Performance Perspectives

Significant engine performance modifications can be made without removing the engine. The following upgrades won’t tie up a service bay and can be completed at a respectable profit. Mike Mavrigian


veryone wants more power. Well, everyone who has (or thinks he has) a performance car, that is. Naturally, if we’re considering gaining maximum streetable power, this usually involves removing the original engine and either modifying it or replacing it with an already-built mega-pony motor. Since engine removal and any subsequent engine rebuilding may not appeal to busy shops (the “dead” car will tie up floor space during the build), in this article we’ll focus on those modifications that, theoretically, can be performed without the need to vacate the engine bay. Since most owners won’t want their “baby” stored outdoors, we’ll assume that the vehicle must remain inside your shop during its stay.

Camshaft Upgrade
Since the camshaft dictates when valves open and close, the distance of valve opening and the period of time valves are open, the camshaft choice can have a dramatic influence on engine horsepower and torque. When selecting a camshaft, don’t drive yourself nuts by trying to choose among possibly dozens of choices. Follow the camshaft maker’s recommendation, based on what you have to deal with (make/model/year, any other existing or planned modifications) and what the customer wants to achieve (more low-end power, more on the top end, more pulling power for trailering, etc.). When a choice exists between flattappet and roller Whenever possible, it’s preferable to select a cams, again, follow complete camshaft kit from the cam maker This . the cam maker’s adwill ensure that the correct lifters and valve vice. A roller cam springs are installed to match the camshaft’s and the engine’s speed requirements. (so named because
Photos: Mike Mavrigian

it’s designed to use roller-bearing lifters or followers) may provide quicker engine response, the potential for higher engine speed and increases in power and torque, but may not be ideal for all applications, depending on what the customer expects. Spend some time reading the cam maker’s tech information regarding their various offerings. Any quality camshaft maker offers a technical advice line, so real-live-person advice is only a phone call away. In this day of affordable digital cameras, it’s a wise move to first photograph the entire engine bay before teardown commences, to serve as a handy reference during reassembly, especially when servicing a vehicle make and model with which you’re not familiar. Since we don’t have room here to detail every type of engine application, we’ll offer a few general guidelines. For in-block OHV camshafts: •When removing rockers, pushrods and lifters, keep all parts in order. Note: Whenever replacing a camshaft, always plan to replace lifters as well. The reason to keep all original parts in order is to allow inspection (checking each lifter and its corresponding cam lobe for wear, damage, etc.) and as insurance, just in case the customer ever wants to reinstall the original cam. •To prevent damage to cam bearings, the camshaft must be removed with extreme caution. The use of a specialty camshaft “handle” or a 5-in.-long bolt that threads into the cam snout should be used as a helping hand. Do not allow the cam lobes to drag across the cam bearings. Even slight scratches or gouges in the bearings can cause a severe reduction in oil pressure. •Always test-fit all new lifters in their bores. A clean-oiled lifter should slide into its bore without sticking. If in doubt, check the engine service manual for lifter bore clearance specifications. •When selecting the new camshaft (whether obtained by you or the customer), it’s advisable to always purchase both the cam and lifters from the same manufacturer, as a set. This ensures that the metallurgy of the


September 2006

Performance Perspectives
cam lobes and lifter faces is compatible. •Before installing the new cam, carefully coat all lobes using the break-in/assembly lube specified by the cam maker. Usually this is supplied with the cam kit. The camshaft journals may be coated with either the same break-in lube or a quality engine oil (30 W is usually a good choice). Avoid using synthetic oil at this time. All lifter faces should be coated with break-in lube as well. This is especially true if the lifters are the flat-tappet type. If the lifters feature roller tips, you may be able to use engine oil, but always follow the cam maker’s recommendations for assembly lubrication of all parts. •If you have the time, or if the customer insists on obtaining maximum potential of the cam, consider “degreeing” the camshaft. This allows you to verify the cam timing profile, and to “tune” the camshaft timing in relation to the crankshaft. A degree wheel kit will be needed for this task. •Check pushrod lengths, especially in the case of a camshaft that features a substantially higher lift as compared to the original cam. A “pushrod checker” tool, available from any good speed shop, will make this easy. This allows you to verify that the pushrods are not too long for the application. The following comments apply to OHC camshafts: •If cam caps are featured, pay close attention to the cam bore saddles and caps. Some may feature replaceable cam bearings, while others will feature no removable bearings. In either case, inspect the bearing surface. If bearing inserts are worn/damaged, they may be replaced. If no replaceable bearing inserts are featured, and the parent aluminum bores are worn or damaged, the cylinder head may be reconditioned by a competent machine shop by align-boring. •Depending on the make and model of the engine, it may feature lash caps/lifters (under the lobes) or shaft-mounted cam followers only. Always inspect all parts for wear or damage and correct as needed. •Regardless of the type of engine, always apply the camshaft assembly lube specified by the cam maker. •If the camshaft(s) require timing adjustment for optimum performance (such recommendations should be supplied by the cam maker), adjustable cam sprockets are available through a variety of performance aftermarket suppliers, allowing you to easily advance or retard cams for peak performance.

Valve Springs
In some cases, you might get away with reusing the original valve springs. In other cases, the cam maker will recommend a specific valve spring that must be installed along with its camshaft. Depending on the camshaft profile and the specific engine application, a higher valve spring pressure may be required to complement the camshaft. Be aware that, if the springs must be replaced, this may be accomplished (carefully) with the cylinder head on the block. However, if the springs feature a larger diameter than the OE springs, the spring seats may have to be machined accordingly, in which case the head(s) must be removed. Always adjust all valves to the engine maker’s specifications before attempting to start the engine.
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September 2006


Performance Perspectives
OE computer upgrade or a replaceprovide the ultimate performance Generally, any OE fuel system can be ment ECU (many of which are progoal. A sensible starting point might upgraded to enhance performance, grammable). The purpose of the ECU be to move to an aftermarket air inlet provided air intake, ignition and exupgrade is to provide fuel delivery dura(open air filter and free-flowing air haust are coordinated to work as a tion and optimized spark control. duct to the throttle body) along with complete system. Boiled down to its Making substantial engine changes a larger throttle body. basics, the more fuel and air you alsuch as cams, air and fuel delivery may An efficient ignition system is a low an engine to ingest, the hotter not provide much of an improvement must. Generally, today’s later-model the spark and the less restrictive the if the original ECU doesn’t like what it engines are already equipped with exhaust must be. sees and tries to limit fuel and spark fairly strong spark systems (although If the engine is carbureted, it’s obdelivery. Generally, if you plan to make aftermarket hotter-spark systems are vious that aftermarket carbs are reada bunch of changes, the ECU issue will offered). Older carbureted engines ily available. What many enthusiasts likely need to be addressed. Othercan definitely benefit by the addition don’t understand is carb size. Bigger wise, you may not realize the full poof more robust distributors and is not always better, especially for tential of the upgrade parts. stronger spark delivery. Performance street use. The carburetor cfm (cubic An easily installed and very popular distributors, high-voltage coils, more feet per minute) size must be upgrade involves air intake. Even efficient spark plug wires and spark matched to the engine discontrol/storage boxes preplacement and must persent sensible upgrade conform at peak efficiency siderations. along with the other fuelDon’t ignore the exhaust. and air-related components Remember, what comes in such as cam, heads and ex(in terms of air/fuel intake) haust. The most common needs to eventually go out. mistake customers make is A restrictive exhaust system to choose a carburetor can choke power and result that’s simply too big for in a rich fuel condition. their application. Depending on the vehicle It’s usually best to follow application, a performance the carburetor manufacturupgrade might involve er’s advice when picking a tubular tuned-length excarb size and model. Carbuhaust headers, aftermarket retor makers’ suggestions are performance (less restricnot, as many may assume, tive) mufflers and largervery conservative. If a Holley, When installing aftermarket camshafts, where the customer may than-OE exhaust pipe. wish to fine-tune camshaft timing for optimum performance, BG, Edelbrock or other pitch the OE cam sprockets in favor of aftermarket adjustable When dealing with emismaker’s tech advisor suggests sprockets. In the case of the DOHC Honda engine, this allows indi- sions-era vehicles, the upa 650-cfm unit for a small- vidual advance or retard of both the intake and exhaust cams. grade might be limited to a block Chevy engine that’s “cat-back” exhaust (replacoutfitted with stock cylinder heads, a with an otherwise unmodified engine, ing the pipe/muffler assembly while dual-plane intake manifold, mild cam a less restrictive air supply system can leaving the converter in place). Movand street headers, he’s probably right. wake up a motor to the point where ing to tubular headers can pose a Ignoring his advice and instead selectthe customer can feel (or at least challenge on late-model vehicles, for ing a big, fat 800-cfm carb may look hear) a difference. If the engine is a number of reasons. Headers might cool, but it’ll likely result in bogs, stummodified in terms of fuel enrichment, not be available for the vehicle at bles, an overrich condition and allcam upgrade and a more free-flowing hand. Also, carmakers have done a around terrible driveability. exhaust, an aftermarket “open” intake reasonably good job of improving exIf the engine features OE electronic system will be mandatory. haust flow with superior OE designs. fuel injection, don’t assume that nothing Obviously, carburetors provide Regardless of what type of exhaust can be done. Larger volume injectors both intake air and fuel delivery manchanges are planned, a good rule of are available, along with less restrictive agement. When electronic injection thumb is to opt for either stainless-steel injector fuel rails. To take full advantage is involved, air is managed via the or specialty coated components to enof higher-flow injectors on a computerthrottle body. So, if the goal is to prohance appearance and longevity. A daily controlled system, the performance afvide the engine with better breathing, driver vehicle might not warrant this termarket offers an increasingly wider consider stepping up to a largeradded expense, but it’s a safe bet that an array of control options. Depending on diameter throttle body. Again, reenthusiast would prefer corrosion-proof the application, this might involve an member that one change alone won’t components where available.


September 2006