Choosing a camshaft is one of the most over-thought, over-researched, and over-argued topics. It’s a large expense, and it not only determines your engine’s performance but also what other costs you will need to invest in lifters.
The beauty of the old V-8 Camshafts is that they accept the widest range of variations and modifications. Unless you are going with a stock camshaft, you will need to plan on replacing the valves and springs as well.
You can identify a failing camshaft by several symptoms such as backfiring and popping at low or high RPMs.
Camshafts can be used as an upgrade to get more performance or more fuel economy. There are many aftermarket products available, which makes the shopping process all that more confusing.
Whether you have a damaged camshaft, a worn-out camshaft with 300,000 miles on it, or simply want to get more performance out of your Chevy small block; this list will make it easier to find the best camshaft for your 350 Chevy.
I’m first going to compare several camshafts. If you are getting lost in the terminology, scroll down the article to the buying guide first.
Chevy 350 Engine Variations
Keep in mind that the Chevrolet small-block has gone by different names. Knowing which one you are working on will help you narrow your search. The 350 engine is a 5.7 L volume engine. It first appeared for their high performance 1967 Camaro. Soon, it took over their entire line.
The same basic block design has been used for both their performance cars and their RVs. By changing the interior components, one block design could function for many different uses.
One of the neatest projects I ever worked on was fitting a 350 engine into a Chevy s10. We had to weld extra weight into the back to keep the rear wheels in contact with the ground. That thing was squirrely.
Here are their engine model designations by year:
- L46 1969-1970
- L48 1967-1980
- L65 1970
- LM1 1977-1981
- ZQ3 1969-1974
- LT-1 1970=1972
- L82 1973-1980
- L81 1981
- LS9 1969-1986
- LT9 1981-1986
- L83 1982, 1984
- L98 1985-1992
- L05 1985-1996
- L31 1996-2002
350 Engine Camshafts Comparison
COMP Cams CL12-600-4 (Flat Tappet) Cheap Camshaft
This highly affordable drag racing camshaft lets you unlock the power of some of the older engines. This one uses a flat tappet design, comes in an affordably-priced kit that includes a lifter set, and lets you unlock an amazing about of torque.
What I love about this kit is the higher duration. With a 227/241 duration and .465″ of valve lift, you are getting that maximum lift needed for other-worldly performance.
This gives you that little bit of overlap between power stroke and exhaust phase to get that extremely loud exhaust when running at highway speeds. However, it also gives you that beautiful, deep, thumping idle you are looking for when hanging out at car shows.
This one is designed to fit the 1st gen small block Chevrolet engines, including the 262, 265, 267, 283, 302, 305, 307, 350, and the 400 series. It’s not going to fit the small blocks from 1985 and newer, which use a roller cam design.
You need very few modifications with this camshaft, letting you get more performance out of your engine with very changes to your other engine specifications.
Thumpr Cams have over 30 years in the industry. They are well respected, and if you are ever looking to resell your project, this is one of those brand names that will make folks willing to pay more.
There are a few variations, but I like the Thumpr kit that is designed for an RPM range from 2,000 to 5,800 RPM. This model gives you some of the best performance over different RPM operating ranges. They also have the Mutha’ Thumpr and Big Mutha’ Thumpr if you want to shift that power output to the higher RPM ranges.
It also has that all-American Made In The USA quality you want to see.
If you have an aged beauty that you can’t wait to bring to life, this is the camshaft I would choose.
Edelbrock 2102 Performer Plus Camshafter and Lifter Kit
Most of us are either going with the Holley or Edelbrock carburetors. It makes sense to also get the same brand of camshaft. When you resell your project, these brand names help sell buyers on your new project. In fact, Edelbrock suggests going with their performer intake #2101 alongside this camshaft for the complete power package. Pairing these gives you a pretty phenomenal 330 foot-pounds of torque from 2,000 to 4,400 RPMs.
This hydraulic flat tappet camshaft is designed to deliver the best torque from the low-end to mid-range, making it perfect for the daily driver that needs a lot of acceleration at highway speeds.
One of this model’s unique features is the intake duration of 278 degrees and an exhaust duration of 288 degrees. This is extremely aggressive for a model that has most of the power at the lower end.
If you have a Gen 1 small block chevy (pre-1985) that you are overhauling, this model will give you extreme power at the RPMS where you spend most of your time at.
This is one of the least aggressive upgrades that you can go with. It means that you don’t need a new torque converter or that you need to replace the heads. All of the stock compression ratios will operate perfectly with this option.
However, you still get that extra performance that gives you a cheesy grin as you cruise past newer model Challengers on your way to work.
COMP Cams 08-422-8 Roller Cam – Best Hydraulic Roller Cam
Most of the small block Chevys use a flat tappet design. However, as we get to 1985 and newer engines, the Gen 1 models would come with the improved Roller Tappet design. This Cam and lifter kit fills a massive need in the niche.
This one is designed for performance. Depending on the model you purchase, you can get the daily driver 1,900-5,600 RPM range, or go with a high-end 3,200-6,200 RPM range for hot rods.
You will get some of the best performance with this model when combined with any aftermarket intakes. You also get greater lift and duration over the stock option, which helps increase your vacuum strength, improving your braking and performance.
Your idle and performance are going to vary with the model you buy. If you want that loping idle and high-end scream, go for the more aggressive model.
It’s all basically the same camshaft, designed for easy replacement on models that came with roller lifters as original equipment.
Guardian SB Chevy Hi Performance RV Cam And Lifter Kit For Trucks
The Chevy 350 was commonly used in light-duty trucks, and many of them are on the market, waiting for an overhaul.
The old RV campers are especially great. Give their insides a little tuneup, and you have a one-of-a-kind camper.
This camshaft is designed to unlock that low-speed torque that your engine has been lacking. This lets you get up to highway speed faster — even when hauling a full load. You’ll get the peak output from 2,000 to 6,500 RPM, providing one of the widest powerbands.
This one is going to need a high idle around 2,500 RPM to prevent stalling. You get a rough idle lope, but solid performance when you need it.
To improve your performance off the line, I’d also recommend installing a stall converter. This torque converter upgrade will help unlock that new power of this engine regardless of whether you are using a manual transmission or automatic.
It’s easy to get focused on improving the engine. However, the proper drivetrain components will let you get that power to the rear wheels.
You won’t have a steady manifold vacuum at idle to provide braking because of the loping idle. However, you should have about 5 pounds of vacuum at full speed, depending on the intake manifold.
This kit includes the valve lifters, making it an easy upgrade for folks who want to do mild-bracket racing or unlock their truck’s power.
Tools You Will Need
Camshaft Bearing Insertion and Removal Tool
The camshaft sits on bearings that should be replaced at the same time that the camshaft is. Because of the engine’s length, you need a long pole that will let you slide the bearings into place and seat them flush.
This Chevy Small bloc bearing insertion and removal kit makes it easy to get the bearings in without jamming them in crookedly and scoring the engine block.
You will also need a harmonic balancer pully if you are removing the main engine flywheel, and you will need to purchase a new timing chain kit with its seals.
Understanding Camshaft Numbers
You are about to see a lot of numbers that don’t make sense. Here is how to understand camshaft notation.
The powerband refers to the RPMs at which the engine will produce the most power. If you get your peak power only from 6,000 to 8,000 RPM, that would be a narrow powerband.
Vehicles that you are mostly running around town provide a more satisfying response when you can begin to access their peak power around 3,000 RPM.
Endurance racing tends to hang out around 4,000 RPMs, depending on the cooling system you are running.
The first two numbers are generally provided as 227/241. This refers to how long a valve is held open — or the duration. The first number is for the intake, and the second number is for the exhaust. You’ll notice that camshafts designed for a higher RPM powerband will have a longer opening time for both the intake and the exhaust valves. Shorter durations are good for when you need low-speed torque (such as hauling heavy loads).
When you go to a duration of 240
How quickly a valve switches from closed to open is referenced as the “lift rate.” This is one of the big determining factors when shopping. Most high-performance engines will use a camshaft that lifts the valve as quickly as possible, holds it open for as long as possible (duration), and then drops it closed as quickly as possible.
This refers to how high the camshaft pushes up on the valve-train. The more the valves are lifted, the more air and fuel can be drawn into the cylinder, and the faster the exhaust can be pushed out. An aggressive lift may need an improved valve train and different lifters.
Flat Tappet Vs. Roller Tappet Camshafts
There are a few advantages with the roller camshaft design that makes me partial to it. For one, it is designed to open the valve more quickly and to hold it open for a longer duration. So there some clear performance advantages that come with the roller tappet design.
The hydraulic roller tappets also need less lubrication and work better in sub-par lubrication scenarios.
The key thing is that your lifters need to be matched to your camshaft type. A roller tappet cam uses a roller lifter that rides over the lobe.
A flat tappet cam would dig into the cam, and it would be ruined almost instantly.
So be sure to get roller lifters to go with a roller tappet camshaft.
GM and Ford switched to the hydraulic roller lifter design in the ’80s. Most Chevy rebuilds are done on older engines and require the older, flat-tappet design.
Shopping Based On Use Type
There are three broad categories to choose from. Some manufacturers get extremely detailed on their sub-categories, which is great if you have a lot of money and want to drag race. My family over at PMR Drag Race Builders are experts on these nuances and help their paying customers figure out what is best for each type of racing.
Street camshafts are designed to deliver the widest power band. This allows you to start getting that peak performance at a lower RPM.
These also tend to be easier on the engine and require fewer modifications to the valve train.
The lobe separation is wider and runs from about 112-118 degrees. This provides a smoother idle. The lift is generally under .550″.
The duration of these is shorter, generally under 230 degrees.
These tend to be the most economical option.
Drag Racing Cams
With these, you are going to be pushing the limits. There are a lot of neat lobe designs. These will deliver insane power, but it can be harder on your valve-train and may require more frequent valve-train repair.
The lobe separation is tighter in the 106-110 degree range for that engine lope sound at Idle.
The valve lift can be absolutely insane on these, going up to .900″!
You will also see a longer duration as the valves are kept open longer, with durations above 290 degrees.
There is a narrower powerband on these drag racing designs that unlock the full power at the higher RPMs.
Endurance refers to using the engine for long stretches under heavy load. Good examples would be aircraft (there are a few designs that use a short block Chevy), marine, and circle track or road racing. Endurance camshafts tend to have a wider powerband than drag setups so that peak power can be accessed over more RPM variation, and they also tend to be roller tappets for better durability over a longer period.
The lobe separation is quite varied and can range from 106-114 degrees.
The other part of this is investing in a bulletproof valve-train so it can handle the longer, 4,000+ RPM pace for longer periods.