into the engine simulation software program we can accurately predict the results and dial in the best likely combination of parts before ever building an engine. In the case of this 383 cubic-inch circle track engine, a key goal was to achieve approximately 500 horsepower and 500 ft-lbs. of torque in an rpm range best suited to circle track racing.
"It was only at this point that we actually got down to tuning to extract the most power possible. This process typically includes experimenting with a variety of carburetor jets, cam timing, ignition timing, and spark plug heat ranges. It may also include trying different types of intakes, and even different types of ignition systems, depending on the class rules. Incidentally, we sell a substantial number of performance engines with aftermarket fuel injection systems installed. All of this testing involves the monitoring of oil pressure, fuel pressure, EGT's on each cylinder, A/F ratios, brake specific fuel consumption, and engine vacuum, as well as constant observation for oil, fuel, coolant and vacuum leaks. Compression and cylinder leak-down tests are also part of the protocol," continues Nickel.
This process included repeated teardowns and examinations for wear, clearances, compatibility, break-in, and other indicators of normal or abnormal interaction between all of the parts. "Tear-downs allow us to validate our R&D work, and also assure proper break-in and wear patterns for cam lobes and lifters, rings and cylinder walls, bearings and crank journals, and other critical finishes, clearances, and surface wear patterns," notes Nickel."
"After many pulls on the dyno, we finally reached a point where we believed we had a workable model, with satisfactory and repeatable output in the 505-510 hp range, assuring that we could deliver to our customer an engine that actually exceeds advertised hp and torque," adds Nickel.
"At this point we passed the project along to our production, purchasing, parts and accounting people who determined that producing this particular engine would be practical, profitable, and affordable," notes Kirk. "A few final adjustments were made, and a decision was made to include this configuration in our product line."
"The final design made 500 horsepower at 6,200 and 475 ft-lbs. of torque, and the torque band peaked at a very usable 4,800 rpm, making it ideal for the type of circle track racing for which it was designed," explains Kirk. "Plus, we were able to achieve the cost and pricing goals we had set, allowing us to offer the engine we wanted at a price that racers would find quite fair for the power and performance offered by this engine configuration. So the entire process for this particular engine was a win, win, win."
All BluePrint prototype and production racing engines are balanced to +/- 2 grams in order to achieve optimal performance and life with minimal vibration, even under racing conditions. Balancing and dyno testing are standard on all of BluePrint's street performance engines.
Performance specialist John Nickel puts the finishing touches on a prototype engine in preparation for break-in and dyno testing. Circle track engines are supplied with left-turn valve covers and oil pan, and incorporate other secrets that have been learned over many years of supplying all types of circle track engines.
All BluePrint race engines are run-in for a minimum of 30 minutes in order to allow rings to seat, bearings to bed in, and to break in the cam and other internal components. During this break-in period dyno specialist Chris Larson carefully monitors oil pressure and temperature, EGT's, fuel flow, coolant temperature, and other data points. Initial ignition timing and carburetor adjustments are made. All dyno testing is done with race fuel for circle track engines so that dyno results best represent what the customer can expect in the field, and all key specs and settings are included in the dyno sheets that accompany every BluePrint performance engine.
BluePrint's DTS dyno's have proved to be very reliable and repeatable, providing consistent results pull after pull. Typically pre-production prototype engines see no fewer than three pulls after break-in, with results logged into a database for on-going reference.
After final dyno testing we...
After final dyno testing we learned that we had indeed achieved the horsepower and torque goals we originally targeted.
After final dyno testing we learned that we had indeed achieved the horsepower and torque goals we originally targeted.