I have a small block Chevy in a ’66 Chevy II that seems to run pretty good but now I’m not so sure. It’s a 383 small block with a set of no-name aluminum heads, a Lunati hydraulic flat tappet Voodoo cam (227/233 degrees at 0.050 inches with 0.489/0.504-inch lift), a Performer RPM intake, and a 650 cfm Holley carburetor. The engine runs fine – doesn’t misfire or do anything funny  but I am concerned that it seems to stop pulling once the tach gets above 5,000 rpm. The ignition is an HEI with good Moroso wires and new spark plugs. The motor has been in the car for several years but about a year ago we changed to that Lunati Voodoo cam. It just seems like it lays down in high gear. Any ideas?


Jeff Smith: One of the challenges of the whole hot rodding hobby/sport is that there are literally millions of combinations of parts from which to choose. With hundreds of companies making thousands of parts, the permutations of just cylinder heads, camshafts, intakes, and compression ratios becomes a blur of options. So it’s not surprising that you may have difficulties.

But I have some possible solutions.

You didn’t mention whether you were feeding the engine with a mechanical or electrical fuel pump. I’ll assume that the pump is probably mechanical. First thing to do is to check the fuel filter for obstructions. The fuel filter is often an afterthought and cheap, restrictive filters can reduce output from the pump. The pump may be capable of supplying fuel for low rpm and part throttle operation but at higher rpm, there is insufficient fuel pressure and volume due to a filter restriction, so start with that inspection first. Your 650 cfm Holley is big enough that it’s not really a restriction with regard to airflow.

The best way to check for adequate fuel flow is to install a fuel pressure gauge in between the pump and the carburetor and upstream of the fuel filter. This does not have to be an expensive Auto Meter gauge permanently mounted on the cowl – although this is a good idea. Instead, you could borrow or buy an inexpensive fuel pressure/vacuum gauge and plumb it into your fuel delivery system. Use a long length of rubber hose and place the gauge on the cowl where you can read it while driving. I’ve actually duct taped gauges to the lower portion of the windshield when doing diagnostic work like this. Next, run the car somewhere safe where you can make multiple passes past 5,000 rpm and monitor the gauge. Decent fuel pressure for a carburetor is 4 to 6 psi. It’s possible that at the higher engine speeds the pressure will begin to drop. If it falls below 3.5 psi, it’s possible that you’ve found the problem. Holley and several other companies make really good mechanical fuel pumps for a small-block. For example, Holley offers an 80 gallon per hour (gph) mechanical pump (PN 12-834) that will deliver more than enough fuel for our application. This pump should be able to easily supply 4.5 to perhaps 6 psi at WOT while supplying more than enough fuel volume.

If after checking fuel pressure you learn that your existing pump is working just fine, then we have another suggestion.

To be more accurate we would need more information on the valve springs and cylinder heads. But with an emphasis on the budget aspect, often these heads come with valve springs that are not up to the task of controlling the valves at high rpm. This is aggravated somewhat by the Lunati Voodoo camshaft. The Voodoo line offers great performance from a relatively short duration. Lunati accomplishes this by being fairly aggressive with the rate at which the intake and exhaust lobes open the valves. The Lunati description for this cam is “Makes unequaled power to 6,200 rpm with proper valve springs.” The key here is the connection to the valve springs.

ASK-02-02Our experience with the Voodoo line underscores this load on the valve springs. You didn’t mention if you were running stock 1.5:1 ratio rockers. If so, that’s fine, but with 1.6:1 rockers, the additional ratio puts even greater forces on the springs because the rocker accelerates the valve even faster to achieve the greater lift. A combination of weak valve springs with a Voodoo cam and 1.6:1 roller rockers could easily cause the problem you are experiencing. Most guys would call this valve float. What they don’t tell you is how to fix this. That’s what we’re going to do.

The most accurate definition of valve float is when the spring loses control of the valve. When this happens, the first indication is when the intake valve bounces off the seat as it closes. This may not sound like a big deal, but the results will kill power. When the valve bounces off its seat, this occurs at the same time that the piston is rising in the bore and creating cylinder pressure. But when the valve bounces off the seat, it allows some of this pressure to escape. The reason the valve bounces is because the spring cannot exert enough load to keep the valve closed. When the valves bounce off the seat multiple times, the engine loses power and often can’t even achieve the rpm. This is classic valve float. Of course, the end result is a dramatic loss of power.

The most common fix for this problem is a stiffer valve spring, especially if the existing springs are on the weak side. What you should do is remove one spring and have it tested at a local machine shop. This will tell you the status of your springs. Stock replacement valve springs generally do not produce much more than about 90 to perhaps 100 pounds of seat load with an installed height of 1.750-inch. For a stock or mild performance cam, this is sufficient load. But with a performance camshaft like the Voodoo cam even Lunati’s base replacement spring is rated at only 98 pounds with at a 1.750-inch installed height and 286 pounds of force at 0.500-inch valve lift. My guess is that this spring will probably not work as well as something with a little more closed pressure, especially if the plans call for a 1.6:1 rocker. While a dual spring could do the job, this often places excessive load on the cam at peak lift. Instead, Lunati recommends using its new line of Signature Series Ovate Beehive springs. The complete valve spring and retainer kit (PN 74818K2) includes new beehive springs, retainers, and the necessary locks all under one part number.

This beehive spring offers a substantial increase in seat load from the previous spring’s 98 pounds at 1.750 to the beehive’s 130 pounds at a taller 1.800. Now that we know how valve float starts, perhaps you can see that a spring with essentially 30 percent more seat load will have a much better chance of keeping that intake valve closed at higher engine speeds. There are other added benefits to using a beehive spring but in the interest of brevity, we’ll save that discussion for another time. Changing over to the better valve springs will probably be the thing that will improve your engine’s performance and bring your small block back to life!


Author: Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith has had a passion for cars since he began working at his grandfather's gas station at the age 10. After graduating from Iowa State University with a journalism degree in 1978, he combined his two passions: cars and writing. Smith began writing for Car Craft magazine in 1979 and became editor in 1984. In 1987, he assumed the role of editor for Hot Rod magazine before returning to his first love of writing technical stories. Since 2003, Jeff has held various positions at Car Craft (including editor), has written books on small block Chevy performance, and even cultivated an impressive collection of 1965 and 1966 Chevelles. Now he serves as a regular contributor to OnAllCylinders.