Swing ’n Sting engine plans change

Swing ’n Sting Dart Plans Change Again

John Stunkard - September 16, 2011 12:00 PM


The intake is off and we used a large chain bolted in with a couple of the intake bolts to pull it out with a cherry picker.


Mancini has always helped us out. My dad got his T-shirt to look like a real mechanic’s version as he helped me.


Up and out. The engine is finally free after we removed the bellhousing and flexplate bolts.


My dad (left) and Chad Blackburn look over the mess and begin to discuss what will happen next.


After pulling the engine, you can really see how dirty the engine bay has gotten.


Now that the engine is on a stand, we began to pull it apart.


We had already seen how worn the cam had gotten. Some of the lifters were concave on their surfaces, meaning the cam was not fully opening the valves.


How about this timing chain? Well, I don’t have to wonder why I was down on power any more; it’s a wonder the car ran at all!


The bores had a ridge in them, though it was small enough we were able to get the pistons out through the top of the block. The pistons were not bad, but they would not fit again once the block was bored out.


Here are the bearings. Many were showing through to the copper.


I spent about an hour getting the carb off of the intake and cleaning it all up. After analyzing the problems, we decided we would rebuild my engine as a stroker package. 392 cubes – yeah, baby!


It’s time to clean up the engine bay now. Chad had a good pressure washer that we used to spray it down. This thing uses nothing but hot water.


The kerosene that fuels the pressure washer looks like a flame show. It gets REALLY hot when you are spraying it off.


Our engine bay is all cleaned up and ready for some fresh paint. Thanks to Mr. Gasket and Quick Cable, we are moving the battery to the trunk before the new engine goes in.

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Most Mopar guys know the stock 318 engine only makes so much power. It seems like Chrysler made millions of them, but these things were built for durability, not performance.

You start looking for stuff that can give it a little edge, like the intake and carburetor we got from Mancini Racing and put on the Swing ’n Sting Dart last year.

At first, speed parts make a world of difference if you just had the stock intake and two-barrel carb on it. It’s a big improvement. After a while, you just can’t seem to find those same butterflies in your stomach you got from the first time you stomped on the gas and heard that little engine screaming as you did a burnout. When that thrill is gone, it’s just not enough. I love my car just for that feeling.

Today, the motor is out and in pieces. My car is sitting over at the service station, patiently waiting for some help. Truth be told, the Dart has not been doing as well as I had wished. For one, we could not find where it was leaking oil – the valve covers, the timing cover, the pan by the rear main seal, and other areas all had that gross black sludge growing on them. The car felt down on power.

Between leaking a quart of oil a week, fouled spark plugs, and misfires (in spite of our MSD distributor), the idea of a complete engine rebuild began to sound like a great idea.

I took the Dart and two girls I know from school up to Bristol Dragway during the track’s Thursday night “Street Fight”’ to try and get a base number. The best time it ran was a 16.6 at 80 mph in the quarter mile. That’s not much to be proud of considering lots of stock Hondas can run a number close to that.

That did it … this engine was coming apart. We had been gathering parts from Mancini, Hughes, AAEQ, PRW and other companies for this day, so I called our good friend Chad Blackburn who runs Mr. B’s Auto Repair to see if we could do it there. Frankly, Chad didn’t have space, but he likes the car (and me) and said it would be fine. I knew it might be a while before I drove it again, so I took the Dart out for one last ride, the 3.23 rear leaving its trademark single black streak on a couple of side roads. Chad didn’t have space inside, so he let us work under the awning where the gas pumps used to be.

School and graduation were over, my girlfriend Louisse was going back to Sweden, and the Tennessee heat and humidity would keep us knowing it was work. My dad had done this job a long time ago. Our plan going in was to swap in our AAEQ heads, the PRW pump, the Hughes valvetrain kit, and hopefully nothing more than rings and bearings in the bottom end. I got to work by pulling the distributor and intake, got our Be Cool radiator/SPAL fan outfit out of the front, dropped the exhaust and began removing the tti headers. That’s a lot of work when its 90 degrees and with the humidity so high it feels more like 105. Our more serious problems were down inside the engine. We were really thankful to be in the shade.

The intake came off in a few minutes. When we got a look at the original cam, my dad wasn’t happy. It had seemed fine just a few months ago, but now that I had put the winter and spring miles on it, he looked at the dark wear scars on the lobes and said, “that cam is wasted.”

When we popped the lifters out, most were concave from wear. Chad thinks it may have been from the years the car sat idle. Surface rust on the lifter faces had caused them to wear very quickly once I was driving regularly.

Regardless, we were not done. It took us about eight hours to get the engine to the point we could get a chain on it and pull it out. We got an engine stand ready and used the shop’s cherry picker to get the motor out. Rolling it into the service bay for final disassembly revealed that this was not the last of our problems. The worst part was over, but the bad news had just started.

We returned the next day and pulled the heads off. The cylinder walls were not bad with only a light ridge at the top. As the rods and crank were coming out, we could see many of the bearings had worn down into the copper. Chad and my dad looked it all over. Chad said we were looking at a bit of machine work and we would not be just swapping in bearings. In fact, there would be no use in putting all the new parts on it if we were going to have to do more work.

At this point in the process, I sort of began to wonder what I was in for. Due to the work to go back together as a 318, it might be worth it to look at our options. A good one was MRESTROKE318-KIT, a budget cast crank outfit that Mancini offers as one of their Power Paks. This is a Mopar four-inch crank, new rods, Diamond pistons, bearings and rings. The package comes internally balanced and runs about $2,300. That would seem like a ton of money, but we would be halfway there by the time we added in our new .030 pistons, reconditioned rods, had the crank underturned to make sure it is true, and still have just 318 cubes.

Mancini had the bottom end assembly, so what about the machine work? Clearancing a Mopar small-block for that big crank and rod outfit is not the simplest thing in the world. In Knoxville, about 90 miles from here, Hensley Performance has been doing Mopar-specific machine work for years. My dad called Ken Hensley and made an appointment. Ken’s guys know what they are doing as he has built a bunch of these 392-inch (yeah, that’s the displacement of the .030 punched 318; cool, eh?) small-blocks. He could machine a block from his already sonic-tested stock of cores. The price on that work is always based on what exactly is to be done, but figure $1,200 total for the clean-up, align-bore, decking, oil system mods, etc. This will be the subject of an upcoming story.

We had most of the new parts already here and everything will work with the new engine plan. When Dave Hughes of Hughes Engines heard about it all, he recommended stepping up to the next bigger version of the Whiplash cams he has created. This cam would be one that has more intake lift to take advantage of the bigger displacement. We went with the cast crank to keep the project within budget. Mancini, Hughes and Hensley all offer bottom end kits with balanced forged cranks as well.

The Diamond pistons have a .017-inch relief cut into them to reduce compression. My dad talked to “Diamond Ron” Beaubien, who is a great Mopar guy. Ron figures the compression with an .039-inch head gasket will come in at under 10:1 if we don’t deck the block.

The biggest issue for me now is time. I am working in Florida part of the summer and start college in the fall. We’re hoping to have the Dart back on the road by then. In the meantime, we are getting some of our other stuff done. We steam-cleaned the engine bay, and are moving the battery to the trunk, along with a new fuel system. Hopefully, I can tell you more about that next month.