Michael Galimi
July 1, 2009
Dart engine builders Tony McAfee and Jeff Lake handle all in-house engine builds, including the SHP short-block line and the NHRA Pro Stock program.

Bailout. Bonus. Budget. The first two terms are reserved for one percent of the population. But the third, budget, is something that we can control when building our Mustangs and Fords for high performance.

If you haven't noticed, for the past year or so MM&FF has placed a larger focus on cost-effective ways to go fast. It's no secret the country is in a recession, and we're here to help you find the best and cheapest ways to modify your car. Some of the more notable engine builds we've done are the Recession Special and Stock-Block Stroker. Both are outstanding ways to increase power using the reliable 5.0L engine package.

In keeping with the low-budget theme, this month we stopped by Dart Machinery (Troy, Michigan) to get a glimpse of its popular Special High Performance (SHP) line of parts. We followed along as the fabled high-performance manufacturer brings a reasonably priced engine to the small-block Ford legacy. This engine build is still budget-oriented, but a bit more powerful than the aforementioned projects.

The foundation of our test engine is a Dart Iron Eagle Sportsman block. It's capable of handling serious horsepower but doesn't have the expensive features of the Iron Eagle block.

Over the years, Dart has been known for its Windsor Sr. and Jr. cylinder heads, which have been a staple in the 302 and 351 arena since the early '90s, but were more recently replaced by the Iron Eagle and Pro1 line of heads. Those who are NHRA fans might recognize the Dart brand from its exploits in the Pro Stock ranks. Owner Richard Maskin has been the power behind 3 Pro Stock championships and over 60 national event wins in the category. To say he and his team know horsepower is an understatement--Pro Stock engines are approaching 3 hp per cubic inch in naturally aspirated trim! The technology trickles down from the in-house Pro Stock program to the consumer products, as Maskin and his team are involved in every aspect of the Dart parts line. In fact, the two engine builders who handle all of the short-block assemblies are the same guys who build the Pro Stock engines. That's a claim not many manufacturers can tout.

Dart offers cylinder heads and engine blocks for the small-block Ford market, and the company has recently upped the ante with short-block assemblies and prepackaged top-end kits. It brings new meaning to mail-order horsepower. In one afternoon, an enthusiast can add heads, a camshaft, an intake, an oil pan, and the other parts and pieces to make a ready-to-run engine capable of some serious horsepower.

At the time of our visit, Dart offered its SHP short-blocks in only the Sportsman engine block, but by the time you read this, the company will have released its new SHP block. The SHP block is said to be cheaper, as Dart cut out more features to help reduce the price. It's stronger than a stock 5.0L block, including the rare Mexican 302 stock-block, but not the level of its Sportsman and Iron Eagle offerings.

The SHP short-block we followed from bench to dyno features the Sportsman block, which is a lot stronger than most people realize. The Sportsman moniker can be mistaken for weak--that is not the case, as we have seen (and built in this magazine) many supercharged and turbocharged engines producing up to 1,000 hp with the Dart Sportsman block. Longevity is not an issue at those power levels. It's a suitable foundation for a stout street or strip engine package. It's not as sturdy or durable as the Iron Eagle block from Dart due to its outer caps being two-bolt main caps (the inner main caps are four-bolt caps), but the bore size can be safely taken out to 4.125 inches without sweating it, meaning more cubic inches from the 302-style block.