So, you want to know my buying secrets, eh? No problem!
Sorry for the long-winded reply.....
When I first got involved with the First Generation Hemi (about 18 months ago), I didn't know anything about these things, or any one else for that matter who did. But over time, you meet people, and learn what does and doesn't work when trying to find parts. Of course, being patient is important when finding your parts. If you're in a hurry, it makes it much harder to get things for less. Are the crazy prices you see some of this stuff selling for a bad thing? No, not really. If a seller and the buyer are happy, that's really all that matters. My biggest concern when getting involved with the 1G Hemi was not just what the core was going to cost me, but what it was also going to cost to rebuild it. These engines are not cheap to rebuild. It cost a lot more to make HP from an early Hemi than it does something like a BB Chevy. And because I don't own a couple of Banks, I need to be careful. So in my limited opinion, you really should have a true love of the era and what they stand for. You have to admit, the 1G Hemi's are simply BAD-butt!
I also want to stress that it's important to learn as much about what you are buying before you pull out your wallet. I have found a lot of sellers making claims about parts or engines that are simply not true. I strongly recommend two books. Leo Lindquist has compiled a fantastic collection of Early Hemi part numbers in a nice book (you can get it at HotHeads). There is also a book called, "The Complete Chrysler Hemi" by Ron Ceridono. Buy it at Amazon. It's much cheaper at Amazon than on Ebay. The more you know the better!
When I began my search, I thought I would simply go out and buy a complete engine for my rebuildable core. And because things don't always go the way I think, I recommend you be open to having it happen the way it needs to. My engine core eventually came to me from buying just parts.
Here is a list of what I find works best for finding early Hemi engines and/or parts:
First, I would head on over to the swap meet section of Hot Heads Research. I often see adds there for complete engines and parts for VERY fair prices. In fact, to me, some of the stuff there sells for the lowest I've seen in my research. Sure, there are some adds there that are a little high, but usually in about 1/4 the adds, the stuff sells for great prices. Check the listing every day for best luck. Just in case you don't already know, Hot Heads is THE PLACE for anything early Hemi when you are ready for your rebuild. Plus, from what I've learned, Bob Walker at Hot Heads is about as knowledgeable on the subject as they come. If I ever get a chance to meet Bob Walker in person, I will greet him with "Professor Hemi!" You can find Hot Heads Research and their swap meet section in the next two links:
Second, I've had great luck with forums. It's a great place to meet like-minded people who share your interest in the 1G Hemi. In fact, I was able to finally find a block for my project right here at TheHemi.com (Thanks again Larry!!!!!!!). So places like TheHemi.com (of course), the HAMB, clubhotrod.com, webrodder.com, hotrodders.com, ratrodsrule.com, you get the idea. They all have classified sections you can search, and wanted sections you can place adds in.
Third, I have had great luck with Craig's List. In fact, I found all of the parts I needed for my 392 Hemi engine project (except the block) from Craig's List. What I recommend you do is choose a distance you are willing to travel to get parts. Then use a tool like Tempest to do the work for you. With Tempest, you input your location, a maximum distance from that location, and a search term of your choice like "Hemi." Tempest will then return all Craig's List adds located up to the maximum distance from your location that has the term "Hemi" in the add. A very powerful tool!!!!
Fourth, Ebay. Now Ebay is the place you will most likely pay the most for stuff. But, that doesn't mean you won't find any deals. For example, I found two complete sets of adjustable rocker arms for the 331-354-392 Chrysler Hemi engine. That's enough for two engines, for only $200. I still can't believe I found them (picture old pudgy bald guy slapping is forehead). The rockers are in need of a total tear-down and rebuild, but still, $200! So the deals are out there on Ebay, you just need to be patient and willing to spend time searching.
A special note about Ebay: Ebay is a funny place. It's typically where you will pay more for stuff. But like I said above, the deals do sneak through. Now, at the risk of sounding like a complete cheap-butt slime-ball, there are some things you can do to find those extra special deals.
A listing on Ebay is only as good as the listing title and item description. A lot of stuff goes either unsold, or sells for too little simply because the item was improperly described in the title or item description. For example, the smoking deal I got on my adjustable rockers? The title for the listing was "Dodge, Desoto, Plymouth Rocker Arms," listed for a buy it now of $200. Well, that listing title doesn't say much. I also learned here on thehemi.com that there are no single rocker sets that fit all the 1G Hemi's of the era. Luckily the listing had tons of good pictures, and I was able to determine in a few seconds that the rockers where not only adjustable, but for the 331-354-392 Chrysler Hemi. I never pressed the "Buy It Now" button so fast in my life! So what I'm trying to get at is this, you need to be creative when crafting your search strings on Ebay. If you where to search for a "57-58 Imperial Engine," you might find a 392 Hemi where others will not see it if they are searching for a "392 Hemi" in their search string. Craft your search strings like you are a seller who has no clue what they are selling. You will be surprised what comes up. Also, don't be afraid to mis-spell words in your search. People mis-spell their listings titles too. I hope that all made sense. You can actually use this idea to find just about anything on Ebay.
Anywho, there you have it. My best advice for finding your dream engine.
I hope this helps. Good luck and take care,