A Guide to Muscle Car Engines

March 5, 2012

Learn how to evaluate muscle car engines in terms of power, fuel efficiency, installation costs, and other key factors.

If you are thinking of buying from an assortment of muscle car engines, sizes and specifications of motors used in popular models may be of interest to you. Not all muscle car engines are the same when it comes to power or fuel efficiency. Furthermore, muscle car engine parts may be much more difficult to find for less popular models. So, here is some information on some of the most popular types of muscle car engines along with their fuel efficiency specifications.

Popular Fuel Efficient Muscle Cars
Although fuel efficiency and muscle cars are two terms generally not mentioned in the same breath, there are some popular pony cars from the 1960s and 70s that used smaller V8 engines. Also, they're more efficient than their large engine driven cousins. While the smaller engine muscle cars don't provide the horsepower or torque of the larger gas guzzling monsters, they are high performing vehicles in their own right and can be a lot of fun to drive.

For example, the popular Ford Mustang is perhaps one of the best selling small engine muscle cars ever sold. Ford's popular 289 engine powered several popular models of the Mustang for many years. The engines relatively small displacement of 289 cubic inches is only slightly larger than many of today's big V6 engines. However, the engine produces up to 300 hp in certain versions and a high amount of torque. While the engine produces a lot of power, it also helps many older Mustangs achieve up to 20 MPG on the highway.

The Gas Hogs
Although there have been some high-performance smaller engines used in muscle cars, most of the most popular pony cars had engines where fuel efficiency was never even considered. For instance, the Chevy 350, the Dodge Magnum 440 and Dodge Hemi are some of the most popular engines used in many models of popular muscle cars. The Chevrolet 350 is perhaps one of the most popular engines ever built. It has been used in popular muscle cars such as the Camaro, the Chevelle, the Chevy Nova and even the Chevrolet Corvette. The L48 version of the Chevrolet 350 engine is perhaps the most popular and has been used in almost every popular Chevrolet muscle car since the late 1960s.

The engine's large 5.7 L displacement helps it to create more than 300 hp in many applications and can be put in super tuned to provide more than 500 horsepower. However, such power comes with additional costs at the gas station, and you can expect to get between 10 to 17 miles per gallon with popular Chevy muscle cars that use this engine.

The Dodge Magnum 440 and Dodge Hemi are two other very popular Mopar engines that can be found in many popular Chrysler muscle cars. For instance, the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Road Runner are very popular muscle cars that have used both types of engines.

These engines also create power that can approach 500 horsepower. However, when these engines are present, you should never expect to get more than 10 or 12 miles per gallon. Some popular configurations of the engine offer gas mileage as poor as 6 to 10 MPG.

How to Evaluate Muscle Car Crate Engines

Muscle car crate engines provide affordable solutions for horsepower boosts. Replacing individual engine parts can get very costly quickly, especially if you are driving a high end sports car. A crate engine is basically an all-in-one package deal to give your car naturally aspirated horsepower with minimal trouble. Though these engines can be costly, they are actually the most affordable options for increased power. Here is a guide for choosing the right crate engine for your automobile.

Know What Kind of Car You Have
You will greatly narrow down your search by the make and model of car you have. Cars are only compatible with certain engines based on their size and the way they connect. A massive V-10 for a Dodge Viper won't easily fit within the hood of a V-6 Ford Mustang. To do that, you would have to customize just about everything under the hood, and in the end, it just wouldn't be worth it. You can make small engines do big things, so save the hassle and stick to a range of crate engines that will logically fit in your car.

Determine Your Plans for the Car
You need to make future plans to figure out exactly what you want the car to do. Do you want to drag it? Do you want to drift it? Do you want to add NOS? Do you want to add a supercharger? Do you want it all engine? All of these little details will greatly impact the engine you purchase. The horsepower you add to your car will change everything: the transmission, the tire sizes, the gears, the fuel system, and so much more. Knowing your plans for the car will allow you to choose a crate engine that can hold the horsepower you want to get to without causing huge modifications to the rest of the car.

Think about Displacement
There is a saying in the car world that there is "no replacement for displacement", and that is a motto you must keep in mind when choosing a crate engine. The more displacement you have, the more power you can get out of the car. Think about whether or not you want to add forced induction to the car. If so, you might get away with less displacement because you can make up with it in added power. If all you want is a replacement for your current engine, this might not matter at all.

Think about the Total Price
When looking at the cost of a crate engine, you need to consider installation costs along with the cost of the engine. It could cost a couple grand to remove the old engine and install the new one, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Some installs are more complicated than others, and thus they require more labor and more money. Plan your budget the whole way through and get estimates for your motor swap prior to installation.

MPG Performance

A muscle car engine is the single most important factor that make unique, high performance vehicles into what they are. Muscle cars are considered to be some of the most powerful vehicles on the road in comparison with their body weight and size. The idea behind the muscle car is to place an extremely powerful and over-sized engine into a lightweight and moderately sized car. The result is that you have a vehicle that is exceptionally powerful and capable of accelerating quickly to a very high top speed. Muscle cars were first developed in the early 1950s and coincided with the trend of drag racing in the United States. Thanks to specific Ford muscle car engines and engines designed by other manufacturers, these vehicles saw extended success for many decades, and there are some new models of muscle cars being built even today.

Breaking down Hemi Engines
A hemi engine is a series of different V8 engines. These motors have eight separate valves for internal combustion, making them the largest engines that were available during the initial production of muscle cars by quite a lot. Hemi engines often sport huge capacities that exceed five liters. The name "hemi" is derived form a particular design of the engine body itself; the engine is hemispherical in shape. This shape is beneficial in that it allows a repositioning of the valves in the engine chamber to allow more space. The result is that hemi engines tend to be more powerful than their equivalent non-hemi counterparts.

Rocket Engines
Although not literally engines designed for use in rockets, these motors were the first and most popular of the initial muscle car powering devices. They are arguably responsible for starting the trend of muscle cars in the first place, with the 1949 Pontiac GTO as the first of a long line of these vehicles. The muscle car Rocket engines were the most powerful on the market at the time of their introduction, and sported V8 capabilities and exceptionally large chambers. Many of these engines were capable of well over 150 horsepower, which was exceedingly high at the time.

Crate Engines in Detail
In modern muscle cars, just as in older model cars that have been redesigned or rebuilt, it is most common to use a separate, non-manufacturer made engine. These engines are called crate engines and come from third party developers. These developers work specifically to create ultra high powered engines that are suitable for use in a variety of high performance vehicles, like muscle cars. They are oftentimes much more powerful than the standard vehicle engines that come with older and more modern muscle cars both. However, these engines can be quite expensive, and many of them are very dangerous and even illegal for use on the road.

If you are interested in purchasing a muscle car or in outfitting your existing car with a new engine, a crate engine is the most popular choice at this point in time. Ask a specialist for more information.

Muscle Car Engine Sounds

To a classic car lover, there are few things that are as intoxicating as muscle car engine sounds from a vehicle with a properly tuned and tweaked motor. Yes, the muscle car exhaust sound from a Flowmaster or other high end exhaust system is music to the ears of a street car collector and enthusiast. In fact, lovers of the muscle car can tell a lot about your vehicle just from the way the car sounds.

The Sounds You Want

A car is not a muscle car unless it has the muscle car sound. In fact, it is the deep, rumbling sound of the classic American muscle car which makes it so enticing to many car enthusiasts. The sound of your muscle car's engine lets others know a real American street machine has arrived, and that other drivers should beware less they fall victim to the power and speed of your vehicle.

The very idea of a muscle car prevents it from being quiet or its owner from being concerned about noise pollution. While the sound from a muscle car's exhaust system is always loud, it is also orderly and should be perfectly synced and timed. The "vroom" sound a muscle car emits when idling should be systematic and not skip or seem to pause for no apparent reason. No muscle cars should sound like a kitten purring loudly at idle, and like a tiger's roar when the engine is revved up.

When Something is Wrong
Although there is nothing quite like the sound of a well tuned, high performance muscle car engine, there is nothing more disturbing than when a muscle car engine emits sounds it shouldn't. Few things strike more fear into the heart of muscle car owners than strange sounds that come from their car's high performance engine.

Engine noises that resemble clinking or knocking sounds could be an indication of a major engine problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Perhaps a rod is going bad, motor mounts have failed or heads need to be replaced. There are many things that can cause these types of noises, and none of them are good.

Sounds that make you think the engine is gasping for air, or sputtering sounds from the car's engine may be the result of a leak in the exhaust system or other problems. Many exhaust problems can also cause your muscle car to backfire or produce other very unhealthy sounds.

How to Keep Your Muscle Car Sounding Good
Generally speaking, maintaining your muscle car properly so it always performs and sounds its best is not that difficult. Change air filters and air cleaners periodically to help keep your engine performing at its best. Also, change the oil and transmission fluid as recommended by the manufacturer to help reduce other sounds that are indications of problems.

Periodically check your carburetor and have it cleaned. Also, inspect your exhaust system for leaks that can reduce the power of your muscle car, causing it to sound strange and not like the high-performance machine that it is. Just remember, if your muscle car is producing a sound that seems odd, it is probably an indication you should have the vehicle serviced.

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