To achieve our goal of building a small-block Chevy capable of eclipsing 400 lb-ft of torque for something near $1,000 we searched long and hard for the best deals on performance parts. Sure, we could use eBay and buy some used components, but we decided that the important parts, the ones that all but determine the eventual power curve of the engine (meaning heads, cam, and intake) would be new. Wanting aluminum heads, we did a search online and ran across small-block Chevy heads from Procomp. Offered in aluminum or cast iron, as-cast or with complete CNC porting, our quest for affordable torque led us to a set of 190cc as-cast, aluminum heads. The Procomp aluminum heads offered our ideal combination of exceptional flow numbers and competitive pricing. The Procomp heads featured 190cc intake ports, 70cc exhaust ports and a 2.02/1.60 valve combination. The big news was, of course, the aluminum construction (less weight than our iron factory heads) and the significant increase in port flow, not to mention an increase in compression ratio thanks to the 64cc chambers (compared to 73cc for our 882 heads). Where the stock GM 882 heads struggled to exceed 200 cfm, the Procomp heads flowed nearly 250 cfm on the intake and 190cfm on the exhaust side. These flow numbers offered by Procomp can be increased significantly through CNC porting for another $400 to $550. Best of all, the 190cc as-cast aluminum heads can be purchased online for less than $600. Ours cost just $589, but figure on spending $600 to $625 for a complete set.

With enough head flow, our low-buck truck small-block now required cam timing, an intake manifold, and a few other minor accessories. Keeping torque foremost in mind, we elected to go with a very streetable and affordable cam profile from Summit Racing. For just $89, we received the Sum K1105 kit. The kit included the hydraulic flat-tappet performance cam (our junkyard motor was an early non-roller 350) that offered a .465/.488 lift split, a 224/234 duration split, and a 114-degree lobe separation angle. The kit also included a new set of lifters (never reuse old flat-tappet lifers unless they are matched to the original cam). For induction chores, we combined our junkyard Holley with a dual-plane intake also from Procomp. Listed for sale at just $129, the dual-plane promised plenty of midrange torque without sacrificing peak power. For street use, the dual-plane should always be considered over the racy single-plane design. Procomp also supplied a complete gasket set, a set of roller tip rockers, and cast-aluminum valve covers. The new heads and use of roller rockers required a new set of hardened pushrods-ours came from Summit Racing for $29.

Rather than simply reassembling the motor with the performance components, we decided to add a little something to the story by running not one but three different engine configurations. The pricing total only reflects the amount required to reach the final configuration, the others were run to illustrate what is possible with even less expenditure. Naturally we needed to first establish a baseline by running the motor in stock configuration. Before running our wrecking yard wonder, we removed the heads and had them sent out for a valve job and surfacing. If you plan on taking this route, figure spending a few extra bucks on valvesprings, as our high-mileage stockers limited the engine speed to just 5,000 rpm before experiencing valve float. Removing the heads gave us the opportunity to take a peak inside the cylinders. We chose wisely, as the crosshatch was still dimly present and everything appeared to be in good working condition. A subsequent leak down and compression test revealed our test motor was well sealed and ready for action. Priming the motor with an electric drill revealed over 50 psi of oil pressure, so things were definitely looking good.