When the Gen III Chevy engine exploded on the scene just over 10 years ago, it seemed that it would take forever for the everyman to afford one of these technological marvels. And back then, if "Joe the plumber" got his hands on a takeout from a salvage yard it would require a computer genius, a cutting torch, a second mortgage, and a good divorce attorney to get one of the LS powerplants hopped up and in your ride. Those days, my friend, are over.
Today, you can buy a complete Gen III core for about the same as a good virgin 350 four-bolt main block, and get it up and running in your hot rod for next to nothing. And thanks to the hard work of engineers at GMPP and MSD, the parts are now readily available to get that high-tech piece of metal making big power with minimal headaches. You can bolt on a distributor and carburetor and spend your nights cruising instead of poring over ECU wiring diagrams or installing a $1,500 high-pressure fuel system. Just how easy is it to make power? Bret Bowers and his team from Racing Engine Design recently built a 370-cube LS for the 2009 Jegs Engine Masters Challenge that made an impressive 579 horses for an even more impressive $6,600.
With an elevation change of...
With an elevation change of several thousand feet between their home and the University of Northwestern Ohio campus where the EMC takes place, jet changes were the order of the day to make the Racing Engine Design (RED) LS engine perform at its peak.
Our tantalizing tale of Bowers' budget bombshell begins with a journey back in time to when our troops were being welcomed back from Desert Storm (thank goodness that's all over), the Soviet Union imploded, and both Magic Johnson and Freddie Mercury announced that they had AIDS (but not together). That year was 1991, and Tom Stephens, executive director of GM Powertrain, was tasked with laying down the brushstrokes for a completely new multipurpose pushrod V-8. He took advantage of all of GM's resources, most specifically the team he had working with him as well as numerous others contributing to the cause. Weighing a solid 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor, using new casting technologies, Finite Element Analysis, and incredibly powerful cylinder heads designed by the legendary brothers Ron and Ken Sperry, the Gen III 5.7 engine was dubbed the LS1 and finally took life in the '97 Corvette. The Gen III family quickly grew beyond its 5.7L matriarch and expanded to include 4.8-, 5.3-, and 6.0-liter variants as well. Though all are kin and share the Gen III label, only the 5.7L version is designated the LS1 by GM. Somehow as it evolved, the other cube sizes just seemed to inherit the LS designation. Who would have thought that with the overhead cam platforms becoming so popular and efficient GM could create a lowbrow pushrod engine that could not only compete with, but blow away the OHC engines of the time?
The Harland Sharp rockers...
The Harland Sharp rockers and 8.000-inch pushrods gave the heads perfect geometry to free up a little horsepower and reduce side loading on the valveguides. Just a touch of clearancing on the tip of the rockers was all that was needed to clear the OEM valve covers.
Once that new engine grew out of its toddler phase and took longer strides in the high-performance world, it was only a matter of time before the aftermarket was able to fully realize its potential. Coincidentally, core and takeout prices for the LS were dropping out of the stratosphere and into a more breathable atmosphere. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Racing Engine Design to undertake this project.