Engine builders are truly a flexible breed, especially when dealing with demanding customers. Over the years I’ve heard very entertaining stories about customers who want more than they can afford or more than the rules allow. Regardless of the intentions, it still comes down to money.

Often they just can’t make up their minds. Some customers want a change every time they read a  new car magazine or go to a car show. Again, it’s just a matter of how much money is spent before the engine is delivered.

I also hear how creative some customers can be when paying for their engines. Customers have used barter many times, paying with older engines and race parts or providing special services. And when customers don’t show up at all to get their engines, that leads to a new online special or craigslist posting.

Back in the ‘80s there were plenty of anecdotes from marine-engine builders getting paid in bags of cash from customers based in Florida. Those were especially lucrative times when the Coast Guard started paying more for even bigger engines. But that market has somewhat given way to small diesels that power diminutive Columbian homemade submarines.

That’s our deal. Whatever I spend on my toys, she gets the same amount for shopping.
 — Engine customer

Cash is still king, and again, there are creative customers. One engine builder tells the story of a boat owner who ordered a pair of fully dressed supercharged bullets for his river runner. Total bill was about $80,000. The customer would drop by every week or so and pay a few thousand in cash during the buildups but always refusing a receipt. When both engines were finished, the unpaid tab was $6,500. The customer told the builder to deliver the engines to his garage and present a formal bill. At the delivery, the customer’s wife showed up to see what her husband had been talking about.

“Wow, those look really nice for just $6,500,” she said.

The customer then pulled out another $6,500 and gave it to his wife. She hugged and kissed him and went off on her way.

“That’s our deal. Whatever I spend on my toys, she gets the same amount for shopping,” explained the customer.

Hiding or disguising engine or custom-car costs from a spouse doesn’t always work. I once photographed a custom truck for a magazine cover, and for the story the owner bragged it was worth $25,000. But following the photo shoot, the owner finalized a messy divorce. Problem was, he told his ex the truck was worth only $8,000. He was back to court shortly after the magazine hit the newsstand.

So it’s not always a good idea to try and deceive a significant other or the tech official. But if you have any good stories about getting paid for building an engine, share them with us.

Handicapping the Gen V small-block technology

Back in October — about three weeks ahead of Chevy’s introduction of the Gen V small-block — I handicapped the possible features and technologies that engineers would implement on the new LT1 engine. Now that GM has also released information on the truck versions of the fifth-generation architecture, it’s time to see how my bets made out at the payout window.

  • Combustion system wasn’t new but rather fully optimized.


    Sure Bet: Direct Injection — Winner! Everyone knew that from the beginning.
  • Sure Bet: “Brand new combustion system” — Winner! My prediction was, “there won’t be  a ‘brand new’ system but rather a different approach to an existing combustion cycle.” GM didn’t develop a new system but rather optimized the combustion with direct injection and variable valve timing.
  • Sure Bet: All-aluminum construction — Winner! Still don’t know if the HD trucks will get an iron block.
  • Sure Bet: 4.400-inch bore centers — Winner! 
  • Sure Bet: Higher compression ratio — Split decision. CR did go up, but I predicted 12.2:1. Ended up at 11.5:1 for the big engines and 11.0:1 for the smaller models.
  • Sure bet: Nearly Impenetrable engine-management electronics — Winner! Even the chief engineer acknowledged that the codes will be difficult to break. The aftermarket will get inside the computer, but it will be tougher.
  • Sure bet: AFM — Winner! Active Fuel Management was pretty much a given from the start of the rumors.
  • Sure bet: Variable valve timing — Winner! 
  • Intriguing cam-in-cam technology didn’t make into the Gen V, yet.


    98% chance: Displacements possibilities — Winner! I predicted 5.3- and 6.2-liter models, despite plenty of news reports that there would be a 5.5-liter version. I also predicted 4.3-liter model but was guessing on the V6 configuration. Also, I guessed that the Corvette engine would have at least 450 horsepower, and that’s the preliminary number given by GM.
  • 95% chance: Raised camshaft tunnel — Loser! Cam centerline is same distance as Gen V engines.
  • 90% chance: eAssist — Loser. Missed this one big time.
  • 50% chance: Concentric camshaft — Loser! I’m still holding out that this technology will find its way into a Gen V engine down the line.
  • Less than 20% chance: 3-valve cylinder heads — Pretty close! I didn’t think GM would release this design in the beginning.
  • Less than 10% chance: Active intake manifold — On the money! GM tested it but didn’t go with it.

So, 14 predictions with seven sure wins and only three outright losses.