"Tech Papers" by panic
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Planning a Nitrous Motor

    Constructing a serious motor for nitrous use requires different priorities than a normally-aspirated motor. Here I will touch on some of the more important factors regarding the details of the motor itself. The assumption made is that the motor is being either built or re-tuned to make optimum use of a good-sized nitrous system (100 hp for small blocks, 150 hp for big blocks). Design and selection of the nitrous system itself is beyond the scope of this article.
    The intake port & valve are normally larger than the exhaust port & valve, as the mechanical pressure of the rising piston is more efficient at expelling exhaust gas than the vacuum of the descending piston is at drawing fresh mixture in. If the motor is well designed, the efficiency of flow between the 2 sides will be nearly equal. This relative flow balance between the intake and exhaust sides is affected by nitrous use.
    The exhaust system (cam, valve, port & pipe) is not sensitive to the nitrous itself, but only to the increase in exhaust gas flow, regardless of the source. The exhaust should be re-designed towards a larger displacement motor, requiring more flow from every component. The target “size” is roughly based on the amount of additional nitrous to be used. For example: a 340” motor developing 300hp with a 100hp nitrous system should have an exhaust system suitable to (obviously) 400hp, more like a mild 440 motor. This is especially true since nitrous adds torque in a fixed amount throughout the rpm range, not just peak power. The motor becomes more like a milder but bigger motor, rather than like a more powerful “race” version of the same motor.
    A larger exhaust valve should be considered (where practical). In a serious (large nitrous) motor, this may require a compromise in the choice of intake valve size. To determine the maximum exhaust valve size, the total of the head diameters of the intake and exhaust valves should be maintained (unless you have expert knowledge otherwise) to prevent valve head contact. After installation, the bowl area should be increased to match the new seat area. The MP porting templates will not work here. In some cases, the edge of the chamber nearest the valve head should be moved back a bit (towards the edge of the bore) to prevent shrouding the valve. The bore (in the block) may also benefit from a notch to permit flow around the valve head - be careful not to intrude into the ring path.
    For small blocks, the usual high-performance 1.60” exhaust valve should be increased to 1.65” (or more, if possible). Since 2.08” intake and 1.60” exhaust valves clear a 340 (4.04” bore) chamber (total of diameters = 3.68”), the best choice for a maximum nitrous motor may favor 2.02” intake and 1.69” exhaust, or even 1.94” intake & 1.72” exhaust in extreme cases (where 50% of the power is derived from the nitrous system).
    Big blocks should use a 1.81” valve as a minimum.  For a 440, the choice may be 2.08” & 1.84”, etc.
    The exhaust port ID should be enlarged proportionate to the new valve size, as practical. Do not attempt to match the port ID to the primary pipe ID, or even blend or taper the transition area.
    The exhaust valve face and seat width should be increased somewhat to allow greater heat transfer. I suggest .080” as a minimum.
    Adjustments to the flow balance are frequently made by extending the cam timing on the side with lesser efficiency. Since nitrous only improves the flow of the intake system, the cam choice should give added weight to exhaust timing, generally 10° more than usual.
    The preferred lobe separation angle (intake to exhaust centerlines) is generally wider than used in performance applications, about 110-114°.
    If the cam is not being changed at this point, consider biasing the event towards the exhaust side by using higher ratio rockers on the exhaust only (if 1.5-1, go to 1.6-1, etc.), or even dropping the intake ratio (1.6 to 1.5, etc.).
    The diameter of the primary pipe should be increased, usually by 1/8” to 1/4”, even if the actual port cannot be made larger. For small blocks, 1-3/4” up to 2” primary pipes are used. For big blocks, 2” to 2-1/4” primaries.
    For 1-7/8” or larger primaries, use a 3-1/2” collector; 2-1/8” or larger, go to 4”.
    Maximum spark advance must be reduced, at least during periods of nitrous activation. Some manufacturers suggest 2° per 50 hp added (150 hp = 6°, etc.). This is especially important in high gear, as the motor is under maximum load (no torque multiplication, and wind resistance as well as vehicle weight must be overcome). High power-to-weight ratio cars may tolerate near-normal spark advance in low gear only.
    If no spark retard device is used, the distributor should be re-curved for best effect. The motor may tolerate the same initial advance, with the reduction taken from the mechanical-advance curve. Any amount subtracted from the total advance can be added to the vacuum advance to achieve the same total (about 50°). This will slightly improve light-throttle acceleration, improve mileage, and reduce plug deposits.
    Colder spark plugs must be used, with reduced gap to compensate for the higher cylinder pressure. Charrlie_S (a reader and Slant 6 owner), suggests that having the shortest possible ground electrode is extremely important. This allows for a shorter heat path, so the ground electrode does not start combustion.
    The extreme increase in cylinder pressure will require more spark intensity - a high-output system is strongly suggested (MSD, Crane, etc.), complete with good coil and wires.
    Intake manifold temperature in B & RB motors, and LA motors with “air gap” (no water to the plenum) manifolds is generally very low during nitrous use, due to expansion of the nitrous. However, the water jacket should be kept at low temperature to resist detonation (160° thermostat). This also directly affects manifold temperature in normal (water-heated plenum) LA manifolds.
    Combustion temperature is also affected by mixture strength. Commercial nitrous kits are pre-jetted somewhat rich for safety. This added fuel improves power by cooling the chamber, and preventing detonation. Richer mixture also burns more slowly, delaying the point of maximum cylinder pressure. Careful experimentation by reducing the fuel jet or nozzle size very slightly may improve power, but plug color is not a reliable method of monitoring this.
    Just a thought: for motors with exhaust cross-over heated aluminum manifolds (LD340, CH4B, Performer, M1, etc.): A possible method of reducing charge temperature may be to heli-arc the cross-over inlet completely closed at the gasket. Drill & tap the top of the left & right exhaust passages to 1/8-27NPT. “T” a small-diameter bleed line off the nitrous line from the solenoid into 1 side of the exhaust passage, and an outlet line from the other side to dump in front of the radiator, ATF cooler, etc. (safely away from anything hot). When the nitrous is activated, a small volume will enter the plenum and quickly expand, cooling the manifold from underneath, then exiting on the other side, giving a final cooling shot to the radiator, etc. Remember to increase your nitrous jet or nozzle size slightly to make up for this. If you use a purge solenoid, put the discharge through the manifold instead of up in the air!
    The stock mechanical fuel pump and line are not adequate. The line size should be up-graded to at least 3/8”, preferably 1/2”, and all fittings and restrictions reviewed and re-sized as necessary. Your existing big after-market mechanical or electric pump may be enough to supply the carburetor, but use a second high-capacity electric pump and regulator for the fuel solenoid, with its own filter. The gas tank pick-up can be enlarged; see Rick Ehrenberg’s article in “Mopar Action”.
    High octane should be used for safety, and to allow spark settings for maximum efficiency during normal (non-nitrous) operation. For even more power, a separate fuel system (tank, pump, lines, etc.) can be used to supply better fuel such as av-gas or Cam2 only for nitrous operation. If is used only for this purpose, the spark settings will be more normal, and operating cost per mile go down.
    Methanol can also be used in a separate fuel system with the following effects:
    »  Lower chamber temperatures.
    »  Less sensitivity to exact mixture strength; can be run very rich without substantial power loss.
    »  Spark advance setting can be more aggressive; methanol burns more slowly than gasoline.
    However, the entire auxiliary fuel system must be purged and flushed immediately after use, or serious damage will occur due to corrosion.
    Generally speaking, the consensus is that nitrous should not be used below 3000 rpm. Motors with long rods (“n” = 1.80 or higher) should delay operation to 3500 rpm. For safety, the rev limiter (if used) should also shut down the nitrous during a missed shift, driveshaft failure, etc.
    Progressive nitrous controllers are available but expensive. They can’t increase the amount of power that a given amount of nitrous will add, but they will permit closer management of the nitrous level that the motor will tolerate under specific conditions. They can also improve traction (if nitrous is used during launch). They function (generally) by creating a “duty cycle” (very short period of solenoid-open operation, similar to the pulsing of an electronic fuel injector), and vary the nitrous delivery by gradually increasing the duty cyle duration up to 100% (full-time). However, this rapid open-shut-open operation puts a heavy strain on the solenoid, which will wear out or fail sooner than in convention (non-timed) service.
    A good (and less expensive) imitation of progression can be had by using separate multiple nitrous & fuel solenoid circuits feeding the same nozzles or bars, and activating them in sequence by switches. Please note: by making the stages 2 different sizes, you can have the effect of 3 stages with only 2 sets of solenoids (this requires only 1 extra pair of extra solenoids (nitrous & fuel), plus the lines and fittings).
    For example: if nitrous circuit A = 100 hp, and B = 200 hp, then a sequence of A only, then B only, then A + B causes this effect: motor + 100 hp, then motor + 200 hp, then motor + 300 hp.
    Ignition timing curves can also be controlled by computer, as in the MSD Digital-6 Plus, Crane HI-6TRC, etc. ignition boxes. This allows the spark curve to be tailored to the motor’s torque curve. They both have a retard feature that can be triggered by the nitrous-control signal.
    MSD ignition boxes can be retarded by the nitrous-control signal. The MSD-8975 accessory box allows 4 different rates of retard in 1 box. Multi-step retard is possible with manual transmissions: minimal in 1st gear, more in 2nd, more in 3rd, maximum in 4th by using micro-switches on the shift rods. The current load that a micro-switch can carry is minimal, so the switch should operate a high-current relay, which operates the solenoid. The same switch could perform both tasks: activate a nitrous stage, and retard the spark.
    The TorqueFlite presents a more complex problem. Manual valve bodies can use external micro-switches on the linkage to activate nitrous stages. Governor-controlled (automatic-shifting) valve bodies cannot be controlled by this method.
    A clever person might try to use the signal generated by a cruise-control sensor (driveshaft magnet) to key nitrous operation to a specific speed, rather than RPM. This might be timed to add stages just after each automatic shift. This will have the following effects:
    »  Reduce the load on the transmission during the shift.
    »  Prevent momentary loss of traction at the shift point.
    »  Add power just as torque multiplication is reduced, and wind resistance is increased.
    If a throttle-position or vacuum switch is used to activate the nitrous, an oil-pressure kill (as used on electric fuel pumps) should be wired into the circuit. This insures that zero vacuum (key on, stalled motor) or pumping the throttle (starting) will not cue the nitrous, as oil pressure is needed to arm the circuit.
    Another method of controlling detonation is to introduce a material into the combustion chamber which reduces its temperature. This is best done with a liquid, and let’s use one that’s cheap, safe, easy to use, and effective: water. The commercially-available Edelbrock and Spearco water injection kits are well suited to nitrous use. Where they would normally operate during periods of low vacuum (open-throttle) with high-compression motors, they can also be triggered by the same signal that activates the nitrous.
    This will not be sufficient to completely eliminate detonation with heavy nitrous use, but it will allow a more normal spark advance setting and spark plug heat range. Methanol up to 50% can be added for even better effect, but watch the lines and fittings closely - methanol is very corrosive.
    Compression ratio should be kept to a conservative level for best effect. Streetable ratios of 8.0 to 9.0-1 reduce torque, and will make part-throttle response “soft” if a big cam is used, but permit larger nitrous dosage.
    In my opinion, there is a point of diminishing returns, where reducing the compression ratio even more (7-1, etc.) and adding more nitrous is not as practical, due to the reduced power in NA mode, limited cam timing, poor mileage etc.
    If the total amount of nitrous to be added is known and limited, more compression can be used, but the point of detonation must be approached cautiously.
    The top compression ring end gap must be wider (looser) than std. to allow for higher dome and land temperatures under nitrous use. Rather than the usual .004” gap per inch of bore size, .006” is preferred for street use. The second ring gap goes from .0025” per inch of bore up to .0045”.

Minimum Ring End Gaps, Street Use





383, 426










Top Ring



2nd Ring



    Cast (OEM or aftermarket) pistons will tolerate modest nitrous use, but will fail if spark advance, jetting etc. are not accurate. The next step is hyper-eutectic (high silicone) cast pistons, such as K-B, etc. These have higher dome strength, and tolerate higher dome temperature, but are not as strong as forged pistons. Be careful to follow the manufacturer’s ring end gap specs carefully!
    If using a custom forged piston (JE, Ross, Wiseco, etc.) be sure to specify nitrous use to insure adequate dome thickness; usually .250” minimum. Thick-wall wrist pins are generally used, as a weight-saving thin-wall pin may bend under nitrous.
Block, Crank & Rods
    The ratio between the connecting rod length and the stroke length (normally represented by “n”) can be calculated as follows: Ratio “n” = Rod Length ÷ Stroke.
    For more details see my Tech Paper: “Connecting Rod vs. Stroke”, click here: Rod vs. Stroke Paper.
    Combustion is affected by low “n” values (short-rod, 1.5 to 1.7-1 or so). The increase in piston speed away from TDC on the power stroke causes the chamber volume to increase more rapidly than in a long-rod motor - this delays the point of maximum cylinder pressure for best effect with nitrous. Where the max-pressure point occurs later in the cycle, the average cylinder pressure is greater without the “spike” that causes damage. Delaying the point of maximum cylinder pressure allows more nitrous to be used with relative safety. Retarded spark and rich mixture also have this effect.
    Piston motion away from BDC is slower, trapping a higher percentage of cylinder volume, making the motor less sensitive to late intake valve closing (hot cams). Intake valve closing can be more radical than in a long-rod motor.

Suggested Rod & Stroke Choices for Nitrous Motors




“n” Ratio

Mopar LA 360




Mopar LA 340 with 3.79” stroker crank




Mopar LA 340 with 4.00” stroker crank




Mopar “B” 400 with 440 crank & std. rods (451”)




Mopar “B” 400 with 4.15” crank & std. rods (498”)




Mopar “B” 400 with 4.15” crank & BBC +.400” rods (498”)




Mopar “RB” 440 with 4.15” crank (494”)




    For more excellent ideas and details of planning and using nitrous on your motor, I highly recommend David Vizard’s Book: “The Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide to Nitrous-Oxide Injection”. Click here to order, or see other titles by Vizard & other great authors: Nitrous Oxide Book

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