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Performance Parts!

Tom Klein is our new engine expert. In 1974 he began Klein Engines, building all types of custom racing engines for drag racing and circle racing applications. He was involved with the Nissan Infiniti racing engine program for the Indy Racing League. Tom sold that company and after a brief retirement, got back to building engines when he started a new custom engine shop in Chandler, Arizona. Email questions for Tom to


I am building a 454 for street/strip use. I am unable to find any reliable advice. I have an unmodified early set of closed chamber (101cc) oval port heads casting #3917215. I am wondering how well these heads are suited for my application. And, if not, should I go to the Merlin oval port heads from World Products or any others? Cost has kept me from already having done this. If my iron heads will flow, I'd like to keep them. My target rpm range is 2500-6500.

The particulars are:
- stock 454 block
- steel crankshaft (stock stroke)
- I haven't yet purchased pistons, pending head selection. Would like 10:1 compression with whichever head I end up with
- Hydraulic cam, .540 intake, .560 exhaust gross lift, .230 intake @ .050, .240 exhaust @ .050.
- aftermarket dual plane aluminum intake
- modified Holley 780 vac secondary cab
- HEI ignition
- 1 3/4 header
- TH400 with 2500 rpm stall converter
- 4:10 rear axle ratio
- 3400 lb car

Also, I am concerned with committing to the early oval port heads due to the smaller combustion chamber volume (101cc) If performance is severely restricted by stock flow characteristics, I'll have to go to the aftermarket heads that have a much larger combustion chamber (119cc). This would improve flow but would cause a dramatic drop in compression ratio.

HELP! I'm having trouble sleeping. This is driving me crazy.

Thanks for any assistance you can provide.
Travis Nuckolls

Hi Travis,
It looks like you are building a nice all-around 454 engine for street and strip use.

As your car will probably be mainly used on the street, I would say from past experience that staying with your present oval port heads is a good bet. Save your money and get a multi-angle valve job and a good set of springs and you will have a realistic head compatible with your use. If you use a flat top piston, you would come up with a compression ratio real close to your target of 10 to 1. These pistons are available from numerous aftermarket suppliers such as KB and Speed Pro.

Camshaft-wise, you may want to be a little more conservative as the low end performance is important. If I were building a motor and looking at your RPM targets I would probably run an intake lift of approximately .540 with the duration of 221 degrees at .050.

On the exhaust I would increase the lift a wee bit, yielding .565 lift and a duration of 232 degrees at .050. Lobe center is important, so we would want to have this camshaft ground on 114-degree centerlines to give good all-around performance. This cam profile would give you good idle and good vacuum and be compatible with a stock converter.

If you were going to operate your engine in the 7500 RPM range, I would say look closely at an aftermarket head, but that expenditure does not appear to be necessary at the present time.

You're doing great, your combinations are effective and you should make some nice torque and horsepower. Remember, most importantly, torque is what moves the mass of your vehicle and that is what we're after. The smaller cam and the smaller heads will have the propensity to generate the torque to move the mass quite swiftly from a standing start.

Good luck and good racing!

Tom Klein


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