The Powerplant!


We’re down to the short rows!  After 3 full seasons on the sidelines, the plan is to (re)debut the Vega at the 10G at BG event at Beech Bend Raceway Park in mid-March.  In today’s resurrection update, we’ll focus on the 383 cid powerplant that will propel the little Vega to what I expect to be mid-6-second 1/8th mile E.T.’s.

Let me preface this by talking a little bit about my general outlook on power for the Vega.  When I first bought the car, back in the mid-2000’s, my first impression was to treat the junkyard 350 engine in it no differently than I would the more powerful, more exotic BBC engines I was running in my dragster at the time: take care of it, make it last, spend some money in preventative maintenance, etc.  So, after a season of abuse, I pulled the motor down and spent $2,500+ freshening it. A year later, I hurt it, and built a new shortblock… Which cost about $3,000.

Quickly, I realized that the math simply didn’t add up.  Why throw a bunch of money at freshening something that I could essentially replace for the same price (or close)?  Well, it kinda went downhill from there. I basically got into a habit of abusing the snot out of the motor(s) (which, by the way, still held up far better than their big block counterparts in my experience), with the general outlook of: “Why freshen it?”  Yes, I literally ran the motor(s) until they blew up, laughed about because they didn’t owe me anything, and stuck a new one in. Rather than spending money on freshen ups, I invested in complete spare motors, justifying that in the long run, it was actually considerably less expensive.

So, long story short, when we entered the Vega resurrection project, I had two complete 350 CID small block Chevrolet engines.  They were nothing special, but they ran and they were reliable, and they were complete.

During the process of the build, however, we added quite a bit of weight to the Vega: Steel doors, steel hatch, glass windows, steel rear bumper, (I’m going to estimate we added roughly 350 lbs total).  My goal, E.T. wise, is to run in the 6.40 range. Why 6.40? Well, it seems like a good spot in terms of longevity and ease of maintenance; and from a competitive standpoint I’m no less comfortable at 6.40 than I am at, say 6.00.  If I went much quicker than that, I’d have to spend more money initially, and likely have more upkeep and maintenance costs. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I like the idea of not having to wear any additional safety equipment beyond my Pro 1 seatbelts, a jacket, and a helmet!   So 6.40 is the goal.

With my junkyard shortblock 350’s along with the added weight, I felt like I’d come up short of the 6.40-ish goal.  As a result, I made the decision to upgrade both engines to 383 combinations. The end result is a motor that consists of several parts that were utilized in the old combination, and obviously some new purchases as well.

The biggest new purchase was obviously rotating assemblies: new crankshafts, rods and pistons with the added stroke to give the little Vega a little extra torque.  For that, we turned to the staff at K1 Performance and Wiseco Pistons.  Their kit made the swap simple, and should give me a reliable foundation to make the power that I’m looking for!

The cylinder heads are the same Brodix Track 1 heads that were on it before; and we added a fresh set of BRODIX cast valve covers after they got the necessary powder coating treatment from our friends at Rick’s Powder Coating.  Why new valve covers?  As a part of the rebuild, we made it a point to incorporate a vacuum pump – something that wasn’t really possible in the past due to the location of the steering rack in reference to the balancer.  Thanks to Jeff Hayes for moving the rack and relocating the steering, and to APD for the slick crankshaft drive mandrel that propels not only the vacuum pump, but also the APD belt driven fuel pump and alternator.  So why the new valve covers?  Well, the old ones had holes drilled for evacuation breathers.  With the vacuum pump, those are no longer necessary.

The top of the motor is outfitted, of course, with an APD 750 cfm alcohol carburetor.  Beneath it sits a little extra; by way of a Nitrous Express Gemini Twin Pro nitrous system.  This is actually the same plate that I ran in the past; it’s capable of 500 added horsepower at the push of a button (which is impressive, seeing as the motor probably doesn’t have much over 600 HP on its own).  In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes (it will have the 500 shot pills in it right from the get go).

The APD carb will be fed Renegade Racing Fuels 100% methanol thanks to the APD pump, and an APD Fuel Log.  Atop the carb sits a race filter from our friends at K&N Performance.  In my years with K&N, I’ve said this until I was blue in the face, but it bears repeating… I’ve tested on numerous occasions with a K&N filter back-to-back with no filter at all.  I’ve never seen a difference in performance or in air-fuel mixture readings. It’s literally just insurance: keeping debris and junk (big or small) out of the carburetor and ultimately out of my motor!

The cooling system is all from Dedenbear.  I’m a fan of a remote water pump – mainly because it’s easy to change if I ever have a problem; plus it allows me to keep one spare (I run the same Dedenbear remote pump on our BBC powered dragsters and roadster, and this SBC powered Vega; so a single spare keeps me in the game).  Plus, in a decade plus of utilizing Dedenbear products, I’ve yet to have a parts failure (knock on wood)! The filler neck and water manifold are both Dedenbear products as well.

As for the internals of the motor, when we went back together I decided to upgrade from a typical timing chain to the ultra-durable Milodon gear drive option.  I think that’s an investment that will pay huge dividends.  The roller lifters came from the professionals at BAM Lifters.  Given the fairly minimal investment in the motor and the general longevity of the conventional small black valve train geometry, I had a hard time justifying a bushed lifter for the  Vega (hard to spend $1,000+ on lifters in a $4,000-$5,000 motor). So I just went with a typical bearing lifter for this application (I bet you didn’t even know that BAM offered those, did you?  Now you do!).

The last thing that I want to do is put my prize possession in danger should the motor expire and any of the quality components I just listed choose to exit the Milodon oil pan at any given point.  So we’ve wrapped the bottom end in a J&J Performance engine diaper.  

Rest assured that any of the engine components you see pictured that I haven’t specified above were purchased (either recently or years ago) from JEGS Performance.  The JEGS website is very convenient and easy to search (believe me, I should know!); so I’m sure you can find any of the products you see on JEGS.com.

Thanks for reading (and gawking at the pictures)!  The Vega currently sits at Charlie Stewart Race Cars where Charlie and Nathan are fitting up some custom stainless headers and exhaust.  Like I said, the goal is to hit the track soon; stay tuned here to the blog as we put the finishing touches on project Vega Resurrection!


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