Building Engines at Home With Roadkill’s Freiburger and Finnegan


Racers, start your engines! One thing first, though—build them! If you’ve been following David Freiburger’s Instagram and watching MotorTrend Working from Home, you know he’s been cleaning out his garage packed full of engine parts and memorabilia while we’ve all been in quarantine. Along the way, he decided to assemble a 350 small-block Chevy, dubbed COVID 350, out of the treasure trove of parts he has stashed away. Well, now Mike Finnegan is challenging him to a build-off! Finnegan has a fresh, ported head and long tube header he wants to bolt on to the engine of the 1985 Toyota mini truck he picked up in episode 104 of Roadkill, and he wants to see if he can get his engine started before Freiburger can get some fire in the cylinders of the COVID 350!

What Is the COVID 350 Engine?

Keen-eyed and longtime viewers of Roadkill will remember back in episode 36 when Finnegan and Freiburger used the original Muscle Truck to tow a boat to Lake Elsinore, California, there was a fully assembled 350 small-block sitting in the corner of Finnegan’s shop. It last ran in 2008, then sat and sat for years. They tried to sell it, but no one bit and parts from it were taken off to be used on Engine Masters and other things Freiburger can’t remember. Now, it’s just an unloved short-block waiting for something to happen to it, and while Freiburger has been cleaning out his garage during quarantine, he’s decided to finally do something with it!

He has so many parts hoarded in his garage, Freiburger is confident he can build a fully assembled and fire-up-able engine with just the junk he has sitting around! And who would have guessed it, he had plenty of options! Hydraulic or solid cam? Ported or non-ported heads? Three balancers, a dozen intakes, too many camshafts to count, and all the accessories and fasteners to make it all happen! Freiburger only had to buy a set of valvespring seats and a cam button to get everything together—all the other parts were in his garage or his storage unit a few miles away.

Freiburger polled his Engine Masters co-hosts, Steve Dulcich and Steve Brule, asking their opinions about how much power the COVID 350 will make. All three agree it will make its peak power between 6,100 and 6,200 rpm. Dulcich thinks it will make 475 hp, Brule thinks 485 hp, and Freiburger is the most optimistic at 495 hp. We’ll have to wait until the COVID 350 makes its debut on Engine Masters to find out. Keep an eye out on Roadkill Garage as well; this punch of pure beef is most likely going into Freiburger’s 1956 Chevy 210.

Rebuilding the Top End on a 1985 Toyota Mini Truck

Mike Finnegan has admitted he has a mini-truck problem, and now he’s admitting that his mini truck has problems, too. The truck was picked up at the same time he bought the 1971 Ford Torino Wagon with a 12-valve Cummins swap in episode 104 of Roadkill. The 1985 Toyota came with some speed parts, twin side-draft Webers, short tube Headman exhaust manifold, and a hot LC Engineering recurve distributor. Unlike most Roadkill vehicles, however, this thing was cherry…ish. The interior is very nice, the paint is clean, the airbags work, but the bolts holding on the carbs are barely there and the nuts on the exhaust are nowhere to be found. That might be why it only ran 18 seconds dead at 68 mph against the Torino.

Finnegan has help, too! David Newbern from Faster With Finnegan is helping out with the top-end rebuild. The mini truck came with more than just the speed parts already in place on the engine, Finnegan got an LC Engineering ported head, “shmedium” cam, and long tube header that he’s hoping will add 50 percent more power to the 22R engine. But, as Finnegan and Newbern tear into the engine, they realize the mini truck might be more Roadkill than they thought. Once the valve cover comes off, the dreaded oil and water sludge is found in every nook and cranny. Finnegan chalks this up to “condensation.” Really, it was a blown head gasket.

After a difficult disassembly, Finnegan and Newbern are ready to start bolting on the new parts. But it’s going to take a few days for the new head bolts to come in, so they might as well swap in a new clutch. Then they decided they didn’t have the time to change the clutch. When the new head bolts finally came in, Finnegan and Newbern had some difficulties getting the engine back together. Finnegan’s enormous degree wheel from Comp Cams is just small enough to fit between the frame rails of the Toyota, making the guys second guess their decision not to pull the engine before the rebuild. If they aren’t careful, they’ll drop the cam gear into the crank case (they already dropped it during disassembly) while putting in the new adjustable timing set. And when it came time to bolt up that new long-tube header, there was a lot of “massaging” to get it to fit and clear the added suspension brackets.

Four days into their respective builds, Freiburger took some time to reflect on the challenges both teams faced (not that Freiburger had any help, unless you count his cat) while enjoying the “tasty” snack of a peanut butter and olive burrito. Sure, Freiburger has twice as many heads to deal with and half as many hands to do the work, but Finnegan and Newbern keep running into issue after issue. The COVID 350 build has only taken Freiburger this long because he’s filming, doing the lighting, setting up audio, and doing all the assembly at the same time. With a full production crew, he could have built the 350 in only two days. He thinks he has a real chance of getting the 350 started before Finnegan and Newbern can smoke the tire (yes, it’s only a one-wheeler), but he still has to put together that engine testing stand. So who makes it to the finish line first?

The COVID 350: Freiburger’s Small-Block Engine Build Details

  • Stock GM Cast 350 Block
  • Stock GM 3.48-inch stroke crankshaft
  • Probe +0.030 forged pistons
  • H-beam connecting rods
  • Comp Cams solid cam; Duration (intake, exhaust) – 242 , 248; Lift – 0.570, 0.576; Lobe separation – 110 degrees
  • Comp Cams solid roller lifters
  • Lunati double roller timing set
  • Milodon machined aluminum timing cover
  • Pioneer damper
  • BluePrint Engines 210cc ported heads
  • 1.65:1 roller rocker arms
  • Vintage Weiand tunnel ram intake
  • Twin QFT 450cfm four-barrel tunnel ram carburetors with velocity stacks
  • Moroso stamped steel valve covers
  • Moroso oil pan
  • MSD Digital E-Curve distributor
  • Mezier electric water pump (from Freiburger’s Bonneville racer)
  • Old, rusty long tube headers (also from Freiburger’s Bonneville racer)

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