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Your vehicle’s cylinder heads are the lungs of your engine. Since your engine is one large air pump, the more efficient the cylinder heads, the more power the engine can make. Way back when the Ford Flathead ruled the world, hot rodders saw the benefit from adding performance cylinder heads. Edelbrock heads, among many others, were added in the name of improving an engine’s efficiency. Today, nothing has changed. Performance enthusiasts are still adding Edelbrock heads, small block Chevy heads, big block Chevy heads, and the like to their engines. If you’re unsure or confused about your vehicle’s cylinder head needs, we’re here to help you reach your horsepower goals.

How Do You Know When You Need New Cylinder Heads?

There are a few ways to tell if an engine cylinder head is going south. Coolant loss, burning oil, overheating issues, or a drop in performance are all suspect symptoms of an engine cylinder head issue. Coolant loss or overheating issues could signal warped aluminum heads, cracked engine heads, or head gasket failures.

If the engine is burning oil that will be manifested by blue smoke exiting the tailpipes. What is happening here is that the engine heads are potentially suffering from valve seal failure. When it comes to valve seal failure, you don’t have to necessarily replace the engine heads, but the valve seals are part of the cylinder heads, so they will need replacing. However, blue smoke could be a result of blow-by, which is caused by worn, or weak, piston rings.

How To Choose Cylinder Heads?

Without getting too technical, the best way to choose cylinder heads for your vehicle is to match them to your engine’s camshaft. Second, the cylinder heads need to be matched to the engine’s cubic inches. One of the main aspects to look at is a cylinder head’s intake runner volume. A camshaft’s profile is important when deciding on cylinder heads, but an engine’s cubic inches could be even more important. A cylinder head’s intake runner volume has a big influence on horsepower. A smaller intake runner is better for velocity, which aids in acceleration for smaller engines, but larger engines need a larger intake runner to provide the air needed to keep the engine in its power band at higher RPM.

With a smaller cubic inch engine from a 302 to a 350, and an operating rpm of Idle-6,000, an intake runner volume of 170-185cc is what will work well. If you’re operating rpm is above that, say for a racing application, or if you’re building a small block stroker that has “big block” displacement, look for a cylinder head with a 200-220cc intake runner volume. Of course, a big block engine, especially one that is stroked with more than factory displacement as well, needs an even larger intake runner volume. For these big block engines look for an intake runner volume of close to 300cc or above.

For most, choosing a pair of cylinder heads is going to come down to budget. When it comes to SBC cylinder heads it is possible to add a pair of SBC aluminum heads and stay within the confines of a tight budget. The same goes for the small block Ford and many other cylinder head offerings. Thankfully for you we have a large assortment of choices for just about any domestic engine. The best thing to do is figure out your budget, your horsepower goals, and whether you want aluminum cylinder heads or cast-iron cylinder heads.

Best Small Block Chevy Cylinder Heads?

The small block Chevy could still be the most popular engine on the planet. Its interchangeability between components means most anything will fit, no matter the engine’s cubic inches. The small block Chevy engine ranges from 262 cubic inches, all the way up to 434 cubes in stroker engine form. The same SBC Chevy cylinder heads can be used for all the above, but don’t forget about intake runner volume that we mentioned above when choosing yours.

Here at Speedway Motors, we have the SBC cylinder heads you need, ranging from straight plug, angle plug, camel hump, Vortec heads, aluminum Vortec heads, Bowtie heads (which are basically Vortec heads), and pretty much all other Chevy heads available on the market. Adding performance SBC cylinder heads is one of the greatest ways to improve your small block Chevy engine. There are some factory Chevy heads that work really well, and these heads can be retrofitted to an older small block Chevy to improve power. However, there are a ton of SBC aluminum heads capable of making big power.

Are Aluminum Heads Worth the Money Compared to Cast-Iron Cylinder Heads?

All things being equal, aluminum cylinder heads are better simply because they’re lighter. After all, lighter is faster, right?! Just from a weight standpoint, let’s look at the difference between aluminum cylinder heads and cast-iron cylinder heads. First off, aluminum cylinder heads can be up to/over 50 pounds lighter than cast-iron cylinder heads. For a street car that may not seem like much, but in racing applications where weight is of utmost importance, saving 50-75 pounds is a huge deal. That means weight can be put elsewhere to aid in traction or weight bias.

Cast-iron cylinder heads are more durable than aluminum cylinder heads because of their construction. Aluminum cylinder heads are also more susceptible to warpage due to overheating. However, aluminum cylinder heads because they’re made from aluminum are also more easily repaired. Cast-iron heads allow your engine to reach operating temperature at a quicker rate, which helps fuel economy, but aluminum heads are better at dissipating heat. Many feel that for these latter points an aluminum cylinder head will make more power than its cast-iron cylinder head counterpart, but there are too many variables at play to say this applies to every engine combination, especially when a power adder is involved. On average, though, better heat dissipation results in more horsepower.

So, lighter weight, better heat dissipation, and potentially cooler engine temps are possible with aluminum cylinder heads, but in checking prices on aluminum cylinder heads versus cast-iron cylinder heads, it’s a wash. Some aluminum heads are less expensive when compared to cast-iron heads, so when buying based on price, the good thing is we have a multitude of cylinder head choices, both aluminum and cast-iron.