Running Shine with a Bootlegger Cam
Words And Photos by Richard Holdener
The camshaft is the heart and soul of any performance engine, and no one knew this better than the bootleggers of the Prohibition era. For those 20-somethings out there who might not know what bootleggers are and why they were so bad ass, a quick trip to Wiki is in order, but here’s the condensed version. Back in 1920, the 18th Amendment officially ushered in the prohibition era. Contrary to popular belief, the consumption of alcohol was never made illegal. Instead, prohibition dealt with the supply side, including the manufacturing, sale and (most important for our story) transportation of alcohol.
The demand was high in the roaring 20’s and early 30’s right up until the 21st amendment abolished prohibition in 1933. During this 13-year period, the hills rang out with the sound of bootleggers roaring through the back roads with trunk loads of moonshine to help supply the hoards of thirsty Americans. To keep their junk in the trunk out of the hands of the boys in blue, naturally, bootleggers embraced performance camshafts. Just like their bottles of shine, all the performance they needed came wrapped and delivered in a neat wooden box. For bootleggers, the right cam might just be the difference between a trunk load of happy customers and a night in the slammer.
Lunati’s Bootlegger Camshafts have successfully captured the outlaw spirit and performance of these pioneering hot rodders. According their literature, the Bootlegger grind is said to be the most powerful series of street performance cams ever produced by Lunati. Designed to out-perform the already powerful Voodoo cams, the Bootlegger series combined even faster opening with controlled closing ramp rates to further increase area under the lift curve. These lobes were then configured with a tight 108-degree lobe separation angle (LSA) and a 104-degree intake centerline. This combination netted not only impressive performance but a sound quality that let everyone know your motor means business. Thanks to a thoroughly modern cam profile, the Bootlegger cam series offered all the attitude with plenty of low- and mid-range power, not to mention daily drivability. That every Bootlegger came shipped in a wood-look cam box (just like back in the day) was just icing on the cool cake.
So far everything looked and sounded great on paper, but there was only one way to really test the new Bootlegger cams, we had to install one in an engine. As luck would have it, we had a perfect candidate in the form of a GMPP 383 crate motor, or more specifically a 383 short block. Designed as a hot rod power plant destined for street use, the 383 was just begging for the right performance cam. It is (almost) always possible to add power with wilder cam timing, but the key to any successful build is to install not the biggest, but rather the best camshaft for your given application.
Huge power numbers are possible with a race-only 383 stroker using the right combination of components (including the camshaft), but we were looking for something different with this 383 short block. Given its daily driver status, we went for a more streetable combination and this included our cam choice. What we wanted was a cam that offered more power and drivability but still rumbled like the Duntov 30-30 of yesteryear.
Since our street/strip 383 was skewed toward the street side of the equation, we chose the cam accordingly. For small block Chevys (also offered for BBC and SBF), the new Bootlegger cams were offered in hydraulic flat-tappet, retro-ft and standard hydraulic roller configurations. Since our 383 was equipped to accept a hydraulic roller stick, we chose the Lunati part number XXX12224HRK. This complete kit included not only the cam, but the hydraulic roller lifters, timing chain and even a valve spring upgrade for use with the high-lift, hydraulic-roller cam profile.
The Bootlegger cam offered .554 lift (both intake and exhaust), a 224/236-degree duration split and afore-mentioned 108-degree LSA. The mild intake duration specs and 12-degree duration split between intake and exhaust joined forces with the tight LSA to offer the ideal combination of power, drivability and aggressive sound quality. The Bootlegger cam and supplied hydraulic roller lifters were installed along with the double roller timing chain. Additional valve train components included a set of aluminum roller rockers and hardened pushrods.
With our Bootlegger short block ready to run some shine, it was time to complete the motor and officially make some noise. Topping the 383 was a set of Holley aluminum heads, Weiand Street Dominator intake and Holley 650 Ultra Street Hp carb. The components were chosen to work well with the new cam profile. The flow rate of the heads and dual-plane intake were designed to optimize power production up to 6,000 rpm, making them ideally suited for use on the Bootlegger 383. We finished off the motor with an MSD billet distributor and set of 1 ¾-inch dyno headers.
Before installing the distributor, we filled the pan with 5 quarts of 30W Driven (break-in) oil and primed the system to ensure oil supply to all the lifters and rockers. We then performed a final lash adjustment (1/4-1/2 turn preload) and proceeded with our computer-controlled break-in procedures. After dialing in the jetting and timing (34 degrees), we were rewarded with peak numbers of 439 hp at 5,800 rpm and 469 lb-ft of torque at 4,100. Torque production exceeded 450 lb-ft from 3,300 rpm to 4,800 rpm, making for one sweet torque curve. The impressive power was combined with zippy throttle response and a healthy idle quality that let everyone know the driver of this Bootlegger 383 might just be sporting a little junk in the trunk.