Building engines and having the ability to pull them on the dyno is by far one of our cooler moments as automotive scribes. In this instance, rather than doing a single buildup we assigned each staffer to build a motor for a three-way small-block shootout. The rules were simple: You could only spend $5,500. There were no limits to cubic inches, any camshaft could be used, and everyone had to account for every last coin spent.

It may sound easy; however, in order to build a respectable motor you better do your homework. Slapping a hodgepodge of components together will get the job done, but it doesn't necessarily mean it'll run the numbers. Think about it. Big cams are cool, but they also need to be in sync with the intake manifold and cylinder heads you're using. Then there's the static compression. In most cases, unless you're going blown, compression is your friend. Unfortunately, depending on your particular combination, you won't always be able to get what you want with out-of-the-box pieces and you may have to mill your heads, which can take additional money out of your already limited budget.

Now, what makes this story so compelling is that the individuals involved in these builds have varied personalities. If you had to label us, senior editor Bob Mehlhoff is more of a resto guy who can appreciate power but is generally more concerned about drivability, whereas associate editor John Nelson gets his kicks from flogging high-rpm cars at open-track events. Then there's me, a drag racer at heart who couldn't care less about idle quality and low-idle vacuum. Was there a clear-cut winner? That all depends on what you like and what you expect out of your motors--so you'll have to tell us. You'll find that we've highlighted each engine's peak numbers and included the average horsepower and torque figures, along with complete price sheets detailing every component used. As an added bonus--and to make things a little more interesting--we added a Nitrous Works single-stage nitrous system to the mix. Did anyone blow up? Better read on to find out.

NITROUS WORKS!
The greatest and cheapest equalizer available is nitrous! Nitrous Works' entry-level, single-stage plate didn't quite fit into our budget, but we would be fools for not subjecting our dyno rats to a little testing. This system retails for $413.99 and is good for an additional 75-200 hp at the touch of a button.

EXTRA CARB DIET
Holley says that the Street HP carb uses the best features from the 4150 HP but is tamed for street use. This 750-cfm mixer is fitted with mechanical secondaries and adjustable air bleeds, among other features. Very little dialing in was needed.