A Gallery of Well-Dressed and Well-Disguised Crate Engines
Lead Image: The team at Mike Goldman Customs did an impressive dress-up job on the Whipple-supercharged LS7 engine from Mast Motorsports in Sonny Freeman’s ’65 Chevelle. Custom valve covers, a one-off air intake, polished supercharger, and lots of custom paint and polish (not to mention handmade engine bay panels) give this LS a truly distinctive look.
As crate engines have become more ubiquitous in hot rodding, one common critique has been the belly-button nature of their appearance. We have to agree that a typical crate engine may lack some points in the appearance department. And it can get pretty boring peeking under the hoods of different cars and trucks at events and seeing the same from-the-factory intakes, coil packs, coil covers, and other modern OEM-style equipment.
Thankfully, hot rodders are a creative and innovative bunch and have come up with a wide range of ways to dress up, disguise, and enhance modern crate engines to make them look at home in vintage hot rods, trucks, and muscle cars. From readily available aftermarket accessories and dress-up parts, to one-off fabricated components and pieces, the country’s top builders have shown a lot of ingenuity in making these engines look as good as they run.
To illustrate what can be done to make these new, modern engines look the hot rod part, we thought we’d share some cool examples we’ve recently seen. We hope they’ll serve as inspiration and spark some ideas on how you might personalize your own.
Modern Hemi crate engines don’t have as many dress-up components as the other brands, but you can still find some cool valve covers to fit the modern coil-on-plug ignition setup. Rutterz Rodz took it one step further by making a custom set of early 354 Hemi covers to provide a taste of heritage to the Hellcat crate engine in Doyle Thomas’ first-gen Charger. Also, note how painting the air cleaner assembly and fluid reservoirs helped hide the modern accessory components so your focus is on the supercharger flanked by the old-school valve covers.
The Ford 4.6L modular motor doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention these days, but they’re great engines and can be made to look good under a classic hood with a little vision. For Glenn Black’s custom ’49 Merc, Ironworks Speed & Kustom worked their magic to match the stylized exterior metal work. Two things jump right out: the stack induction system from Imagine Injection surrounded by the custom valve covers (and again, remote-mounted coil packs). The careful attention to the braided plug wires and radiator hoses really adds to the overall engine detail.
Rodney Palla’s ’51 Olds is an excellent example of using paint, valve covers, and a traditional-style intake to make a modern crate engine look at home in a vintage car. Rodney wanted his Grandmother’s Olds to be quick and reliable, so he opted for a Don Hardy-built LS engine. To retain the Old’s original vibe, the team at Sic Chops had EVOD build custom Rocket valve covers, then modified an oil-bath air cleaner to fit over a Holley throttle body. The black Billet Specialties Tru-Trac system is low and unobtrusive, while the glass washer fluid reservoir, oil fill tube, and hidden wiring all add up to a clean, classic-appearing engine compartment.
Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop wanted to keep an OEM vibe on George Poteet’s survivor ’66 Nova, so they used an LS Classics crate LS3 that keeps the look of the vintage 327c.i. V8. The setup includes valve cover adapters allowing the use of 327 covers, along with a valley pan fit with a front oil fill tube. Look behind the chrome dual-snorkel air cleaner and notice the distributor? It’s actually a pass-through for the remote-mounted coils. The aluminum intake is fitted with port fuel injection and uses Holley EFI controls. A nice added detail is the vintage Frigidaire decal on the A/C compressor.
George Poteet had owned his ’57 Ford Custom for many years before handing it over to Roadster Shop to transform it into a cross-country driver with an original-style appearance. As much as Ford fans will cringe, you have to admit that the LS3 looks the part thank to the crew at RS. The fake distributor and horizontally mounted coil, T-bird valve covers, and the Holman-Moody air cleaner assembly all scream Ford when you glance under the hood. The radiator fill and wiper fluid bag on the fenderwell help drive home the Ford vibe.
Thanks to a set of adapters from Hollywood Hot Rods, the Coyote engine in Tom Agostino’s Ford Tudor is often mistaken for a vintage SOHC 427c.i. big block! Sure, the cams are placed over the valves, but that’s about where the similarities in the two engines end. The point here is how a pair of valve covers can change the look of a modern engine. Of course, the Whipple Supercharger, custom firewall air intake, and snake-like headers that Divers Street Rods custom built certainly add to the entire engine package.
For Vic Buraglio’s ’69 Charger, the team at BBT Fabrications went to work on the modern 426 Hemi from Indy Cylinder Heads to match the updated style and fab work they painstakingly built into the Dodge. The first step was to remove the dual plug coils and run black plug wires under the Hilborn stack-style intake, which adds a touch nostalgia from the early factory experimental and match-racing days. Careful attention to what gets plated, painted, or remains natural makes a big difference.