Building Survival Motorsports 445 Block Engine
A Strong And Affordable Big-Inch FE From Survival Motorsports
From the July, 2010 issue of Modified Mustangs & Fords
By Dale Amy
Photography by Dale Amy
Tech | Big-Block FE Engine Build
Survival Motorsports' 445ci,...
Survival Motorsports' 445ci, 390-based FE can beautifully, and economically, fill your project vehicle's engine bay. This one's fully dressed from carbs to oil pan, but you can also get one as an assembled short-block, or build one yourself with the company's stroker kit. In fact, Survival is a good source for any and all of your FE needs.
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.
The key to Survival Motorsports'...
The key to Survival Motorsports' affordable 445ci FE short-block program is the ready supply of good, inexpensive used 390 (or truck 360) block castings. These are cleaned and checked over, and then line-honed, parallel-decked, and torque-plate bored and honed to (usually) 4.080-inches at a specialized machine shop. In Barry Rabotnick's experience (and it sounds like he's had a lot of it, given his sordid past as a Detroit street racer), these tough old blocks are stout enough for up to about 600 horsepower.
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.
As part of the block's prep,...
As part of the block's prep, any factory press-in oil galley plugs (examples at yellow arrows) will be removed, and their holes drilled and tapped for screw-in plugs. The exception is the one (red arrow) on the back of the distributor bore. This is left as a press-fit plug, as a screw-in replacement could potentially cause interference in either the distributor bore or the lifter bore right behind it. To those of you working on an FE block at home, Barry stresses the importance of checking to be sure that this hole is indeed plugged, lest you should get it all assembled only to find a mysterious and depressing lack of oil pressure.
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
Survival performs some minor...
Survival performs some minor oiling mods to the blocks, the first being opening up, or radiusing, the inlet port (arrow) into the block from the oil pump-more or less a "port-matching" job to assure smooth flow of lubricant from the pump into the block.
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.
A similar elongation is performed...
A similar elongation is performed on the main-bearing oil passages, because Survival employs modern race main bearings, which have an oiling slot that differs in position and shape from Ford's original bearing's opening.
Barry uses 3/4-groove (270-degree)...
Barry uses 3/4-groove (270-degree) race-style main bearings: "We find it to be a better quality product that maintains bearing surface area at the [cap side] of the bearing compared to a full-groove bearing. At the same time it gives you 270 degrees of oil flow to the rods, 'cause rod oiling comes out of that groove in the main bearing."
FE engines are known for having...
FE engines are known for having an overly generous supply of oil slopping around inside the rocker covers. The FE design fed oil to the rocker arms through ports between cylinders 5 and 6, and 3 and 4 on the block deck (rather than through the pushrods.) Barry likes to restrict these passages somewhat, either on the deck itself using set screws with a drilled orifice, or on the cylinder head oil passages. This tends to improve oil pressure at idle. On race engines using a Jesel or T&D rocker setup, which are pushrod-fed, these deck ports are completely blocked.
The 445's crank is a 9000-Series...
The 445's crank is a 9000-Series ductile-iron (nodular) casting from Scat. Note the Mallory metal in the counterweight-Survival has these cranks zero-balanced, so they can use a 390 flexplate or flywheel. As for strength, Survival has run these in engines up to 750 hp with no issues, and since the typical 445 combo usually tops out at around 500 ponies, Barry would consider a forged crank to be overkill.
The "standard" rod in the...
The "standard" rod in the 445 package is a 4340 forged Scat I-beam, with a 2.200-inch bearing diameter and 6.700-inch length; a length that keeps piston ring grooves intact to maximize ring seal. Pin diameter is 0.990 inches.
Scat H-beam rods (on the left)...
Scat H-beam rods (on the left) are about a $130 option, but are generally considered overkill by Barry for a 445. "Realistically in a 390-based built, you're unlikely to ever fail an I-beam rod." Again, it's all about the correct selection of components for the anticipated power level.
You can choose between flat-top...
You can choose between flat-top (left) or dished pistons for your 445. With 72cc heads, the dished versions provide a very pump gas-friendly 9.8:1 compression ratio, while the flat-tops bump this by a full point to about 10.8:1. It's best to discuss your application with Survival. The pistons used are sourced from either Probe or Diamond and, while both are quality forged pieces, the Probe versions are only available in 0.030-over size, so if you have any other bore diameter, you'll need to opt for the Diamonds, at about a $150 premium.
The 6.700-inch rods allow...
The 6.700-inch rods allow for a 1.330-inch piston compression height, meaning a regular 1/16-, 1/16-, 3/16-ring package gets the call, with no pin intrusion into the bottom ring groove. Both the Probe and Diamond forgings use a 0.990-inch floating pin.
As mentioned, one of the great...
As mentioned, one of the great aspects of the 445 stroker hardware is that there is no block clearance machining necessary for the crank or rods. This is a time and money saver, whether Survival is building a short-block for you, or you're doing it yourself.
When it comes to cams for...
When it comes to cams for Survival's 445, Barry personally favors the attitude of solid-lifter variants. His favorite all-round choice for street-going 445 strokers is the flat-tappet Comp Cams 282S Solid Magnum-"a very streetable, tractable cam." On the general topic of cams, Barry says, "The FE has, I guess, a public reputation for bad exhaust flow and needing split-pattern cams, but the truth is almost the opposite. The exhaust is far better than you would expect on a flow bench, and they were in fact intake limited, and it turns out that single-pattern cams like the Comp 282 work really well." Naturally, if your preference runs to hydraulic and/or roller bumpsticks, they are also available, and for many of which Barry will already have dyno results.
Please don't waste a stout...
Please don't waste a stout 445-inch short-block on something like restrictive factory 390 passenger-car heads. A lightweight alternative to trying to find Cobra Jet or 427 medium-riser castings is Edelbrock's affordable aluminum Performer RPM which, out of the box, Barry considers to be superior to any of those factory heads. In layout, the Performer RPM is designed as a direct bolt-on replacement for factory heads.
If you'd like, Survival can...
If you'd like, Survival can improve the Performer RPM's airflow with its "Stage X" hop-up. This includes larger intake valves (2.20 vs. 2.09), smaller valve stems (11/32 vs. 3/8), a CNC-cut valve job, some hand blending in the bowls, and double valvesprings to withstand the rigors of bumpier cams. "We pick up somewhere between 20 and 30 cfm pretty much everywhere on the normal curve for the camshaft on airflow, and that has a direct translation to power potential," says Barry.
Survival's ultimate hop-up...
Survival's ultimate hop-up for the Performer RPM castings is a complete porting job, including CNC-whittling of the intake and exhaust ports, as well as the combustion chambers. This adds about another 50 cfm (beyond the Stage X) to airflow, so that the heads will support in excess of 600 hp. Which means such porting may also be overkill for most any 445 application-remember, that 390 block is only good for about 600 hp-but is very useful for more exotic FE build-ups.
The next step up Survival's...
The next step up Survival's cylinder head food chain comes from Blue Thunder, in either medium-riser or high-riser configurations. Again, these are likely way beyond the scope of a 445-relevant discussion, but are pretty much the top dog in FE race applications. Their chief advantage is huge flow capacity-out of the box, they'll flow considerably better than even a fully ported Performer RPM-but because of port positioning they are incompatible with either stock or common aftermarket FE intake and exhaust hardware. Once ported, they can easily support upwards of 900 hp.
A Blue Thunder casting is...
A Blue Thunder casting is on the left; a Performer RPM on the right. Check out that difference in port height. Says Barry, "There's probably a guy out there somewhere putting Blue Thunder heads on a 445, but realistically they're used on 427-based motors, 482 inches and up . . ."
Before we leave the cylinder...
Before we leave the cylinder heads, one final comparison between Blue Thunder (foreground) and Edelbrock shows that the Blue Thunders are machined and intended for mounting race-style T&D Machine Products rocker arm setups. There are eight additional bolt holes on top of the head provided for that purpose.
That brings us to the topic...
That brings us to the topic of rocker arms, the factory FE shaft-mounted versions, of which are hampered by the fact that the outboard (exhaust) rockers at either end of the shaft are unsupported-cantilevered-and tend to break off when dealing with heavier valvesprings or high-lift cams. There are different stop-gap solutions available, but for something like his 445 stroker, Barry likes this roller setup from Erson. These have billet bases with full shaft end support and mount to the same points on the head as factory rockers.
This is the notably more expensive...
This is the notably more expensive and decidedly race-oriented T&D rocker setup. Its immensely strong, yet utterly unique, mounting and base system requires considerable machining of just about any head but the Blue Thunder. It is also pushrod-lubricated, so requires sealing off the normal FE rocker lubrication holes on the block deck. This setup would make no economic sense whatsoever on a 445.
When it comes to intakes,...
When it comes to intakes, Survival offers a number of single- and dual-plane options for one or two carbs. For the budget 445, Barry really likes Edelbrock's dual-plane Performer RPM. "For about $340, it's hard to beat." He has successfully used this intake at FE power levels up to 600 hp. Blue Thunder also makes a very viable alternative with the added advantage of a front-mount oil filler tube port (for those '65 and earlier applications), as well as all the factory vacuum ports.
Dual-quad fans will gravitate...
Dual-quad fans will gravitate to Blue Thunder's faithful aluminum replica of a factory dual-plane intake casting (notice the provision for the oil tube, and that there are only factory-style markings on the manifold). There are racier alternatives available from the likes of Dove, but again, they are likely beyond the scope of a 445 stroker discussion.
When it comes to dressing...
When it comes to dressing your project's FE, Survival has many available options including the familiar chromed stamped-steel pent-roof rocker covers in the background, as well as Blue Thunder's cool cast-aluminum version in front.
If your FE wish list exceeds...
If your FE wish list exceeds the 445 stroker's typical 475- to 500hp range, or if you're wanting 427-, 428-, or aftermarket (Genesis) block-based build-ups, or even (gulp!) 427 SOHC stuff like this, Survival can help you there as well, and has built naturally aspirated FE combos of 900 hp and more. Naturally, as things get more exotic, so do the prices, yet even race-level FEs can these days be constructed at prices that are pretty much competitive with any other big-blocks out there.