Twenty years ago, the idea of buying a completely assembled engine to drop into your hot rod wasnt really much of a consideration. Pre-built engine assemblies were strictly for replacing a toasted motor in your vehicle, and were pretty much limited to factory specs. If you wanted a hotter motor, you built your own, or had it built by the engine shop.
Today, thats not the case.
Crate Motor assemblies have become a force in the automotive hobby, and they make sense for a variety of reasons, including cost, reliability, and delivering the performance they advertise.
Its no secret Mopar Performance has released a bunch of Crate Motor assemblies for those who want their power plant to be a one-stop-shop. Options include $1,500 performance-built short blocks, $3,600 360 small blocks, 500-inch aluminum head Wedge engines for $8,500, to almost $17 grand for the 528-inch aluminum head Hemi. At first those prices may seem a bit steep, but those are the Racers net prices suggested by Mopar Performance. Truly, all Mopar Performance dealers are selling them at deeply-discounted pricesmany discounted by as much as 25 percent!
So what are the advantages of buying a crate engine, as opposed to building your engine yourself? We see three advantages to buying rather than buildingproven performance, price, and reliability. Chrysler spent a considerable amount of time designing an engine with a specific power level that would be reliable. Howd they do it?
Frankly, they threw the kind of money at it that only a multi-billion dollar company could. For instance, they set out to build a 380-horse 360ci engine, and then they started putting parts together and testing them on the dyno until they achieved their goal. The same holds true for the rest of their engine program. Your local speed shop, no matter how good they are, doesnt have the time, or the ability, to invest in the research needed. If theyve been around forever, sure, theyve got the experience to know what works and what doesnt, but are they going to have the consistent repeatability? And more importantly, are they going to have the dyno numbers to back it up? There are an awful lot of 500-horse small blocks running around out on the streets these days, but have they been dyno tested, or is that what their engine builder said the motor should make?
Troy Bray at Westoaks Dodge has independently confirmed that the power outputs are legitimate. He recently sold a 380-horse 360 Magnum to a customer who immediately put the engine on the dyno at Dick Landy Industries. The results? Straight out of the crate with a 750cfm Carter AFB and 17/8-inch headers, it made 391hp at 5,700 rpm, and a table-top-flat 416 lb-ft of torque between 3,900-4,300 rpm, besting Mopars advertised specs by eleven horsepower and six foot-pounds.
Now, if your local engine builder is able to get you over that magic one horse per cube goal, whats it going to cost? Think they could do it with a 360 and keep the cost below $3,500? Dont forget the dyno time! Weve seen 500-inch 545-horse Wedge motors, with aluminum Stage VI heads, advertised for $6,750! Check the price of a new MP big-bore block, stroker crank, and bare Stage VI heads, and it comes to right around $5,150. Thats without a cam, pistons and rings, valvetrain, intake, oil pump, timing chain and cover, valve covers, oil pan, gaskets, or hardware. Youd be hard pressed to build this engine yourself for the price.
These last two points are, perhaps, the most important things to consider when youre making the choice between buying or building: The MP engines are assembled with entirely new components and are backed with a 90-day warranty. How much will it cost for all the cleaning and machining on the 440 block, crank, and 906 heads you have in your garage? That bill alone could come to $1,000, assuming the parts are even serviceable! That 90-day warranty might not seem like a big deal, but how long will your local engine builder back his work? We were told, directly by Chrysler, that if you buy an MP Crate Motor on Friday, install it Saturday, and blow it up at the drags on Sunday, theyll cover it.
About the only draw back weve heard with the crate engines is availability. As with the Magnum assemblies when they were first released, weve been told by MP dealers that availability can be an issue with the Hemis, the V-10, and the new 500-inch Wedge engines. However, like the Magnums, we expect that once the initial buying flood smoothes out, and Mopar Performance is able to deliver more of them in a shorter time, supply will fall in step with demand. So take a look at what Mopar Performance has to offer in terms of great crates. Well show what we feel are some of the best values, best-kept secrets, and a few things we can only drool over.
Check out the sidebars below for the details.