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55 Chevy Engine Build

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Derek has driven his ’55 Chevy Bel-Air thousands of miles to events all over the Midwest. The used small block that he put in the car almost a decade ago has been great. With nothing but basic maintenance it has never skipped a beat. Although that sounds like the perfect reason to leave something alone, that is just not the way many hotrodders operate. There happened to be a perfectly good Vortec 5.7L small block in the corner that was saved from a wrecked ’97 Tahoe a few years back.

One night while brainstorming what to do with that Vortec engine Derek decided it would be a perfect engine to freshen up and put into the ’55. These mid 1990’s small blocks make great candidates for hot rod applications because they often don’t have a lot of wear compared to their predecessors. Another great advantage is that besides the great cylinder heads these engines have they also all have roller camshafts, which means you can use stock style roller lifters and do a very affordable cam swap and yield big power gains!

Here is the new Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft being compared to the factory hydraulic roller cam. Derek chose a cam with 276/290 degrees of duration and .510"/.510" lift

Upon disassembling the engine, we discovered although thoroughly coated in sludge, the engine had very little wear and was in great shape. After measuring the crankshaft journals and the pistons it was decided that we could simply hone the cylinders, polish the crank and reassemble the short block. When it came time to decide on the camshaft, he chose a Comp Cams hydraulic roller with 220/230 degrees of duration @ .050” and .510” of lift on both intake and exhaust valves. This will make good power but maintain good drivability on the street.

Derek has the engine all masked off and ready to be painted. Notice the aluminum spacers underneath of the valve covers. This was a neat trick to allow the use of some perimeter bolt valve covers that will look right at home in the '55 Chevy engine bay.

Everyone knows that Vortec heads are the ultimate factory castings for performance, and fortunately these were in great shape with no cracks or damage to the seats. To make some room for the additional valve lift the new Comp cam will dictate the tops of the valve guides needed to be machined down. This is quite standard when prepping a set of Vortec’ s for additional valve lift. The valves were in great shape, so a quick valve job and a new set of beehive valve springs, retainers and keepers were added, and the heads were ready to go back together. A set of self-aligning Comp Cams Magnum roller tipped rocker arms rounded out the valvetrain.

Chevy orange... the only proper color choice for a small block! This is single stage automotive paint. It's a great choice for an engine as it withstands high heat, and is much more durable than rattle can paint!

With the long block put back together it was time to make it look the part. Center bolt valve covers work great at sealing, but they just don’t look as good as a set of 1960-1986 style valve covers. Derek used a set of our valve cover adapters and installed a chrome plated set of “script” valve covers that fit right in under the hood of a ’55 Chevy. When it came time to decide what intake and carb setup to use, he chose an Edelbrock 3x2 intake manifold with the Vortec bolt pattern and 3 chrome Speedway 9 super 7 carburetors. Three deuces don’t allow room for HEI style distributors, so an old point type distributor was outfitted with a Pertronix Ignitor III electronic ignition conversion. The MSD distributor cap on top allows use of HEI type terminals for an improved connection. A set of our chrome rams horn exhaust manifolds will take care of the spent gasses and round out the 60’s look he was going for under the hood. With the engine all wrapped up make sure to follow along as we attempt to replace the floor and trunk pans!

Three chrome 9 super 7's look great on top of the rebuilt small block. You would never know this engine started life in a 1997 Chevy Tahoe!
Check out more on Derek's '55 project:

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