Home Grown

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POSTED ON October 30, 2017

They say there’s no place like home and that is very true when it comes to engine building, however, in recent times many engines have been brought in directly from overseas in an effort to save money but at what real cost?.

Now there is a WA company that has put together a series of engine packages that offer the very best components and machining at prices competitive enough to be on par with many imported crate motors. What’s more, these engines are keeping money and jobs in Australia.

Leon from A1 Hi Performance, in Myaree, has been building engines for many years and for a while he too was selling cheap, low horsepower crate engines (for under $3000) to satisfy the needs of those looking for a fresh engine for their cruiser. He soon started hearing about valvetrain breakages, leaking oil pans, leaking intake manifolds and other gasket alignment issues. In truth though, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect much for $3K!

A New Concept for WA.
At this point Leon began to think about offering his own line of crate engines, with varying power outputs and manifold configurations, based on proven combinations that he had built in the past. The big proviso was that these motors had to have the very best components for maximum life and maximum toughness to withstand beat-up sessions. In time, he approached his Australian parts suppliers and his West Australian machining centre and started talking about quantities rather than one-off engines. Soon, he was able to source parts and machining at the discounted levels to make the whole project worthwhile to the consumer.

based around a 383 Chevy smallblock – renowned for their torque and ability to make heavy cars feel fast. A quick look at the parts list in the sidebar reveals that these engines have the very best of everything from a brand new Dart SHP block to AFR aluminium cylinder heads, forged pistons and a 4340 crankshaft. Huge safety margins are built in to every area. For example, Howards roller rockers are rated at 800lbs but the Comp Cams hydraulic roller only requires 405lbs on the seat from the polished Manley Nextek springs. The philosophy is simple: build an engine that will provide reliable and repeatable horsepower at a price that is competitive against overseas engines. Add to this the fact that every combination has been dyno tested and you begin to see just how comprehensive the packages are.

As mentioned, each engine is machined here in WA to exacting tolerances, which keeps jobs in the West. The motor is then hand assembled, even to the point of using Total Seal file-back rings, individually gapped to each cylinder bore. The already machine ported cylinder heads have some minor touch-up work performed to match their port cross-sectional areas to the displacement and rpm limit of the 383. Once complete, the short motor is held in stock, ready to go. The price for these 383 combinations varies from $9500 to $12500 – depending on the manifold and internal components used. That is a super competitive price when you consider that the engine produced 539hp and 492lbs/ft of torque. Remember that there is no freight, GST or warranty hassles with an engine built in WA and with a crate motor on the shelf, there is no waiting either.

This price does not include a water pump, carburettor or starter motor but Leon does have a package deal available for these three items at $1390.

Most 383 engines produce too much torque down low to be used on the street or even the strip with a small tyre. Leon’s usual mission of generating as much torque as possible across the entire rev range was altered slightly with these engines. He played with camshaft timing and cylinder head design to actually trade off some low end torque to boost mid range power to make the car more practical on the street and strip. Going up in tyre smoke is no way to win races! However, there are different combinations available (A, B, C and D), which use different intake manifold designs to alter the torque and power outputs.

On Dyno.
The 383 featured here was dyno tested at C&R Motorsports in Walliston using 98-octane unleaded fuel. By way of comparison, the motor was also tested on E85 fuel but the gains were almost imperceptible. Leon puts this down largely to port size. Because E85 is (approximately) 85% ethanol and engines require roughly 0% more volume of ethanol than petrol, most of the port is occupied by E85, leaving little room for precious air. Hence a larger port would most likely show greater gains on E85.

On the engine dyno the 383 did not disappoint. The first test was made between 4000 and 5000rpm, accelerating at 600rpm/second, where the engine produced 440hp and 462lbs/ft with total timing at 34°. A second test was carried out at 300rpm/second between 4000 and 6000rpm with peak numbers of 456hp and 479lbs/ft at 5000rpm and 510hp at 6000rpm and 481lbs/ft at 5300rpm. These gains were largely attributable to the slower test rate and more heat in the oil (less parasitic loss). With a slightly lower water temperature of 140° (compared to the previous temp of 150°) the engine was good for 518hp at 6000rpm and 490lbs/ft at 5300. Revving the engine harder to 6500rpm showed no signs of lifter issues and peak power shifted up to 532hp. An additional two tests were subsequently made back-to-back to establish a baseline at this point. Once again, as the oil temperature increased, the engine produced another 4hp for a peak of 536.

Over the remaining tests minor ignition timing adjustments were made along with the trial of different carburettor spacers. A new peak of 539hp was then achieved. Geoff Chaisty from C&R Motorsports commented that the engine performed well for a hydraulic roller combination and was a nice, quiet engine (which is not always the case in his experience).

So, the engine required very little tuning to settle at its maximum of 539.7hp at 6350rpm. The 195cc intake ports proved their worth in the torque department as the motor maintained well over 400lbs/ft right through the test range – peaking at 492.7lbs/ft at 5250rpm. Apart from trying a different spacer under the carburettor, altering ignition timing one or two degrees and altering jet sizing a couple of steps, the engine was very happy just where it was after its first full power pull. This demonstrated that the combination was spot on from its inception and that this new crate motor was capable of delivering reliable power and torque, using quality components but at a very reasonable price. With virtually 540hp and nearly 500lbs/ft of torque, this 383 will propel most GM street cars well into the 11-second zone all day long.

Option B.
After the first engine was run on dyno, a second engine was built to almost identical specs, the only differences being a slightly smaller camshaft – 236/242° at 50-thou and a Performer RPM manifold. The idea was to boost low and mid range torque with the dual plane manifold, even if it meant sacrificing a small amount of top end power. This engine option (Option B) is perfect for heavier vehicles thanks to the extra torque it provides. Option B produced 513.6hp at 6300rpm and 495.3lbs/ft at 4900rpm, proving its suitability for hauling heavier rides.

The stage is now set for Leon to produce several other versions of the 383 Chev to suit different applications and then a range of Ford engines will be released in the same vein. It is great to see a local company being proactive about the future and creating a real home grown engine range that supports local industry but, at the same time, remains competitive with overseas imports.

The crate 383 is built around a fully prepped Dart SHP block.
Only quality components are used – a Scat forged crank, ARP fasteners and a Canton sump with gates and baffles.
The parts list continues with Scat H-beam rods and Howards roller rockers.
Probe forged pistons give 10.8:1 compression.
The Comp Cams hydraulic roller sits with steel four-bolt caps and coated cam bearings.
The intake mainfold was treated to some mild port matching. Although already machine ported, the AFR 195cc heads were given a mild hand port to suit the application.


The correct way to instal a metering block with jet extensions fitted. Only a minor jetting change was needed to reach optimum power.. Howards roller rockers are 1.5:1 on the exhaust and 1.65:1 on the intakes. Manley’s superb Nextek springs replace the springs that come with the AFR heads.


The engine proved its worth almost immediately with 539hp and 492lbs/ft of torque on dyno – excellent power per dollar. This graph shows the overlay of the two engines. Note that Option B generates significantly more bottom end torque and power with the dual plane manifold. This is ideal for heavier vehicles.


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