Forbes magazine just published their annual "Billionaires" issue. To no surprise we didn't make the list and we're certain neither did you. This means that when we embark on building next seasons bracket motor, or perhaps the new mill for your street machine, we're gonna have to do so on a budget. But don't fret, we can still be rich in pride by building a motor with gobs of torque, dependability, and an exhaust thump so wicked it might shake some loose change out the pockets of Buffet and Gates - should you be fortunate enough to drive by them.

Building a motor on a budget requires being smart and resourceful. It doesn't necessarily mean cutting every corner, but rather putting money in the places where it counts. We wont kid you and say you can build a 100,000 mile motor which won't burn a drop of oil and make 500 horsepower for a few hundred dollars. Let's be reasonable. We're talking about assembling, on your own, a big block Ford motor that should last a couple hundred passes or perhaps 20,000 miles in a street application. If you drive your project car as sparingly as we do, 20k on the odometer may take you out to 2010.

Of course the word budget means different things to different people. We think about $3000 is a proper sum for building a 460 from the ground up. This is assuming you don't have the block, heads, or intake to start with. If you are already in posession of these parts then naturally the costs come down. Follow along as we build a Streetwise 460 destined for our project 1973 Gran Torino.

Sourcing the Motor
In order to keep costs down FordMuscle techs went in search of a low mileage or well-maintained stock 460 engine. Our goal was to source a standard two-bolt main 460 bottom end for no more than $350, but more importantly find one which required nothing more than a bearing and ring job. Keep in mind post 1988 Ford 460 motors were fuel injected. While the bottom ends are no different, the head design is and will cause issues with carbed manifolds.

Naturally the first place to look for the 385-series motor is in wrecking yards. Since the late 1960's Ford has been dropping the big boy into all kinds of intermediate and full sized passenger cars, trucks, commercial vehicles, and even motorhomes. However, vehicles typically end up in the wrecking yards for one of two reasons. The primary reason, as you can guess, is because a vehicle has outlived it's useful life, which usually means the bottom-end from one of these cars is likely to require machine work. The majority of wrecking yard vehicles fall into this category. The second reason a vehicle lands in the wrecking yard is because it suffered a sudden and unexpected trauma that sent it there long before its' time. Unfortunately for enthusiasts these vehicles rarely are towed directly to the "Pull it Yourself" yard. Rather they may find their way through a variety of small business "recyclers" who will vulture whatever parts are deemed profitable. For example, if an 1990 F350 is determined a "salvage" after a severe accident, the insurance company may auction the car off to an intermediate broker who will then bid it out in whole or part to body shops, use parts outfits, and wholesale recyclers. Once all potential profits are squeezed out the remaining carcass might be transported to a "Pull-It-Yourself" yard. In some cases, particularly where there is no insurance or the totaled car has no significant value in whole, the vehicle may just sit at a tow or impound yard.

The point is that in order to score a low-mileage motor you
may have to get creative and try to intercept a vehicle before it
reaches the public yard. As often in life, success usually comes down to connections or good networking that only results from numerous failed attempts. Talk to shops and towing companies, peruse the local classifieds, and take a drive through the "bad" side of town. You'll be surprised at the vehicles you find with inconspicuous for-sale or "parting out" signs parked in dingy tow lots under the freeway overpasses.

We did experience a number of dead-ends in our quest for a suitable bottom end before we finally struck gold. FordMuscle picked up a 460 engine from a 1996 Fleetwood Pace-Arrow RV that had severe fire damage. The odometer showed 25,260 miles but we knew only teardown would reveal the truth (see side bar). For $200 dollars we trusted our instincts and bought the motor from a local impound lot that was willing to make the deal. We immediately recovered $50 of that cost by selling the 460 EFI heads, double sump oil pan, and other items which were of no use to us.

Tear Down
When buying a motor under these conditions you have to assume some risk. It is not likely that the seller will let you hear it run, or engage you in a discussion about the condition of the crankshaft. Gather whatever visual cues you can regarding the life of the motor or donor vehicle. We feel it is advantageous to pull a motor from a vehicle as opposed to buying an already pulled motor, vehicle not present. If the underside of the hood is plastered with NHRA and Clay Smith cams decals you may question whether or not the motor was modified or run hard. Since our vehicle was a well kept, elderly owned, motor home we had good reason to believe the internals would be in fine shape. When confident, strike the lowest price you can and bring your bounty home for a detailed disassembly and inspection.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a thorough and detailed disassembly and inspection. Maybe in a bare bones budget or "demolition derby" motor we'd be willing to fire it up as is and go. However since we do want to maximize torque and have dependability from this mill we start with a step by step check. This will help identify machine work that may be necessary, and perhaps even a decision to look for another motor. We have identified a cracked block before.

The side bar to the right shows the process we followed to disassemble our motorhome 460 bottom end. With everything checking out okay, we proceeded to recondition the short block.

(Reconditioning the Bottom End)
In This Article:
Our BBF 460 project kicks off with a budget conscious bottom-end rebuild. Only the essentials are replaced, and machine shop work is limited.
  A cheap motor may not be the least expensive to rebuild. Look for donors likely to have a low abuse factor. This 460 gem was pulled from a newer, but fire damaged motorhome. Low mileage, low rpms, and infrequent use suggest low probability of bottom end damage or wear.

Knowing the history of the vehicle is important. The water and oil mix could have signaled a cracked block or head gasket failure. However, knowing the water was from extinguishing the motorhome fire eased our worries.

We removed the stock main and rod caps and checked for bearing condition and for signs of damage to the bearing saddles and bores. We found no issues which would warrant honing of the main bore or rod caps.
Like looking at the rings of a tree, you can tell a lot about the history and condition of an engine by examining the bearings. Problem signs are deep scratches, flaking or pitting and bearings worn to the copper layer. Also check the crank shaft journals for corresponding damage.
Pay close attention to the piston and bore condition. Damage to ring lands, excessive scuffing of the piston skirts, and scarring on the cylinder walls would indicate detonation or overheating conditions and possibly the need to replace pistons and bore the block.
The stock crank was straight and in good shape, with no major scarring or damage to the bearing journals. A hot tank and micro polish would only run $100 if it were necessary.
Our disassembled 460 block is now ready for a thorough home cleaning. If you opt to have a machine shop hot tank it, be prepared to spend a little extra for installing new cam bearings.

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