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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I'd like to offer my experiences with the combos and see how everyone else feels. I am lucky enough to own two Gen5's at the moment. One has a Big Block with a 700R4 and the other has a 383 Small Block with a 4 speed manual. Here's my feeling after driving both for a while:

The Big Block has the advantage of absurd power and it doesn't really matter how big or stout they are, most big blocks can simply run the Gen 5s right out of traction (or out of a differential). The installation of a big block is pretty simple and it can be done with factory brackets and mounts. People make headers for it and the Gen 4 cast iron exhaust manifolds work just fine too. Once the installation is done, you'll be convinced that the factory designed the chassis with space for it, but downsized the rest of the driveline to work properly with the small block. Big blocks are heavy and the added weight in the nose makes the traction problem a little worse than with a lighter engine. Likewise, handling suffers because the additional weight is harder to force around a corner. By the time you are done with a big block swap, you'll probably have upgraded to a bigger rear end, bigger brakes and heavier front springs.


The Gen's came with small blocks, so the installation is by the book, including radiator hoses, manifolds and wiring. They are lighter, cool better and should not break as many parts as the big block. Less weight and fewer frictional losses in the engine make for better gas mileage and you can actually still smog them, something that can be tough with a big block if your state does smog checks.


So, what is the difference to the driver? First, we need to look at my combinations. My big block is nearly a clone of the one Hot Rod did two years ago. Mine has the Brodix Race-Rite heads, 540 inches, 10.0 to one compression and a full roller valve train. Hot Rod built theirs at 9 to 1, so I gained some torque and power for the compression, but gave some top end back by dropping the cam size down about 10 degrees. But it really does not matter, because their combo dyno'd at over 660 foot pounds of torque and I am probably making about 30 more. Do you really want to know what a Gen 5 can do with 700 foot pounds of torque? Not much other than fry tires, any tires and all tires. Yeah, it is fun, no question - but it is absurd fun. I tried to adjust the shift points and cable length on the 700R4, which means checking the shift points at WOT. Well, since WOT simply fries the tires at any point up to 50 mph when you nail it, that program did not work too well. I love the noise and I love the power, but climbing into the throttle means making sure you have lots of room, including next to you, because "Straight" and "Full Throttle" are not found in the same sentence. I have a GN 3.42 rear end in it, Hotchkis arms all the way around, 1LE Camaro rear discs and GM "A" body wagon front discs. It makes a superb freeway cruiser, because at freeway speed you can actually use more than 20 percent of the throttle and the .7 overdrive makes those 3.42's into 2.39's and that is sweet. I've also got the big sway bars all they way around, along with the F-41 chassis braces. It is as low as I can get it and still run decent sized tires, but while it corners pretty well, the weight does hurt it in the twisties. But, climb in the throttle and the waaauuughh from the intake is absolute magic. My wife simply calls the car "Violence".
Did I build too big an engine? Heck, no - and if I hurt it, I'll probably make it into a 572.

The small block is a 383, so it makes quite a bit more power and torque than the 350 that it replaced. It has decent iron heads, a full roller valvetrain and is also at 10.0 to one. Because it is a four speed, 4th is 1 to 1, so the 3.08's in the rear are just that, and 65 mph on the freeway is about 2625 rpm. But the 4 speed really brings out the best in the 383. You can keep it below 4500 and have all the fun you'd like, while being able to use the torque to its best advantage by selecting the gear at any throttle setting instead of depending on the automatic to downshift at WOT. It is very happy on surface streets and the manual is great for darting in and out of traffic. It corners better and the fuel economy is better than the engine that is about 1 1/2 times it size. I am running a factory Saginaw 4 speed and they came in at least 4 different ratios. Unlike Muncies, which really are either 2.56 low or 2.20 lows and are expensive, Saginaws are cheap by comparison. I tried both the 2.85 low and the 3.11 low and find the 3.11 is the happiest combination, since traffic is something we all face, and anything much taller on a stop and go freeway is not a happy thing. The 383 lets you use about 50 percent throttle before the tires say "I quit" and let go, but you can't really break it loose on the freeway, something that cannot be said for the 540.


So, which would I choose? The small block is a more rewarding driving experience, especially with the four speed. It is the one I would choose to drive in traffic, go to the store or to work. The big block is for sunny weekends and while the auto is fine in traffic, there is something odd about driving something that should be in the staging lanes instead of in 5 mph bumper to bumper traffic. Anything other than wide open country is like hooking a race horse to a plow. Unless the weather is just right that people have their windows down and you pull up next to them with piston slap and valve train clatter and you get a big thumbs up from the knowing. The 383 is more subltle, but it looks good and has a nice exhaust rumble that makes people turn their heads when you shift, because they are not used to hearing a Gen 5 shift. The big block is more like weeding your lawn with a Cruise Missile, but will probably still be in my garage after the small block truck has been sold.

 

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Theres still no replacement for displacement.
 

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So, which would I choose? The small block is a more rewarding driving experience, especially with the four speed. It is the one I would choose to drive in traffic, go to the store or to work. The big block is for sunny weekends and while the auto is fine in traffic, there is something odd about driving something that should be in the staging lanes instead of in 5 mph bumper to bumper traffic. Anything other than wide open country is like hooking a race horse to a plow. Unless the weather is just right that people have their windows down and you pull up next to them with piston slap and valve train clatter and you get a big thumbs up from the knowing. The 383 is more subltle, but it looks good and has a nice exhaust rumble that makes people turn their heads when you shift, because they are not used to hearing a Gen 5 shift. The big block is more like weeding your lawn with a Cruise Missile, but will probably still be in my garage after the small block truck has been sold"

Very good write up, I agree, and I don't have 2 5th gens but the difference between the two are just as you stated!!!!!
Great job!!!:You_Rock:
Donny
 

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Kerno, nice write up and I agree which is why I built a combination of the two. BB and manual.
 

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Very nice write up, myself as fuel prices are going to shoot up again I would stay with the small block for drivabilitly. The 4 speed would be a hoot to drive, thanks for the info! matty man :beer:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
One thing I should have made clearer is that if you are looking at adding power, the 383 route is a great solution at less cost and hassle than a big block. I've built a lot of engines, but have always felt that it took more than 10 percent more displacement to make a real seat of the pants difference without having to go to radical cams or high compression. This 383 has changed my mind about that. For something that is less than 10 percent bigger than it started, this thing storms! The best part is that everything can be bought off the shelf either in pieces or the whole rotating assembly in a box at pretty low cost. It also says that the earlier small blocks have a new way to hold their own against the LS motors.

Dropping in a 383 makes a big change in the personality of a Gen 5. Put one up against a 200 or 700R4 in an otherwise stock chassis and you'll be grinning as you drive. The 200's have a bad reputation for strength, but they held up pretty well behind the Regal Turbos. Oh, a Camino with a T-Type powertrain? Yeah, those are fun too! They can be a real sleeper 'cause they are quiet and very quick. I drove Gary Nelson's white Camino with one and started to really keep my eye out for a T-Type powertrain that I never found.
 

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Great write up and I agree with everything you said but it's really an unfair comparison....an all out 540 and a mundane 383????? Come on...compare a 383 and a 396 with the same relative cams, compression and such....I think the 383 is the ultimate street engine and 500 ft/lbs of torque is easy to get in a 93 octane friendly combination. Unless you go huge with a big block I can't see carring around the extra weight not to even talk about the price of parts......dan
 

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i enjoyed your write up! very good comparison...i have to admit, i'm a little spoiled with the family i married into, they field 5 stock cars, and a couple of mud trucks...when i need my excessive horsepower hunger put back in check, i go for a joyride! nothing like a 13.0:1CR engine with too much cam to make you smile :nanawrench:
 

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“….I agree with everything you said but it's really an unfair comparison……”


Old Coot, I’m not sure that a head to head comparison was what KERNO was actually after. His thread does a really good job showing the vehicles are in fact an apple/oranges kind of thing. Putting a BB of any flavor into a 5th Gen is really a personality changer for the El Camino.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Great write up and I agree with everything you said but it's really an unfair comparison....an all out 540 and a mundane 383????? Come on...compare a 383 and a 396 with the same relative cams, compression and such....I think the 383 is the ultimate street engine and 500 ft/lbs of torque is easy to get in a 93 octane friendly combination. Unless you go huge with a big block I can't see carring around the extra weight not to even talk about the price of parts......dan
As was pointed out, I was not trying to make a direct comparison them. My feeling is that there is nothing mundane about a decent 383 and it is a very good choice for the Gen 5's. The standard horsepower fix for years was a big block, but folks should know that a 383 is easy to build, less hassle to install and with decent heads is a credible enough engine to be compared to a big block.
 

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Kerno, nice write up and I agree which is why I built a combination of the two. BB and manual.
I'm right with you! Big block 4 speed is bad. Highway cruising with the muncie sucks, but around town it is flat out scary. Now just to get it to hook a little better lol
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I've really thought about making 540 a manual, but I know if I do, I'll wad it up and I really don't want to do that. I wish the T-56 shifted like a Munice! If it did, I'd probably do the install.
 

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Great write up.

I'd eventually like to upgrade the stock motor in my Caballero. I was thinking about a built 350, but I've always liked the idea of a 383, and you just made me like it more. :p

How's the saginaw hold up under the power? I've heard they aren't to fond of high horse power.
 

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My 385 is not mundane, bring on that 540, I two have two 5th gens and a 3rd gen, we are currently building a supercharged 496 and a tunnel rammed 588 for it, both 5th gens are 385's the wifes is tame:nanawrench:for my son I have a 84 RX-7 383 chevy and a 6 speed manual, with a ford 9 inch 3.08 gears,, that should get 34+ miles to gallon and do 180 MPH
 
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