Back in 1965, the Mamas & the Papas first released the song "California Dreamin'." According to Wikipedia, the lyrics "are about a man in a cold winter landscape longing for the warmth of California." This may have been back in 1965, but today my family and I experienced California dreaming firsthand. We made the mistake of going to the Southern California tradition, the George Cross and Sons Pomona Swap Meet, the place to pedal parts and vehicles for over 35 years, and on any given swap meet date, you will have more than 3,000 vendors selling performance parts and accessories.
Where the California dreaming comes into play, Daniel and I were checking out our storage shed and there is a 400 small-block and TH700-R4 sitting there, taking up space. We thought (that was our first mistake) we could pick up a quick project and condense parts into a driver we could bracket-race and street-cruise. Our goal was to pick up any pre-smog Chevy so we stay out of the Smog Police jurisdiction. We struck off this morning to wander around the cars for sale and were quickly stunned by the asking prices for these vehicles of questionable quality. Now, we all look on the Internet and check out Craigslist and eBay for deals; however, these prices took my breath away. I didn't know a '65 El Camino-in just about any condition-is going for $10,000 plus! There was one there that was rough in several areas, and when you made your way around to the passenger-side rear quarter-panel, it had been crushed by something falling on it ... and they were asking $7,600 for this beauty. Any first-gen Camaro commanded over $10,000, and this included ones that had just been drug out of the barn; cars I wouldn't drive to any local convenience store.
The winner of the day was a '67 Chevelle Convertible whose owner claimed was a number-matching, factory A/C-equipped red on red for $42,500. It was a nice car, but did the guy pay $70,000 at one of the popular auctions and was trying to recover some of his money? The going price for any car of quality-with decent paint, tires, wheels, and clean interior-was between $20,000 and $30,000. So the next time that you think that the cheaper cars are out here on the Left Coast, think again. Look around your own neighborhood; you may find a gem in the rough right under your nose.
Too Many Rules
What can I expect in horsepower from the LS1 I'm building under these constraints? The engine is a standard LS1 5.7L engine with an Edelbrock dual-plane intake, a Quadrajet carb, Hooker headers, and an MSD Street Fire ignition. As you can see, I don't want to add a cam or stroke the engine. Suggestions?
A: Upgrading-or downgrading (as many people think)-an LS1 with a carburetor, headers, and standard ignition is a very popular swap for early Chevy engine bays. Freeing up the breathing with full-length headers, a Performer dual-plane manifold, and an adjustable timing curve should yield you 1 hp per cubic inch of displacement. Back in the day, this was hallowed ground you would be crossing with a Gen I small-block. However, with the outstanding cylinder head flow of the factory late-model design, relatively high compression, and low-friction rotating assembly, a pony per inch is very doable. Yes, the factory EFI/emissions designed camshaft will be a major limiting factor in horsepower development.
In the future, if you wish to step up your engine's power, the camshaft would be our first stop. You could easily pick up 30-40 hp with a very mild performance camshaft. We'll leave you with that thought. When you get the car running and get used to the power, it will start eating at you for more. Have fun.