Preassembled ready to run performance crate engines have become the predominant source of power for classic truckers and rodders over the course of the last decade or so-and for good reason. The average Joe with little in the way of machining or engine building prowess (like me) has realized that picking up the phone or logging onto a website and ordering a professionally built partial or complete engine from a reliable source is by far faster, easier, and in some cases less expensive than building one from scratch-either on our own or through a network of subcontracted machine shops and builders.
In the not too distant past (it's amazing how fast a couple of decades can whiz by) the only things available through the local OE dealership chains were new or remanufactured replacement engines. Those replacement engines were just that, low power, pollution-controlled surrogates engineered to power the standard grocery getter of the day. Sure, most areas of the country did have a few local backyard performance wizards who built racing engines for the hard-core local gearheads, but they often did this as sidelines to their day jobs-leading potential customers to long delays for these services, if they could get on a waiting list at all.
As the automotive high-performance hobby grew so did the market for high-output powerplants. And this in turn motivated some of those talented backyard builders to graduate from building engines for their local circle of friends and acquaintances to opening small businesses and providing performance tuning and rebuilding services to the general public. As the rodding hobby grew and became a large and accepted segment of the public at large the best of these backyard builders took the plunge and turned their hobbies into full-time endeavors. And it wasn't long before these new small business owners saw an opportunity and began building and selling turnkey engines along with their tuning and rebuilding services. It didn't take that long before the Big Three noticed the growing hot rod hobby and turned their attention, and that of their engineering departments, from a narrow focus on organized racing and their own limited offering of factory performance cars to the burgeoning performance aftermarket. As time passed the OE realized the advantage and potential of offering competitively priced performance crate engine packages, and they've all developed relatively large selections for enthusiasts to choose from these days.
As I touched on earlier, it's a heck of a lot easier to peruse the wares of both the crate engine aftermarket and the OE automakers than it is to research, price, and collect the myriad of components needed and then to attempt to assemble a performance engine on our own. Well, I guess that's not entirely true, there is some research involved in shopping for a crate engine. But nothing like what it takes to educate ourselves on what cam grind will offer the performance we want in our desired rpm range, or what compression ratio is going to work with the crappy pump gas we've got to live with these days.
Today's crate engines (either those from the big automakers or the performance engine aftermarket) are built using fully tested components and combinations. And nearly every one of these companies is careful to test and evaluate what they build and sell. And today's professional high-performance engine manufacturers and builders are extremely good at validating their product's particular performance claims, as well.