ProCharged 540 cid Big Block Chevy Engine - Engine Builder Magazine

ProCharged 540 cid Big Block Chevy Engine

Prior to Sick Week 2024, we saw photos of Big 3 Racing co-owner Chuck Stefanski’s wagon, a 1981 Chevy Malibu rebodied as with LeMans parts, getting finishing touches, including an awesome ProCharged 540 cid big block Chevy engine. Check it out!

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There’s just something about wagons that hit different. And, if that wagon is anything like the one Chuck Stefanski of Big 3 Racing competes in drag-and-drive events with, it’s certified badass. Prior to Sick Week 2024, we saw photos of Stefanski’s wagon, a 1981 Chevy Malibu, getting the finishing touches before making the trek from Big 3 Racing’s HQ in Hinckley, OH, just outside of Cleveland, all the way down to Florida for Sick Week. Since photos don’t always do a car justice, we knew Chuck was someone we wanted to catch up with – not only because his Malibu wagon was badass, but because it features a ProCharged 540 cid big block Chevy engine!

Big 3 Racing wagon
This 1981 Chevy Malibu wagon got rebodied with LeMans parts to appease Stefanski’s Pontiac fandom.

The first thing you might notice about Stefanski’s Malibu wagon are the Pontiac logos. That’s because Chuck, as a Pontiac fan, rebodied it with LeMans parts and even had custom Pontiac valve covers made. On day two of Sick Week, when competitors were tackling Bradenton Motorsports Park, we happened to be right near the Big 3 Racing pit area as Chuck was just returning from the dragstrip after running an impressive 7.59 at 180 mph, which included a 1.20-second 60-foot and a 4.92 at 148 mph in the eighth.

“It was my new personal best,” Stefanski told us. “The plan is to go 6s at over 200 mph. I just have to tame it down under 7.50 this week due to my license.”

big block Chevy engine

Helping Chuck throw down those impressive numbers just days after completing the wagon is a ProCharged 540 cid big block Chevy engine, which features a World block, a Winberg billet center-counterweighted crank, aluminum rods and pistons from Wiseco, Trick Flow cylinder heads, Crower rockers, Brian Tooley Racing valvetrain components and a solid roller camshaft, BAM lifters, Manton 7/16ths pushrods, and an Edelbrock intake with a Shear Fab intercooler intake plenum. The engine is controlled by Holley EFI.

We built it in-house at Big 3 Racing,” Stefanski says. “Out front we have a ProCharger F3-112 that’s making about 23-lbs. of boost right now, which isn’t a whole lot because we’re keeping it tame. We should be right around 2,100 horsepower to the tires. When we had it on the dyno, it made 1,400 horsepower on about 16-lbs. of boost at 7,000 rpm. I spin it right around 8,000 rpm. With that difference, plus the amount of fuel I’m using, it should be right around 2,100 hp.”

big block Chevy engine

Chuck’s wagon runs 93-octane fuel while street driving, and then makes a switch to race E85 for the track. Aside from the well-built big block Chevy, another feature that contributes to the badassery of Stefanski’s wagon are the wicked headers. According to Chuck, fabricating those was a chore.

“We got all the materials from Stainless Works and we built them in-house,” he says. “We probably have 40-50 hours in them. It’s almost like building two sets of headers in one, so it was a lot of work.”

big block Chevy engine

While some of the build on the wagon took a lot of work prior to competition, when Chuck and his team are racing, they want things to be simple and smooth – or as simple and smooth as possible.

“The engine is pretty simple because we wanted to be able to bring extra parts with us and have stuff readily available,” he says. “That’s kind of why we picked the big block Chevrolet – you can go anywhere and it’s very simple to get parts out on the road because parts break.”

Big 3 Racing wagon

Helping the big block Chevy engine put power to the wheels is a Power Glide transmission and a 258mm Perfect converter that was custom spec’d for a carbon driveshaft, which goes back to a custom 9” rear end. For suspension, the wagon boasts Viking coilovers all the way around. The chassis is a 6.50 cert chassis from After Hours Fab & Performance.

“It’s still a heavy vehicle,” Stefanski admits. “It’s 3,560-lbs. with me in it, so it’s not a light vehicle by any means. We have four seats in it, so I have three crew members with me, no trailer, so everything either goes in it or I have a very big, elaborate, tall roof rack that’s all tied into the cage.”

big block Chevy engine

Overall, Chuck says he and his team put the wagon together in seven days before coming down to Florida.

“I got it back from the chassis guy, did all the suspension work and I completely rewired the car, replumbed the car, had the heads back off of it because we had to modify the head for the pushrod with a new rocker set up on it, so in about seven days we had it all back together,” he says.

Between street mode and race mode, Chuck says it takes about 90 minutes to change the wagon over, and at times it can be a lot of work. But, when you knock off runs that set a new personal best, it makes it all worth the effort, and there’s still plenty meat on the bone, so-to-speak.

big block Chevy engine

“The car has been running great, especially with that 7.59 pass today,” he says. “The plan is to maybe even on Friday work on getting my two license passes, after I get a secured time. Once I get that, when the summer comes around, I can work on actually dialing that in. I might have to lose a little bit of weight on the car, but I think even in this weight we can get really close. If not, I don’t mind shedding a few more pounds out of the car. It’s steel doors and a lot of factory glass in it, so it’s pretty hefty.”

For Sick Week 2024, Chuck ran in the Unlimited Iron class, and ran ETs of 7.84 at 147 mph, 7.59 at 180 mph, 7.76 at 173 mph. 7.72 at 170 mph, and 7.69 at 183 mph for a five-day average of 7.724 at 170 mph. That was enough for fourth place in the class. Despite that nice performance, there’s definitely room for improvements and faster ETs at the ready out of Chuck’s wagon, and it’ll be that ProCharged 540 cid big block Chevy helping him set future personal bests.

Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade1Elring – Das Original and NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected].

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