We got the call late one Tuesday night. Our buddy Buzz had picked up his freshly Recon-remanufactured long-block at his local Pep Boys. We could tell he was excited yet somewhat apprehensive. A fresh engine, nearly ready to run, can be had from Manny, Moe, and Jack. Anyone could dig on that convenience, and Buzz was eager to just open the crate and ease the assembly into his truck. "Wait a minute there, Buzz," we said. "A little wrenching is still required before it can go in. A long-block is a bare short-block with heads and a valvetrain installed. The engine will need to be tinned-up with valve covers and the oil pan, and then the oil pump and pickup need to go on. Up front, the timing-case cover needs fitting, as does the damper and water pump. Then the top end needs completion with an intake and carb."

Fortunately, most of these components can be skinned off the expired mill, but we had to wonder if that was going to be good enough for Buzz.

The original engine being replaced was a plain 318 two-barrel, an unassailable combination for its thrift and reliability, although not inspiring in terms of performance. We choked at the mere thought of topping the engine with the same old two-barrel and iron 2V intake, and the notion of attaching the iron log exhaust manifolds had us in convulsions.

"Buzz," we suggested, "while you have the wrenches out, let's step it up a little and see if we can't coax some more power out of the combo. Just clean up the old tin, bring the crate over to Westech, and we'll do the rest by Friday."

Our plan was nothing overly ambitious. We just wanted to apply the time-proven steps we like to call "the first level of hot-rodding" to the basic Recon package. Of course, topping the assembly with a four-barrel induction system on the inlet side of the heads was part of the plan. We felt this selection was infinitely more acceptable than the stock 2V intake and carb. On the exit flange of the cylinder heads, we would employ traditional four-into-one tube headers, which promised improved aesthetics and breathing capabilities. We could have stopped there, but the prospect of a camshaft change was too tempting to neglect.

Restraint is the watchword when considering a camshaft upgrade in an otherwise internally stock 318. The restraining factors include a relatively low compression ratio, as well as conservative valve and port dimensions. These constraints will limit the potential of an overly enthusiastic camshaft choice at two levels. With the modest compression ratio, an excessive level of camshaft duration will tend to diminish cylinder pressure, particularly at the engine's operating rpm. What's the result? Expect an unacceptable drop in torque over the same useable rpm range. Relative to the small-port/small-valve configuration of the stock 318 heads, the power-making potential of high levels of valve lift is essentially negated by the limited high-lift flow. Still, the constrained valve motion delivered by the stock camshaft left a great deal of room to the upside.

We elected to go with a Competition Cams XE262H, a hydraulic grind spec'ing out with a gross duration of 262/270, delivering 218/224 degrees open time at .050 inch tappet rise and .462/.470 inch lift on the intake and exhaust sides, respectively. Another good choice would have been Comp's smaller XE 256H, which shows a somewhat fatter torque curve down low. Higher camshaft should be reserved for combinations with more flow potential from the cylinder heads and a higher level of static compression.

We weren't expecting to transform Buzz's 318 into a drag mill. But we were confident we'd find a meaningful increase in output from our simple formula. To this end, we scraped the grease and grime off the stock components, completed the engine assembly, and made our way to Westech's dyno facility to obtain a baseline with the stock 318. Dyno operator Steve Brule greeted us at the door, and we couldn't help but feel a little inadequate as he surveyed our humble small-block. "Whatcha got here, Dulcich?" he asked, clearly unimpressed by the factory iron and tiny two-barrel carb. We explained our scheme was to add power-enhancing components and see just what they contribute to the output of a remanufactured 318. It wasn't exactly the high-end testing Brule is accustomed to, but he agreed to proceed.

Though our intention was to run the baseline with factory iron exhaust, we ran into a glitch when we found the manifold exits dumped directly onto the dyno chassis. We needed to run headers for all our tests, arguably enhancing the baseline numbers over what could be expected in a true stock configuration. We bolted on our favorite set of TTI 15/8-13/4-inch stepped small-block headers and a Mopar Performance electronic ignition distributor. We filled the crankcase with 10/30 motor oil, and we were ready to run. The engine was set for 34 degrees of total timing, fired, and run through an automated break-in cycle on the SuperFlow dyno. The 318 idled with 20 inches of manifold vacuum. It idled so smoothly that, despite open headers, it was impossible to detect the engine was running over the sound of the dyno fans. We gingerly shook Mr. Brule by the shoulders, thoughtlessly awakening him from a peaceful slumber at the dyno control console. We were ready for our first power pulls.

Trouble reared its ugly head, and our 318 wheezed out a sputtering climb partially up the rev range before the attempt was summarily aborted. Brule studied the output readout and noted the MECP numbers were way out of line, even for a stock engine. He glanced over and the look in his eyes clearly said, "You go fix it." It was ignition related, and we were sure the electronics were sound. The reluctor gap was reset, a cursory check was made of rotor phasing, timing was confirmed on the damper, and we tried again. A couple hundred rpm into the pull, Brule shut it down. It wasn't fixed. On a hunch, I slacked the distributor clamp, gave the distributor a good twist clockwise, nipped it up, and asked him to try it again. Paydirt! The engine pulled cleanly, making 283 lb-ft of torque and 178 hp. It was just about right for a 318 two-barrel. The MECP and BSFC numbers recorded by the dyno were back in line, confirming that the problem was solved.

"What's the timing?" asked Brule. "Oh, a good twist back from where it was," we replied. A check on the damper showed 25 degrees BTDC. The used 318 damper was junk. Its outer ring had spun out of position. We continued, zeroing in on the required timing through a trial-and-error timing loop until optimal output was achieved. Max for the stock 318 with headers was 189 hp at 4,100-4,200 rpm and 292 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm (the lowest recorded engine speed). Unfortunately, with the spun damper, we are unable to report on the true timing. But, usually, 34-36 degrees total will be close.