#4---What You Need To Know Before Building Your Engine
(or The Rules of the Horsepower Game)
Hughes Engines inc. and this web-site are dedicated to making your Mopar more powerful and helping you to understand how to do it. Whether the engine is used for towing a trailer (camping, car or horse), street performance, racing down a drag strip, or around an oval track, we can help. Mopars are all that we work on, and we are constantly developing new parts and procedures. If you are looking for more power you have come to the right place.
What follows are general guidelines you will encounter in this industry. Good, bad or otherwise and whether you deal with our shop or not, we are going to tell you these rules up front so you can reduce the number of surprises. It's not your birthday!
Making power is fun, but it comes at a price, I am sure that you have heard that "horsepower costs money, how fast can you afford to go?" Everyone in this business, of selling horsepower is also selling "trade-offs". They go hand-in-hand. I would like to change the phrase to "horsepower costs money how fast can you afford to go, or how much will you trade-off?" Everything you do to increase the power will more sharply define the limits and use of your engine. The 4 trade-offs are noise, mileage, durability and reliability, usually in that order.
The object of the game is to get as much power as possible with the least amount of trade-offs. The good news is that there are some win-win situations. In the beginning there are many modifications that can increase both power and mileage and have very little or no effect on reliability or durability, as long as you can control your right foot. We call these "free horsepower" because you trade-off very little or nothing. These modifications are generally in the "bolt-on" category. When you get to the "bolt-in" group of modifications the power increases are more dramatic and you start trading-off. In the end serious racers will just about trade-off anything for 2 or 3 horsepower.
An unusual aspect of your hobby is that the more expensive a part is, generally the more difficult it will be to install. Also, that same part can or may need further work when you receive it. Never assume that a part that you buy is ready to install or will fit like the original. Always ask about the degree of difficulty of installation if you are unsure. Most of the people you deal with in the industry assume that you are experienced, and will not automatically offer installation advice unless you ask. Most of the items or procedures now on the market are beyond the "factory trained tech's" area of experience. The factory trained techs are not trained to know how to degree-in a cam, check rocker-arm geometry, or cut ring end gaps.
When this industry started some 80 or 90 years ago people who owned cars were very mechanically inclined, by necessity. If you had problems or questions there were plenty of people around who could help you. Back in 1990 the last local dealership who actually machined and rebuilt engines in their own shop, switched to using re-man engines only. The days, of doing engine work in dealerships, is now a thing of the past. The same situation exists with automotive machine shops. They are disappearing all over the country. Car engines live longer now and the need to rebuild them is not as great as it was 12 or 15 years ago. The shops that have remained in business have specialized, like us. What this boils down to is that the pool of knowledgeable experience that our industry has always relied on to mentor the younger generation is disappearing. You may have to learn to do this yourself, the hard way. From what we see this problem is worst with the late-model electronically controlled vehicles, as opposed to the older carbureted engines. Our shop does a very good job with tech help, however, you must realize that there are some people who cannot do this type of work, and they should not be allowed to lift the hood. They get in over their head very quickly and may not want to admit it. We can give you lots of help but, cannot teach you "everything" you need to know on the phone, but we can tell when you are in over your head, and may have to tell you so, and it isn't pleasant for either one of us.
While on this subject we must mention "chivy" mechanics. Hey, I was one myself several years ago, but when we get to the point where you need help, you may have to ask one for assistance. People in this business have very definite egos and don't like to admit mistakes or ignorance. So, when you go to the "chivy" mechanic or machinist you are going to ask him questions that he may not be able to answer because you don't need to know the answer to work on "Chivys". This may cause him to get an attitude. We even have them call here when our customers take our parts to them. That is ok, we are happy to help. But if, or when, they get their "this dam Chrysler s--t " attitude we get an attitude too and it means we have better things to do than listen to them whine. The ignorant bigots.
Along with some expertise, you will need a full toolbox and may need some very specialized tools. Sometimes you will need tools that you may only use once but you will need them just the same. These may be tools that you cannot rent or borrow, but you will still need them. One situation that comes to mind is a degree wheel and a dial indicator when you need to degree-in your camshaft. These are not tools common to the average "car guy" but you are no longer just an average "car guy". Fortunately these tools are readily available from several sources in this industry, including here on our website.
"Stuff happens". Yes, it does, and it can be fast and expensive. You may think the parts should not fail especially "after all that money you spent", but they can. You must be prepared because nothing in this "push it, until it pushes back" hobby is guaranteed. Sometimes a shop will give you some help but it is not automatic, you pay your money and you take your chances just like with a doctor or lawyer, we just don't make the money they do! Good shops try to sell products, services and combinations that reduce the "stuff happens" to a minimum but some of the things now available are on the edge of the envelope. We can try to help you to prevent "stuff" from happening again, but there are no guarantees!
Understand that "everyone" is a car/engine expert. Especially your friends who don't have any money in the project, and will still have something to drive when their "guess" screws-up your project. This same caution applies to the latest pool of "experts", on the inter-net. There seems to be millions of them out there. The worst of them have the most convincing stories. We like to call them "one job Johnnys". If you have a question, and have READ-THE-INSTRUCTIONS, give us a call. We have excellent tech help and most of the parts or kits we sell have detailed instruction written by our staff for the non-professional engine builder. If we can't help you, you are in over your head. If you bought the part from someone else call them for help, they owe it to you. If they can't help you, you just "learned" something.
Have a plan or a goal. Too many folks read about the latest trick widget in some magazine and think they need it. You don't plan to fail, but you can fail to plan. In your plan consider a realistic budget, E.T. or horsepower goal. Good shops build good combinations, but don't just throw parts together to see "what it will do". That method has already proven to fail. There are not a lot of Mopar specialty shops in the country and you will find most of them generally cover all Mopar engines, but they usually specialize in certain areas. You might be well advised to seek out the shop that specializes in what you are trying to build. In our shop we can get more out of a true street engine on pump gas and hydraulic cam than anyone in the country. Our race engines allow a more laid-back style of racing. They feature combinations that are very high torque and low maintenance and allow you to spend more time in your lawn chair, instead of under the hood. Our oval track specialties are in the classes with very restrictive rules, which attempt to limit power. These are classes are made for Chryslers. In other words we specialize it everything from 300 to about 850 horsepower.
Welcome to the wonderful world of horsepower, get ABOARD, we'll help you build a HAMMER so you can NAIL a Ford and a Chivy, too.