Every year for the past half-dozen, SRM has involved some of the best builders in the business in constructing a new, from the ground up, Road Tour rod. And while the form has varied from one to the next, the function of the various cars has always been the same: To show that the readily available components supplied by our advertisers will indeed deliver the reliable performance street rodders expect from them. To prove the point, a Road Tour car is built, then we strap Jerry Dixey in it and turn him loose on an unsuspecting public to drive coast to coast, border to border, attending all 11 NSRA events along the way. In a relatively short period of time that results in the accumulation of well over 20,000 miles, a real test of man and machine. And this year the Road Tour rod will test something else: Your luck. At the last NSRA event of 2001, in Tampa, Florida, we'll pick the lucky winner of the Road Tour rod. (The sweepstakes can be entered at any NSRA event, or by filling out the entry card found in these very pages.)

While the focus of the Road Tour cars is always the same, this year's effort is unique for a variety of reasons; not the least of which is the 2001 version is the first to be based on an all-steel, gennie original. Starting with a pristine '36 Chevy, CarFab in Concord, North Carolina, along with a host of suppliers, is transforming the stock sedan into an eye-popping road warrior. But while this tour car may be different than past efforts in some respects, due to the rigors of the road they're all exposed to, a reliable powerplant is always at the top of the needs list for them all. This year that need was capably filled by Performance Automotive Warehouse (PAW).

When selecting an engine for any street rod there are a variety of options, but what we were looking for was something beyond the ordinary. An affordable, custom-built engine that can be duplicated by just about anyone. Thumbing through PAW's 1,200-plus page catalog we found just what we were after in one of their complete small-block Chevy engine kits. Along with all the first-class parts necessary to build a stout street engine, the block has received the same attention to detail a factory engine is treated to, plus the entire rotating/reciprocation mass has been custom balanced. Dubbed the 350 Chevy Special, the kit comes complete with a four-bolt main block that has been decked, line honed, bored .030-inch oversize, honed for moly rings, painted inside and out, and fitted with new cam bearings and brass soft plugs. Also included in the kit was a custom ground crankshaft, Magnafluxed, shot-peened, resized rods fitted with chrome-moly rod bolts, TRW forged pistons, moly rings, Comp Cams cam, lifters, pushrods, double roller timing chain and sprockets, high-volume oil pump, and long slot rocker arms. Topping it all off are World Products SR Torquer heads along with an Edelbrock intake manifold and carburetor.

The Tricks it Takes to be Trick
One of the advantages of building an engine the way we've done it with our PAW small-block is the opportunity to apply the time-honored tricks and attention to detail that standard production line engines aren't treated to. For those who may have heard some of the common terms that relate to building an engine, but may not be exactly sure what they mean, here is an overview of the operations involved in building a custom engine that PAW routinely uses.

Line Honing: To allow the crankshaft to rotate in the block smoothly with as little loss to friction as possible, it is critical that the main bearing bores be in perfect alignment; line honing ensures that. The process consists of taking a few thousands off the surface of the main bearing caps, then they are reattached to the block and the main bearing bores are honed to the exact diameter and as a result are in perfect alignment.

Decking: It is not unusual for the deck height (the distance from the centerline of the crankshaft to the head gasket surface of the block) to vary from one end of the block to the other. The result is the pistons come closer to the deck in some cylinders than others; that means there is a difference in compression and power production between the cylinders. PAW machines the head gasket surface of their kit blocks, which is called decking, to insure the surfaces are flat to facilitate head gasket sealing, and parallel to the crankshaft centerline.

Honing: Basically there are three types of rings: cast, chrome, and moly. Cast rings break in fast and are good for less than perfect cylinders; chrome rings are best suited to dirty environments but can take a long time to break in; moly rings (called that because the face of the top compression ring has a groove filled with molybedenum disulfide) break in fast and provide excellent sealing. As one might expect, just as the rings differ, so do the cylinder wall finishes they require. Using the ground-up kit approach allows the engine builder to specify the type of rings desired as well as the cylinder wall finish to suit specific applications.

Connecting Rod Preparation: One of the most critical components in an engine are the connecting rods. Few things are more catastrophic than a rod failure, so special attention should be paid to them. Prepping rods begins with Magnafluxing to check for cracks and then they are fitted with high-strength rod bolts. Next the diameter of the small ends are checked and the big ends are resized by removing a small amount of material from the rod and cap mating surfaces, bolting them back together, then honing them to the proper inside diameter. This ensures proper bearing crush, which is what prevents the bearings from spinning in the rod. Shot-peening is done to compact the outer surface of the rods and reduce the tendency for surface cracks to develop. Finally the rods are checked in a special fixture to ensure they are straight in all planes.

Balancing: The key to a smooth, long-lasting engine is balancing. Custom balancing also allows for the substitution of different components. As an example, when stronger forged pistons are substituted for the stock cast, the difference in weight can be taken into account when the crankshaft is balanced.

Crankshaft Grinding: Generally considered a repair procedure, grinding the crankshaft journals undersize (normally .010, .020 or .030-inch) removes any imperfections and ensures the journals are smooth and round.

Getting It All Together
To assemble our kit we called on the experienced crew in PAW's machine shop. An old hand at such chores, they agreed to do the deed. Next we dispatched Dominic Conti with camera in hand to document what it takes to build an engine to withstand the rigors of Road Tour. Follow along as the build-up of our '36 Chevy, which just might end up in your garage, begins.