Homegrown Horsepower: Four-cylinder Mercruiser In A Dragster!

The initial reaction when opening the email EngineLabs received from Chris Nichols was one of wonderment, and as the details came forth it was determined that this was a build definitely worth of the Homegrown Horsepower segment. 

“This engine is actually half of a 460 Ford big-block. Stock, it displaces 224 cubic inches, and with the 4-barrel option it makes about 195 horsepower at the prop. The stock engine uses a stock police car 429/460 head, a hydraulic flat tappet cam and an aluminum block that is similar to the Vega or LS engines in that the deck is open. It uses a stock 460 bore of 4.360-inch and a slightly shorter stroke of 3.750-inch,” Nichols explains.

Of course, no piece of Homegrown Horsepower would be complete without major modifications, and to that end Nichols and his father completely modified the engine from top to bottom with a number of unique, one-off components. After boring the stock sleeves completely out of the engine, a set of custom Darton sleeves were installed to finish off the bore at 4.600-inch, while the crankshaft was offset-ground, nitrided and lightened by Crankshaft Specialists to come in at 4.125-inch for a final displacement of 274ci. The engine uses a set of 6.800-inch Groden aluminum connecting rods.

It uses a C-460 Ford Motorsport cylinder head that has been fitted with Stealth titanium valves, COMP Cams valvesprings, Trick Titanium retainers, titanium spring seats and a set of rocker arms from WW Engineering. The camshaft itself is a true custom billet, machined from 8620 bar stock, then sent to COMP Cams to be ground, heat treated, and finished to .880-inch intake lift and .840-inch exhaust lift, with 274/272 duration figures. 

Custom fab work

The block has been fitted with custom made 7075 billet main caps that have been dowel-pinned inboard of the bolts as there isn’t room to use a four-bolt main design. Also, with the exception of one bolt hole, the block uses a Chevrolet bolt pattern for the transmission. To that end, the pair selected a Powerglide that uses an ATI 1.82 gearset and Neal Chance 5,800 stall 9-inch bolt-together torque converter. The car has a Strange Engineering 12 bolt drop out center section with a Neil and Parks aluminum spool and lightened ring gear with titanium bolts from Ti-64.

“When the first incarnation of this engine was built, my dad was working for a Mercruiser factory rebuilder/dealer here in town. He thought it was a neat design in that it was in part a 460 Ford, so he bought a block, crank, timing gear cover and oil pump,” he says. “At the time it was just something to build in the future, as we were running a 292 Chevrolet 6-cylinder that I had installed a NOS fogger system on. The wrist pin broke in that engine and destroyed everything when it broke. 

“We were broke and now engineless, but a local speed shop owner that we knew very well was a huge Ford fan and knew we had the Mercruiser engine. He had tons of big-block Ford stuff laying around, so he donated an SCJ head with valves, springs, a set of Venolia pistons and Howards rods,” adds Nichols.

They set about building the engine, fabricated an oil pan and intake manifold and got it running with the donated parts. The speed shop owner offered up a bet – if they could run 1,000 feet in the 8-second range, he would donate an aluminum A-460 cylinder head. On the first pass out it ran an 8.88, and after that the team never raced another Chevrolet stovebolt.

Fighting the vibes

“The main issue we have had and continue to have is vibration. The engine shakes everything loose; flywheel bolts, torque converter nuts, valve cover bolts, everything!  The reason Dad started racing inline engines to start with is that at the time there was no such thing as bracket racing , you class raced or you street raced. Dad had been looking though the rule book and studying class indexes and found a ‘soft index’ that happened to be for a 230ci 6-cylinder. After building that and seeing Glen Self dominate in H/MP, he got very interested in just what could be done outside the norm of small block Chevys, Fords, Hemis and the like,” he says.

So far, the engine has run a best elapsed time of 5.36 at 130 mph in the 1,024-pound rear-engine dragster. On the Stuska dyno at Self Racing, the engine made over 470 horsepower and 7,500 rpm on methanol. It currently runs a set of coated Venolia pistons that have been lightened by Patterson Racing, Trend pushrods, and Total Seal Gapless piston rings. A custom-built mechanical fuel injection system using 3.150-inch butterflies was constructed by Kinsler Fuel Injection.

“I built the car to get my dad more active as he had been pretty much housebound after he retired,” sums up Nichols. “Dad never got to see the new car run as we finished it three days after his passing. It is a state of the art car from its carbon on carbon brakes to its aluminum spindles, no expense was spared. Dad deserved the best car and now I race it with him in its every component. I think he really enjoyed the idea that no matter win or lose we always ‘won.’After all, what are you going to tell your buddies – I just outran that four-cylinder car?”

We love it, Chris, and we thank you for sharing it with us. 

Video Of The Engine On The Dyno At Self Racing – Check Out All Of Chris’ Videos Here

Want to see your engine profiled on EngineLabs.com? Send a few quality digital photos, background information and complete list of the engine’s components to [email protected]. If you post a YouTube video of the engine on the dyno or test stand, feel free to share it – who doesn’t love dyno videos? We do for sure.

About the author

Jason Reiss

Jason draws on over 15 years of experience in the automotive publishing industry, and collaborates with many of the industry's movers and shakers to create compelling technical articles and high-quality race coverage.
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