502 and 540 Big-Block Engine Comparison - Big-Timer
Bored & Stroked: 502 vs. 540
From the March, 2011 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Henry De Los Santos, Sean Haggai
Photography by Joe Rode, Sean Haggai
The idea behind building power is simple, remaining almost unchanged since the inception of the internal combustion engine. The quicker and more efficiently you can get the air and fuel mixture in
and the spent fumes out, the better your chances. When that’s not enough, adding more bore and stroke to the mix not only adds precious cubic inches, but creates a platform to handle even more air and fuel.
Our ZZ502ci crate motor from GM Performance Parts was in need of an update. At the time, our big-block produced some serious grunt from the factory with only 9.6:1. With 502 hp and 567 lb-ft, it made the perfect engine swap for any muscle car, instantly transforming it into a pump-gasfriendly driver. While it would have been easy to bump up the compression, add a big-lift camshaft with matching springs, and a single-plane manifold outright, we were after an engine that maintained its already docile characteristics, but increase overall output at the same time. We took each upgrade a step at a time and outlined the gains. This engine was to remain a driver with occasional trips to the track and would rarely see anything over 6,000 rpm. We wanted to showcase how much extra work is involved to bore and stroke the ZZ502. Would the extra cubic inches be worth the added labor and cost? In an effort to take a scientific approach to each portion of the build, we’ve outlined our plan with four separate dyno tests.
For our baseline numbers, we’ve utilized a freshly assembled ZZ502 using a COMP Cams roller camshaft with 0.521/0.540-inch intake/exhaust lift and 236/242 intake/exhaust duration at 0.050 inch on a 106 lobe center. We also upgraded the springs and lifters, including a Weiand oval-port manifold to the crate ZZ cylinder heads. From there, we stroked the ZZ502 to 540 ci, utilized the same valvetrain with a Weiand manifold, and compared those gains. To maximize our efforts, we took it a step further by adding larger Dart Pro 1 cylinders heads, again using the original valvetrain. Finally, we swapped out the camshafts with more lift (0.540/0.560-inch intake exhaust) and duration (242/248 intake/exhaust at 0.050 inch) to capitalize on the additional flow of the Dart Pro 1 cylinder heads.
The best part is we’ve documented the entire build by illustrating the differences between the ZZ502 and the stroked 540. With the final numbers produced, our efforts were worth 90 hp and nearly 81 lb-ft. On the plus side, the 540 is just as reliable with a healthy helping of additional low-end grunt.
Piston ring seal is important...
Piston ring seal is important since they battle heat, pressure, and constant exposure to friction. In addition, they seal the gap between the cylinder walls, eliminating blow-by into the crankcase. SRP’s ring set from Total Seal fights all of this using a plasma coating that’s applied to the ring’s face. Its application avoids scuff marks onto the walls and increases durability of the ring itself.
While the freshened-up version of our 502ci received KB hypereutectic pistons, our stroked-out 540 ci got a forged SRP treatment. Both sets of 4.500-inch bore flat-top pistons came with a single valve relief and 1/16-, 1/16-, and 3/16-inch ring thickness sets. Wristpin diameters were also the same at 0.990 inch. KB’s piston set offers an affordable alternative to the forged version from SRP, yet are still 30 percent stronger than ordinary untreated hypereutectics since they are 390 alloy heat-treated pieces. They also feature 100 percent CNC crowns, a high upper compression ring location, gas accumulator groove, and drilled oil returns, and accepts spiral-lock retainers. Our inverted dome SRP pistons are made from 4032 low-expansion, heat-resistant high-silicon aluminum alloy. Their ring lands and crown thickness are specifically engineered for extra load and also include pin fitting, double Spirolocks and wristpins.
Our ZZ502 received a complete...
Our ZZ502 received a complete rebuild before initial testing could begin. JMS Racing Engines freshened up the crate motor by giving attention to the bores by opening them from 4.470 inches to 4.500 inches (0.017-inch overbore), added new oversized KB pistons, rings, and rod and main bearings, but utilized the same ZZ502 forged rods and crankshaft. COMP supplied the XR288HR camshaft (0.521/0.540-inch intake/exhaust lift and 236/242 intake/exhaust duration at 0.050 inch on a 106 lobe center) and lifters. The pair of aluminum crate cylinder heads was then upgraded with higher rate, 347 lb/in dual springs.
On the dyno at JMS Racing...
On the dyno at JMS Racing Engines, we finalized the build by utilizing a Weiand intake manifold (oval port) and a Holley 950 carburetor. Our initial baseline runs netted us exactly what we had expected. Our freshened ZZ502 made 514 hp at 5,500 rpm with 579 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm.
After our initial baseline...
After our initial baseline testing of the ZZ502 was complete, we moved on to compare the benefits of adding cubic inches to the mix. With Joel Rode, owner of Hot Rod Specialties, we began to add our stroker kit. While our bore remained the same (4.500 inches), our stroke increased from 4.00 inches to a longer, 4.25 inches with the help of a new 4340 forged Scat crankshaft with a one-piece rear main seal.
Our internally balanced rotating assembly engine kit from Northern Auto Parts (HP540K) came with all the major components we needed to stroke out our 540. Included was a Scat 4.250-inch forged crankshaft, 6.385-inch H-beam rods, with forged SRP pistons and a plasma ring set. To complete the kit, Clevite rod and main bearings were also included.
Big-Block 502 ci 1. COMP 1.7:1...
Big-Block 502 ci 1. COMP 1.7:1 Ultra Gold roller rockers are CNC-machined to withstand extremely aggressive spring pressures and maintain accurate rocker arm ratios. 2. KB flat-top hypereutectic pistons for 4.500-inch bores are lightweight with rigid-rib skirt designs, which stabilize the piston in the bore. The pistons are also 390 alloy and heat-treated to T6 standards. 3. Proform-fabricated (clear) aluminum valve covers weigh just less than 1.5 pounds each and include recessed Bow Tie and Chevrolet emblems inlaid with classic Chevy Red. 4. The Weiand Stealth (oval port) dual-plane intake manifold has long separated runners for increased torque and makes power from idle up to 6,000 rpm. 5. The MSD 6AL-2 ignition box includes a new housing with digital controls. Rev control adjustments are made via four rotary dials in 100-rpm increments. It also offers higher output, with up to 135mJ and 535 V.
Big-Block 540 ci 1. SRP inverted...
Big-Block 540 ci 1. SRP inverted dome forged pistons. 2. The 8-inch TCI harmonic balancers are SFI approved to 12,000 rpm. They include a superstrong billet steel inertia ring for longer life, and a high-quality bonded runner eliminates outer ring movement. 3. Proform-fabricated (black) valve covers offer welded billet mounting rails for leak resistance and are 45 percent lighter than comparable stamped-steel die-cast covers. 4. The Weiand Stealth (rectangular port) dual-plane intake manifold offers good bottom-end torque with a special runner design and larger plenum for extra flow. 5. Fel-Pro 1075 MLS gaskets feature a solid-steel core to minimize gasket blowout. For extra sealing force, a preflattened steel-wire ring combustion seat with stainless steel “armor” is added around the combustion chambers.
Using a 4.500-inch piston...
Using a 4.500-inch piston ring compressor, Rode made his rounds and plugged each bore with the completed rod and piston set. Each rod was attached to the crank journal using a 7/16-inch ARP cap bolt.
Back at JMS for round two,...
Back at JMS for round two, we hooked up the new stroked mill to the dyno; this time with more cubic inches under its belt. To compare just what the mill would produce with only the addition of the 540 stroker kit, we’ve left the crate ZZ502 aluminum cylinder heads up top with the same roller camshaft, lifters, and 1.7:1 roller rockers. Our efforts were worth 553 hp at 4,800 rpm and 648 lb-ft and 3,200 rpm.
By The Numbers
Cylinder Heads: Bow Tie 502
For baseline runs of the freshened 502ci mill and stroked 540ci engine, we utilized a set of GM ZZ502 cylinder heads (PN 12363392). They come with 290cc oval intake ports and 110cc exhaust ports with equal-sized combustion chambers. While they can be purchased complete as off-the-shelf pieces from GM, JMS Racing performed a small valve job by installing larger, 2.250/1.900-inch intake/exhaust valves and heavier-duty COMP dual valvesprings.
Cylinder Heads: Dart Pro 1
While we got our set from Dart Pro 1 cylinder heads as a bare set, Aerohead Racing Components performed the custom assembly for our 540ci stroker build. Race-proven features and affordable pricing make these Dart Pro 1 355-T6 aluminum cylinder heads one of the biggest values in racing. The Pro 1 cylinder heads feature 119cc combustion chambers and larger, 325cc intake runners with 129cc exhaust runners. Aerohead’s team added 2.300/1.880-inch intake/exhaust stainless steel valves, Aerohead spring cups, hydraulic roller 1.550-inch dual valvesprings (354 lb/in), and 10-degree split locks with Viton seals. ARP 7/16-inch rocker studs were also installed along with Dart adjustable guideplates.
Round three at JMS involved...
Round three at JMS involved swapping out the factory crate engine cylinder heads in favor of the more efficient flowing Dart Pro 1 heads with the Weiand intake (rectangular port). Everything else, including the COMP valvetrain remained the same. We’ve even left the same Holley 950-cfm carburetor. Although our gains were minimal, it was clear that the current camshaft was too small to take advantage of the heavier-breathing Dart Pro 1. On JMS’ dyno, we peaked at 558 hp at 4,800 rpm with 641 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm.
It was obvious our stroker...
It was obvious our stroker 540 was running out of breathing room with the smaller camshaft from the 502 testing. To take full advantage of the Dart Pro 1 superior flow, we swapped in a higher lift cam with more duration. Our new Extreme Energy camshaft (XR294HR) came as a complete kit with timing set and even included new retrofit hydraulic roller lifters. The lifters not only decrease friction over flat-tappet designs, but these will accept much more aggressive cam profiles. Our camshaft spec’d out with a duration of 242/248 intake/exhaust at 0.050 inch with 0.540/0.560-inch intake/exhaust lift and was good to 6,200 rpm.
Our final round with the 540...
Our final round with the 540 at JMS proved to be well worth the effort, considering this is where we made the most gains across the board. The choice to swap out camshafts maximized the flow of the Dart Pro 1 cylinder heads, and the engine picked up 100 hp and nearly 80 lb-ft from initial baseline testing. On JMS’ dyno, the stroker 540 produced 592 hp at 5,000 rpm and 648 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm.
The Parts List
Holley’s HP-Series carburetors include updates to their traditional line of 4150-style pumpers. These updates include cast main bodies without choke horns and smoothed venture transitions for increased airflow. Since they’re aimed directly at optimizing power and performance for racing applications, other important modifications include screw-in air bleeds, stainless steel throttle plates, and notched floats. Holley also has Dominator-style fuel bowls to allow fuel line plumbing from either side. All of our 502ci and 540ci testing used the 950 HP for dyno pulls at JMS. CHP