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Building Survival Motorsports 445 Block Engine
A Strong And Affordable Big-Inch FE From Survival Motorsports
Tech | Big-Block FE Engine Build
When was the last time you heard or read the words "affordable" and "FE" in the same sentence? Regrettably, Ford's desirable '60s big-blocks have earned quite a reputation for costliness. But Survival Motorsports, at the north-west reaches of metro Detroit, is finding ways to make "FE" and "affordable" seem less contradictory. OK, OK, we're not here to suggest that they're gonna build you a race-ready, 8,000-rpm 427 SOHC for pocket change-or even for the price of a really good new mid-size sedan-but Survival boss-man, Barry Rabotnick, can certainly spec out a 445-inch, 475hp FE for less than you might think-likely a lot less. Barry's misspent youth as an FE-toting Motor City street racer, along with a lengthy career in the corporate world of the performance aftermarket (Holley, Federal Mogul, TRW, Speed-Pro) have grounded him in practicality when it comes to what works in making the FE a serious street/strip contender without breaking the bank. It's all about careful selection and matching of parts for the mission at hand.
Truthfully, Survival Motorsport's FE-based offerings run the gamut from budget to big-ticket. If you want the aforementioned exotic fire-breathing, high-revving cammer, Barry can build it-and it won't be cheap. But for those of us simply looking to fill a ponycar, muscle car, pickup truck, or kit car engine bay with a sturdy and torquey, period-correct street-brawler of an FE, Survival's 445-inch stroker combo demonstrates true big-block bang for the buck. Some of its cost effectiveness stems from the readily available supply of used 390 blocks, on which Survival's 445 plan is based. Barry's approach is to scour the market looking for seasoned 390 castings that haven't already been (substantially) over-bored from their factory 4.050 bore dimension. When you think of how many car/truck 390s were built, they're not overly hard to find, and they're much, much cheaper on the used market than 428 and certainly 427 blocks.
He then machines these 390 castings to 4.080-inch bore diameter (just 0.030-inch over stock) and loads up the bottom end with a quality Scat crank having a generous 4.250-inch stroke (390 factory stroke was 3.780), some hardy I-beam or H-beam rods, and forged flat-top or dished pistons. The result is 445 cubic inches that don't need stratospheric revs to hump out big, grin-inducing power (as our dyno sidebar will attest) on pump gas.
Another key to cost control on the 445 is that no special block machining is required in order to clear the stroker's rotating and reciprocating hardware; unlike what's necessary when, say, making a 347 out of a 302. In other words, the stuff just bolts right in, keeping labor costs to a minimum if Survival is building it for you, or making it a viable proposition to buy just the rotating/reciprocating hardware from the company and install it yourself in a 390 block at home.
Let's cut to the chase: Survival can sell you a fully assembled, internally balanced, 390-based 445ci short-block-including a flat-tappet cam-for around the $4,000 mark, or it can supply a stroker kit (balanced crank, rods, pistons, bearings) for as little as $1,850. These prices help explain why the company has gained wide popularity in FE circles. As you might imagine, Barry sees a lot of these 445s going into classic Galaxies, Mustangs, Fairlanes, Comets, pickups, and kit cars. Yet some of the 445 market was a bit unexpected to Barry, "We're getting guys with restored, numbers-matching cars, like Cobra Jet cars, who are pulling the original motor out and putting it in a plastic bag where it's safe, and putting our stroker into that restored car so they can go out and have some fun with it. You don't intuitively expect to see a built-up 390 in a Cobra Jet car, but there are a bunch out there." As our photo captions will detail, Survival Motorsports' 445 stroker components, including the 390 block, are perfectly matched-and certainly well priced-for high-performance street and weekend warrior use. If you've got such a project just crying out for a budget, big-inch big-block, then look no further.
A Typical 445 On The Dyno
This is a brake dyno sheet for one of Survival Motorsports' typical street-friendly 445 strokers. This one wore the "Stage X"-modified Performer RPM heads and matching Performer RPM intake with a 770-cfm vacuum-secondary Holley. 9.8:1 dished pistons were onboard, as was a Comp Cams 282S flat-tappet, solid-lifter bumpstick. You can see that this is a torque monster, cresting the 500 lb-ft mark at 4,500 rpm. Peak horsepower (476) occurs at a mere 5,400 revs, so there's no need to wind it up to bring on the grins. Though not detailed here, Barry also gave us a dyno sheet for a similar combo with a more aggressive Comp Cams 294S. It produced 490 hp at 5,800 rpm, and 510 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm.