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I pick up nearly every issue of Mopar Muscle when I can. My wife gives me that "what do you think you're gonna build now" look every time we're at the local Barnes

6 Noble. Anyway, I have a '92 Dodge Dakota that I got from my father-in-law about

7 years ago. It started out rough; it wasn't running well, it had bad brakes, and the check engine light kept coming on. After a year or two of my own labor, I have managed to replace the brakes in front and rear (including rotors and wheel bearings), removed the old exhaust system including catalytic converter, which was full of holes, and replaced every belt, hose, and engine sensor. It now runs fine and without that idiot light coming on.

I would now love to race this thing. I started racing at a local Vs-mile dragstrip near Santee, California. The truck has the original 5.2L Magnum EFI engine with about 195,000 miles on it, and a stock A518 Chrysler transmission. It does 10.5 seconds in the V8 mile with a race weight of about 3,850 pounds. The engine compression is a tad low across all 8 cylinders and is especially low on cylinder four.

What I have as a goal is to get this thing to just under 13.00 seconds in the Vi-mile. I figure I will need about 310 to 320 Flywheel horsepower to get me there, as well as getting the rear wheels to hook up better. I plan for a 2,400 to 2,800 stall converter, a 3.90 rear gear set, and some CalTrac bars.

I would like to get the engine out and have it re-ringed, then have some mild performance parts added. But that's a problem for me since I'm in California. Everything has to have either a California Air Resources Board "Executive Order" (EO) number or not require one. That means I have to stick with the stupid beer barrel-style intake manifold and the awful stock Magnum heads. I did, however, find a set of Hooker Headers with 15/8-inch primaries that does have an EO number for my make, year and model of truck. (Hooker part number 5008).

Do you have any suggestions of low-budget, CARB-approved, items that I can have installed on my engine while my shop does the re-ring job? Or other machining tips to improve engine performance?

Dan, Via email

With a goal of keeping the truck smog legal your job becomes more complicated. I think overall your plan looks good, and should get you where you want to go. The production Magnum heads are actually pretty good, and can be ported, but you might do even better to get a set of Engine Quest replacement Magnums. These iron heads are sold as replacements, and are used for that purpose on non-performance rebuilds everyday to replace the crack-prone stock heads. I would probably recommend boring the engine out and replacing the pistons for a zero piston deck height for more compression, and sticking with a conventional ring. You can go with an upgraded cam and if you keep the duration under 220-degrees at .050, it should be clean enough to pass the test. Headers are definitely good too.

Another thought that will help you achieve your goal might be to modify the stock intake manifold by cutting back the runners inside, and porting the intake. A final modification to consider is a stroker crank. This will increase the cubic inches big-time, and what they can't see would be pretty hard to detect.

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