What Factors Go Into Choosing The Best Engine?
First, let’s acknowledge that the best engine depends on three fundamental factors.
These considerations are what kind of car you are restoring, what you intend to do with the said car, and the amount you must spend.
A gigantic engine for a hotrod will generally cost more than a classic car restorer spends replacing his small block, Chevy. Different rebuilds have different objectives (and different costs).
In addition, not all engines are created equal. Each one of the Big Three has made some excellent engines, and they have also made some crappy ones.
So, when we say that Chevy generally has the cheapest engines, we are making a general statement about the brand, which doesn’t necessarily apply to every engine all the time.
Choose Mopar For Muscle
There is no question that the brand makes the most potent engines since it has dedicated itself to muscle car fans more than any other brand. (The new 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 makes 1,025 hp and 945 lb-ft of torque.
This Challenger cruised to 0 - 60 mph in a blink of an eye in 1.6 seconds and did the quarter mile in 8.6 seconds). Mopar’s rich history with big block V8s (413 Ramcharger, 426 Hemi, and 440 Magnum) and their stupidly powerful V10 in the Viper makes them the automotive family's power brokers.
As any Mopar guy will tell you, power comes with a price. Mopar engines tend to be the most expensive of the bunch, and while you might get what you pay for, not everyone can afford to pay the premium prices.
While the likes of a 426 Hemi are impossible to find, the 440s are pretty easy to locate, and there is an extensive aftermarket resource and forum community dedicated to helping guide you through any rebuild.
The advantage of Mopar is that an original Hellcat crate engine is available. (If you are looking for the “Hellephant” 6.2 Hemi engine, forget it). Planting a Hellcat into anything is going to provide you with more than enough speed, power, and low-end torque to keep your local police department put you on their Christmas card list.
The most popular engine swap from Mopar is the Hellcat, and we understand why if you are into the more power thing. With 808 hp and 717 lb-ft of torque, this beast can provide instant power and speed to any vehicle your heart desires, as long as it fits. Fitting it into your build might be difficult at almost 3 ½ feet in length, width, and height.
Best and Worst Mopar Engines
The best engines made by Chrysler over the years have been some hefty V8s. The 5.7L ad 6.2L Hemi Hellcat Engines. The 7.0L Hemi (426 ci) Hemi Engine appeared in the 1964 - 71 Dodge and Plymouth Muscle cars, and the 7.2L 440 Magnum Six-Pack (1965 - ‘78 from the muscle car era (not the detuned version after 1971).
The trouble with Chrysler is that they weren’t very good at making smaller engines. The worst engines include the 2.7 V6 (2001 - 2010 Chrysler Sebring, among others) and the 2.4 Inline 4 - (Chrysler PT Cruiser).
- Power. Power. Power.
- Strong aftermarket community
- Expensive to buy and expensive to maintain.
- Availability can be tricky depending on the engine.
The BowTie Rules the RaceTrack and Other Advantages
Think of Chevrolet engines, and you might immediately think of Corvette or Camaro. Chevelle or Impala. It is a fact that Chevrolet engines have placed more cars into victory lane than any other brand (and it isn’t even close). With over 75 NASCAR wins and almost three decades of consecutive year reign as the NHRA’s top manufacturer, the Bowtie seems to be the Ruler of the racing track. (If you are a Chevy guy, we salute you).
Over the years, Chevrolet has made some quality engines, including many short blocks that helped power many of us through the 60s and 70s. As far as Big Blocks go, who can discount that it was Chevy that introduced us to the groundbreaking 396 V8, the Beach Boys’ 409, or even the gnarly 5.7L LS1, which at hp could burn the tires every time you touched the pedal.
The Chevy LS engine parts have the distinction of being pretty interchangeable (as long as you do your homework), making them one of the most popular engine swaps today. Muscle cars are the most popular (even though the 350 was once the king, but then fuel injection came along). The perfection of the LS engines is their size (they are small), so they will fit into just about anything. (Check out Connor Hofford’s 1984 Rabbit with an LS engine).
Chevrolet excels because it has made some pretty damn reliable engines (notably the LS series), and they are generally cheaper to purchase. A small block V8 is easy to work on, adaptable to many vehicles, and has excellent aftermarket support. That said, Chevy engines can get wonky. (Excessive oil consumption is an issue on many Chevy engines).
Best And Worst Chevrolet Engines
Here is an example of some of Chevrolet’s finest offerings and a few stinkers. (Chevy has recently released a crate engine that is a 10L 632 ci V8, which makes over 1,000 hp and costs $25k). Chevrolet's best engines include the 5.7L LS1 V8 - (Late 90’s Corvette, Camaro, and Pontiac Firebirds, among others), the 7.0L LS6 V8 - (2006 - ‘13 Corvette and 2014 - ‘15 Camaro Z28), and yes, we included it - they 6.2 LT1 V8 - (2015 - 2019 Covette and 2016 - present Camaro).
Like every other automaker, Chevy struggled to balance fuel economy and performance. The worst motors, in our opinion, are anything with the name EcoTech on it, the 3.6L V6 (Buick LaCrosse, Cadillacs and Impalas, Caprice, and other cars), and the 6.5L Diesel (1982 - 2000 GM trucks, SUVs, among others)
- Engines are cheaper than other brands
- More parts available
- Ease of maintenance and parts swap
- Aftermarket support
- Some issues with reliability or mechanical problems.
Ford Has a History With The V8
Ford has made many V8s over the years, many of which have been solid, reliable powerplants. The favorites are the 427 V8, the 5.0L “Coyote,” or the 460 Big Block “Lima” that powered trucks for many years. While not the first automaker to offer a V8 (that distinction belongs to Cadillac), it has plenty of history to contribute to the creation of engines.
The advantage of a Ford engine is that it is built with good internals, is easy to work on, and has plenty of parts (depending on the engine) available. It will cost you a little bit more to maintain your Ford engine. According to Repairpal.com, the average owner of a Ford pays nearly $125 more to keep their Ford running smoothly than you might spend on Chevy or Dodge.
The favorite crate engine for Ford enthusiasts seeking to add power to their builds is the Predator engine, which produces 760 hp and is the current engine in the 2022 Shelby GT 500, which sadly was the last year that Ford produced this beautiful car. (It is currently available as a crate engine for about $25k if you want to pay that much).
If you are a cheaper-minded Ford guy, there is always the 5.0L Coyote used in the Mustang GT, and our take on the engine is that it is reliable for the most part, but it does have some flaws. (The engine tends to develop oil leakage if pushed beyond its limits).
One area we like about Ford is its willingness to innovate with new technologies. Ford has been leading the charge in electrification, which is way ahead of Chevy and Mopar. The Eco-boost engine development (not the first one) was a modern miracle, providing decent horsepower and fuel economy. We want to see more of what Ford has in store for the next decades.
Best and Worst Ford Engines
While it might be hard to pick one, we like the following engines for rebuilds. The 5.0L Coyote (Mustang and F150s), the 5.4L Predator V8 (2019 - 22 Ford Shelby GT500), and finally, the 4.9L Boss 302 V8 (1969 - ‘70 Boss Mustang and Mercury Cougar Eliminator).
As for our least favorite engines, we would nominate the 6.0 and 6.4 Powerstroke Diesels (Why they abandoned the 7.3 IDI is beyond us) and the V4 Essex (1965 - 77), an epic failure on every level.
- Ford engines are reliable, durable, and easy to maintain.
- Ford engines are easier to stroke
- Some mechanical issues (depending on the engine)
- Cost more to maintain