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Project Raven: We Assess The Health Of Our 400 Chrysler Big Block With The Help Of Knieriem Racing Engines

Project Raven: We Assess The Health Of Our 400 Chrysler Big Block With The Help Of Knieriem Racing Engines

It’s been a little less than a year since our last substantial update involving Project Raven, our 1983 Imperial coupe, and we wish we could say we’ve been doing tons of work on the big silver brick…but we haven’t. Mostly because one very key ingredient, the 400ci Chrysler B-series big block that we scored out of a semi-trailer in Indiana, hadn’t been assessed by an engine shop yet…and that needed to happen before any good money went chasing after bad. Our 400ci was rough…as rough as you could expect an engine with stuck pistons, years of degraded oil, and a garden slug living on top of a piston to be. We turned the engine in to a local machine shop last June, but due to the owner/machinist’s health and long waiting list, six months later we elected to move our engine to Knieriem Racing Engines in Louisville, Kentucky on the advice of NMCA racer Andy Warren. Tim Knieriem took the engine in January and scheduled us in. After four long months of waiting, our turn came up, so we made the drive north to sit in on the final teardown, cleaning and checkup of our B-motor.


Ugh…it’s like a bad nightmare. The 400 hadn’t been touched in months, and hadn’t been cleaned any more since I dropped it off at the first shop.


The first item to be removed was the oil pump. Normally, you do not need to remove the cover off of the pump, but after several solid smacks with a hammer, the pump wasn’t budging. It fell apart shortly after the cover came off…and a few more convincing blows with the hammer were dealt out.


The cam. Reading this one was a mixed bag: the lobes were good and there was no abnormal wear to be found, but the bearings told a different story…


The cam bearings gave us our best insight as to our 400’s condition prior to it’s time in the semi-trailer: either it was a sick engine or it had received the beating of a lifetime. This was the worst cam bearing, and two others showed similar damage.


The two stuck freeze plugs were removed…by a professional. Good thing too, as we later figured out.


The stuck lifters were beat out of their resting places…


…and within an hour, what we have left is a stripped bare Chrysler low-deck big block. And brother, it needs a bath, badly.


If you’ve never seen an engine get set up for a hot-tank, you’re in for a surprise. The hot tank itself is basically a gigantic dishwasher, but to get the 400 into the wash bay required stringing it up onto a hook like a dead teenager in a slasher flick. I may have used the phrase, “…’Silence of the Lambs’ kind of sh.. here.”


The engine was treated to the heavy setting for thirty minutes, and we promise you that what’s in that big square tank in front of it is NOT Dawn dish soap. The great big “CAUSTIC” sign said it all.


Clean, rinse, working. Why can’t my home dishwasher be so simple?


The hot tank worked like a charm, but this was only the beginning of the checkup.


Tim rinsed any remaining detergent off of the block, then ran pressurized water through the water jackets to rinse out any sludge or other crap. After that, he air-dried everything, taking care to blast out any bolt holes, nooks and crannies.


It’s prettier now…but it’s still ugly. Time to look at the bad parts.


With the amount of rust in the bores, Tim decided that a quick pass with a bottle brush would probably be best. This knocked down the rust to surface level, making assessment much more accurate than guessing with a look.


While he was at it, he cleaned out the freeze plug ports.


A quick bit of trivia: the top number (3698630) is the casting number for a 400 Chrysler, and the date stamp (11/20/1973) is dead below. The last eight of the vehicle’s VIN is on the other side…which only tells that this block was installed at the Delaware plant. It also means that this is the coveted “thick wall” 400 that is a good, solid start for a 451 or better stroker Mopar.


The pit just beyond the tip of my finger is the biggest problem with this 400. This is Cylinder 4 and that pit is the reason why this block requires a bore. Tim isn’t too sure a .030 bore will be enough, but believes that a .040 bore will do the trick.


But before anything gets bored, with a pit like that a pressure test is a good idea. Finding a pinhole leak in that pit immediately renders the block cost-ineffective for our budget.


Remember that crack earlier about a pro removing the freeze plugs? The only two leaks on the pressure test appeared at two freeze plugs: the center plug on the right bank, and the rear plug on the left bank. Cause: during removal, I scratched the mounting surface. My own damn fault.


Learn from my mistakes: use the right tool, kids. This wasn’t the only damage I inflicted, either…I chipped out part of a cylinder barrel when I was removing the pistons with a sledgehammer. It was a tiny chip at the bottom of the barrel and completely out of the piston travel, but it was there.


So there you have it: we have a useable thick-wall Chrysler 400 block…and that’s about all that’s left. We are assessing what our next step is, but for now, we at least have a block that can be bored if need be.

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8 thoughts on “Project Raven: We Assess The Health Of Our 400 Chrysler Big Block With The Help Of Knieriem Racing Engines

  1. FourCylinderFrenzy

    Alright, a Raven update! And a clean bill of health on the B-block, no less!
    I’m looking forward to seeing it getting stabbed into the engine bay!

  2. Drewstang

    I see you went to Harry’s. Did you get two of the big bottles while you were there? Lol long running joke since the F&F movies.

  3. Tubbed Pacecar

    Bryan: So, what’s the plan? Are you going BIG, like the lads @ Hot Rod Garage did on their Longroof with the 512 CI 400 based stroker, or are you staying a little more conservative ?

  4. jerry z

    You should at least put in a stroker kit. There has to be someone that makes an economical kit. Maybe?

  5. Danny Pease

    I would not attempt to do any machine work until the bock has been magna fluxed and cylinder walls sonic tested.

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