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How to Build Horsepower Volume 1

Book Review

by Ryan King

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The simple truth about building a performance engine is that knowledge is horsepower, and there is a good chance that no one in the world knows as much about building horsepower as David Vizard.

In his book How to Build Horsepower Volume 1, Mr. Vizard explains in great detail, the finer points of performance engine design and assembly. He also explains how and why these factors affect performance, and does so in a refreshingly easy-to-understand and non-techno-babble manner.

I first read this book back in the late '90s, and for me, it was a renaissance in the way I approach designing and building cars. It gave me a very clear understanding that increasing horsepower and improving drivability had less to do with the parts I picked, than with how they were combined and assembled. It also revealed to me that even with the right combination of components assembled, using the best assembly methods, it was for all intents and purposes, impractical to expect the performance increases and driving improvements I was looking for without a complete optimization (read: "tuning") of every aspect of the engine's components, air/fuel ratio, and ignition curve/control.

If that seems like a tall order to fill, it should. However, with his many hours of building, tuning, and testing experience he manages to give a concise overview of engine performance from shortblock assembly to engine air flow, combustion chamber dynamics to tuning, and much more.

The Book


This book really starts with the introduction, which I find unique, especially for a technical manual. Lots of books have introductions that are usually written by some well-known (or more knowledgeable) peer. It is supposed to validate the information in the book, and put it in higher regard for the reader. Instead, Vizard has written his own introduction and with that introduction shows an intelligent insight into the world of building performance engines. He immediately begins to teach the reader, through his own failures — that many of us who have tried to improve the performance or build performance engines can relate to — what it takes to build a high performance engine.

Chapter 1: The Performance Shortblock

The first chapter starts with a brief and helpful description of the chapter (as does every chapter), and introduces the reader to the basic function the shortblock provides before defining the functional design parameters to consider before assembling a shortblock. Vizard then goes on to explain how to design and build a shortblock to fit the reader's needs. This chapter also includes the author's vast oil system design experience concisely written for quick and easy understanding.

Chapter 2: Cylinder Heads

This is where Vizard really starts getting into the nitty-gritty of building power. He does a great job of getting his pragmatic philosophy across as well as explaining the details involved in building power with cylinder heads, whether you are looking for some small, "inexpensive" gains or you are looking to spend thousands on "miracles." He shows the cylinder head as an intricate piece of equipment, made up of many aspects that affect performance. He also shows how those aspects affect performance and what roles they play with the different engine components.

Chapter 3: Camshaft and Valvetrain

If you are a beginning engine designer/builder (or even a seasoned pro that has seen their fair share of dyno pulls), this chapter may contain some of the most important information you ever read. Why? As Vizard explains it, the camshaft is the one and only piece of equipment that dictates nearly every other component in an engine...and even the parts used in the rest of the car. It's his opinion that the camshaft is the place to start when designing an engine and vehicle combination. He's also considered to be an authority on camshaft design by Comp Cams' R&D Director, Scooter Brothers. So, if you are really interested in learning more about camming your engine, I'd recommend this chapter to everyone.

Chapter 4: The Induction System

If you've read this far into the book, you might think that the author can't know more about building an engine, and that the rest of the information is an afterthought. Right up until you start reading this chapter, that is. Here Vizard starts his discussion with a little known fact: although the camshaft dictates every other component used in the engine, the induction system is effected by every other component in the engine. He continues on to explain the hows and whys, and the best way to optimize this complex engine system to make a vehicle as drivable as possible while seeing considerable gains in performance.

Chapter 5: The Ignition System

Vizard has spent many years studying engines and how their different systems impact their power output. Every system. In this chapter, he explains how to choose and then tune an ignition to get as much performance as is possible from an engine. This chapter — along with the chapter on induction — explains how engines that aren't tuned correctly can miss a lot of power and drivability.

Chapter 6: Exhaust System and Headers

In this last chapter, the author takes an interesting — if complex — look at the exhaust system. If you thought exhaust was just a collection of pipes with sound deadening devices called mufflers welded into it, your view will be forever changed. Vizard shows that in reality, the exhaust can be one of the most esoteric systems in a car. He also shows how the exhaust system affects performance, and that if the exhaust isn't optimized to match the engine design, it will directly and negatively impact the drivability and performance of the engine. Of course, he also shows how to optimize the exhaust to an engine design and get the most from the combination.


Along with a Buyer's Guide and other resources to round out the book, Vizard has written what I think is one of the best treatise on engine performance available today. While much of it may require some experience to fully appreciate, the author does a great job of explaining these complex concepts in a straight forward manner. Best of all, he's grounded this information in enough pragmatic philosophy to give the reader a real frame of reference to understand the wealth of information he's gleaned over his years of engine testing and design.

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For more information contact CarTech Books on the web at www.cartechbooks.com, by phone 1.800.551.4754, or by email at info@cartechbooks.com.

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