Tired of "bellybutton" small-block Chevys, Fords, or V-8s, for that matter? You know, everybody has one. But, Editor Brennan wanted something different for his roadster pickup for that very reason, so he sent me to visit Joe Fontana, proprietor of Fontana Automotive in Gardena, California. Joe has, for many years, carved racing engines out of blocks of aluminum. He has been producing engines, such as the Ford Clevor V-8 (a combination of Cleveland and Windsor), since 1985, so he knows how to make 'em strong and powerful.
His latest highly successful racing engine has been dubbed the "Tasmanian Devil," a 200ci 'banger expressly made for USAC midget racing. It is based on the Chevy II four-cylinder, and, like most of the other engines he builds, they use no OEM parts-everything is purpose-built. Starting with a Fontana-designed aluminum block and cylinder head, the crew adds all of the latest high-tech billet crank, forged rods and pistons, a specially designed Hilborn fuel injector, and a super-trick camshaft with five main bearings instead of the usual three, and so on.
The Fontana four-banger has its roots in midget racing, and a turbulent history it is. Following World War II, the heyday of the little screamers witnessed a variety of different powerplants making the scene. Two strokes, Ford V8-60s on nitro, and 91-inch Offys all saw action in the stadiums of America. Offys ruled for a long time, until the Sesco 1/2 Chevy V-8 ousted it as the favorite. Then along came the Volkswagen, with its boxer configuration and low center of gravity. It ruled through the 1960s and was competitive with the Cosworth twin cam until a rule change to allow 200 ci and big tires ended their ability to compete.
The introduction of the Chevy II engine by Louie Senter and the aforementioned sanctioning bodies allowing additional inches for pushrod engines changed the course of the midget, once again. Now, a recent rules change to keep the small budget racer in business has set rise to the Tasmanian Devil. Lots of horsepower and a very flat torque curve make this little 'banger an ideal candidate for transition to a street engine.
While the engine described above is a purpose-built racing engine, this 200-pound package can be assembled using off-the-shelf parts and made into a stout little street 'banger that will fit nicely into any lightweight hot rod, or a similar modified or track roadster. Best of all, it will hold its own with any of the aforementioned bellybuttons.
It bolts directly to any Chevy bellhousing and transmission for ease of installation and has the look of a vintage engine with the performance of a modern piece.
The Fontana four uses an aluminum block and head, side cover and valve cover, either Manley or Victor stainless valves, a Velasco billet crank, Dyer steel H-beam rods, forged pistons, a Crane five-bearing camshaft, really trick pushrods, DSI springs, and roller bearing rocker arms complete with a rev kit that allows an operating rpm in excess of 7,500. The oil system includes a Barnes three-stage dry sump system, which comes with an Olson-fabricated aluminum oil pan for long bearing life, and the MSD crank trigger ignition system makes this little engine dead stone reliable.
The curve in the distributor is set on the dyno and worked to deliver the best performance possible on pump gas. Being able to dial in a little retard at idle makes this ignition ideal for this particular application, and the exceptionally tunable Hilborn electronic fuel injector instills smooth performance with the compression ratio of 11:1. A rerouted water system (putting the cool water into the head and drawing it out of the block) ensures consistent cooling through the use of a trick Fontana-integrated water pump, and system integrity is maintained with the latest Brown & Miller plumbing. And, while he won't predict the precise horsepower numbers (similar engines on alcohol deliver a maximum of 302 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm and some 352 hp), Joe assures us it will not disappoint. The little 'banger has the look and sound of an old-timey racing engine with the steam of a modern powerplant.
So, if you want to set your little streeter apart from the crowd, try a Tasmanian Devil on for size.
The cylinder block is designed to accommodate a standard Chevy bellhousing.
Reverse-flow coolant puts the cool water into the head, and it exits from the block, maint
Fontana is on the cutting edge of CNC machining, as you can see in this cylinder head.