What's the single most important component of any engine buildup? Before you start listing off all the various power-producing engine components, know that the answer resides not underhood, but in your wallet. More than anything else, cost is what ultimately determines the eventual output of any combination.

Were cost no object, we'd all be running around with our engine bays stuffed to the firewall with all manner of blown mountain motors, twin-turbo strokers, or maybe even a used NASCAR motor, just for kicks. Unfortunately, cost is a major obstacle and not only is the average enthusiast looking for performance, but performance on a budget. This is doubly true in these uncertain economic times, as bucks for a buildup are even harder to come by. Second only to cost should be application, as an honest appraisal of the power goal and intended usage is critical for proper component selection. The question of how much power is required should be answered more appropriately than the usual, "as much as possible." In fact, for most classic truck applications (at least those destined for daily drivers), peak power should take a back seat to the all-important average power or torque production.

Obviously we were in the mood for a small-block Chevy buildup, but before getting started, we had to define both the build budget and the proposed power output. With available crate motors scattered throughout the Internet, picking a combination that offered an acceptable power curve was just a mouse click away. Unfortunately, picking and paying for said combination were two different stories, especially since we decided that the buildup would cover not just power upgrades to an existing combination, but the entire engine assembly. It might be true that many classic truck owners already have some sort of small-block just begging to be built, but covering an entire assembly aids both current and future small-block owners. Besides, how can you go wrong with a complete, aluminum-headed small-block for around $1,000? That's right; we said a complete small-block Chevy topped off with performance-oriented, aluminum cylinder heads for $1,000! While we might expect to pay that for a single set of cylinder heads, we discovered sources that allowed us to purchase not only heads, cam, and intake, but a complete small-block to go with them.

Where on earth (you ask) can you find deals like this? The answer starts off in your local wrecking yard, as small-block Chevy motors are literally a dime a dozen. A little recon through the neighborhood wrecking yards should reveal more small-block Chevys than any other American (or import) V-8. Given the sheer production numbers, this is hardly surprising, but the icing on the cake is that having this many to choose from means you can almost always find something in ready-to-run condition. Obviously a little detective work is required on your part, meaning checking spark plugs, oil, coolant, and even popping a couple of valve covers (or oil pans) to determine the internal condition. Pulling all of the plugs will allow you to rotate the motor, if it spins easy chances are the bearings are in good shape. Look for signs of abuse and neglect and don't just grab the first one you come to. After all, in addition to the purchase price, you are going to put some sweat equity into the removal of the motor so take your time and choose wisely. At our local Pick-A-Part, complete motors were offered for the paltry sum of $200 (plus $50 core). Being savvy bone yarders, we took full advantage of an upcoming sale weekend, where everything was 50 percent off, including complete engines. Though, we would not need most of the components on the engine dyno, our complete motor included everything from oil pan to air cleaner and fan to flywheel (or flexplate).