As with most things in the automotive industry, camshaft design has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade. With companies housing hundreds of cam profiles in warehouses ready to be shipped, it begs the question, “Do you need a custom camshaft for your project?” The Drag Drive Repeat podcast hosted by Mike Narx and Eric White recently brought Luke Bandt from Howards Cams on the show to discuss custom camshafts and why the majority of people don’t need one.
Luke is the Sales Manager at Howards Cams and through his experience, he has extensive knowledge of cam design and application. He has spoken with thousands of customers about engine combinations and the optimal camshaft for their application and intended use. On the subject of custom camshafts, Luke has fielded more than his share of calls from customers asking about a recommendation. His take on the custom cam question is interesting though.
“We were talking internally… and we aren’t convinced that people really know what a custom cam is,” Luke said. “What it came down to is that most of these guys want a custom recommendation, not a custom camshaft.” According to Luke, the large majority of customers can run an off-the-shelf cam and the engine will perform the way they want it to. Typically a custom camshaft only makes sense in applications where a very unusual combination is being put together or when the engine is going to see very large amounts of boost.
Part of Luke’s job is to speak with customers and work through the conversation of the details of the engine combination and debunking what he refers to as, “…the smoke and mirrors that have been made in the camshaft industry.” He explained that he can use the math involved in cam design to show that not only do you not need a custom cam but you most likely don’t need as big of a cam as you think. Just because your cylinder heads or valve springs support .600-inch of lift doesn’t mean your engine needs that amount of lift to make the power you want to make at the rpm you want. According to Luke, after talking through the math and the effects of duration, lift, and lobe separation, the majority of customers find that there is an off-the-shelf camshaft that will work great in their engine combination.
Luke also explained that there is more to picking a camshaft than just engine specs. When he’s discussing cam selection with a customer he goes through the entire vehicle to figure out other details including transmission type, vehicle weight, converter specs, rear gear, and power adders. As for the engine details, cubic inches, cylinder head choice, fuel type, and compression ratio all play a vital role in cam selection.
Additionally, when it comes to power adders Luke explained that turbochargers can make choosing a camshaft somewhat easier than other combinations. “On a turbo setup, we just target an rpm range,” Luke said. “If you have a street-driving turbo car with a relatively decent size turbo, it’s almost the same cam for every combination unless we really want to get specific on something.”
With the extensive catalog of camshafts Howards Cams offers off the shelf and experts like Luke, there is little reason to go through the headache of ordering a custom spec camshaft. If you have a project needing a camshaft, a call to Howards Cams with all of your combination’s details can get you a cam recommendation in no time. Additionally, chances are high that they will have a camshaft that is perfect for your combination in stock and ready to ship.