What makes the LS engine so great?

2y ago


Initially manufactured by GM in 1997, the LS engine has quite literally taken the V8 market by storm. The Ford Modular unit is fairly handy, but the LS blows it into the weeds, as well as some seriously capable JDM engines to boot.

Dominating the rear-wheel drive Chevrolet backlog and now being swapped into everything from Mazda MX-5s to Porsche 911s, the LS engine has so many plus points that it's hard to justify any other engine swap for maximising power, value and reliability.

It is ridiculously strong

LS motors have been known to push nearly 1000bhp on stock internals thanks to some fantastic engineering from the guys and girls at GM. They knew that the key to a truly great engine was through a strong engine block, creating the foundation needed to produce a high but reliable power output.

The LS1 was specifically designed as a Y-block engine which means the V8 is nice and compact, increasing its overall rigidity and strength compared to other V-engines that splay outwards more. Chevy also designed a nice strong head as well and designed the engine block to take uber long head bolts that dive deep down into the block, securing the whole engine sandwich together and decreasing cylinder distortion whilst distributing head torque evenly instead of producing irregularities over time.

It breathes extremely well

Thanks to an extremely efficient head design, the LS motor produced similar CFM numbers to that of the NASCAR engines of the late '90s. And seeing as engines in their basic form are essentially large air pumps, the more air you can force through at speed, the more power can be produced.

By using state of the art CFD software (computational fluid dynamics), the engineers at GM were able to change head geometry to maximise the efficiency of the airflow to increase torque and therefore power production.

They are cheap as hell

Every scrap yard in America will have an LS somewhere in it, considering the sheer volume of vehicles that have used iterations of the powertrain. Normally sitting between $2000-4000, an LS is a prime candidate to fit within any project car budget.

And as you can see from this footage above, even a fairly nasty looking block can be coaxed into life with a bit of know-how and some elbow grease.

There is such a wide variety of options to choose from

From 4.8-litre truck engines to the mighty aftermarket 7.4-litre LSX, the range of engines that can be grabbed for a relatively cheap price (compared with JDM engines popular for swapping) is truly startling.

The LS1 is generally your cheapest option, with LS3s starting more around the $5000 mark and an LSX unit setting you back nearly $10,000 minimum.

The aftermarket is booming and parts are plentiful

Image via superstreelonline.com

Full LS swap kits are readily available on the aftermarket due to the sheer popularity of the engine, even in relation to cars that really weren't meant for such a swap. It may seem like a slightly sacrilegious act but LS-swapping has spread to lightweight sportscars like the Mazda RX-7 and the Datsun 280Z.

These kits supply engine mounts, manifolds and other ancillaries to make the engine swap as seamless as possible. Also, turbocharging and supercharging are popular mods to further enhance an LS's ability, with the 4.8-litre truck engines being the perfect platform to handle serious levels of boost pressure.

They are surprisingly light

LS engine blocks can be cast iron or aluminium, with the aluminium variant being extremely light for a V8. An aluminium LS1 isn't actually too far away from a cast iron four-cylinder engine, meaning the slightest of weight penalties is heavily outdone by the doubling (or more) of power output.

The pushrod design also helps any LS-wielding car with its centre of gravity, with no need for the weight of a large valvetrain sitting high up in the engine's geometry. An overhead cam may be more efficient and will produce greater performance but the weight and C.O.G. penalty can be simply too high to downplay pushrods.

They can last well over 150,000 miles

These engines are bloody bulletproof due to their simplicity and the robustness of the mechanical engineering within the block. If you believe forum chitter-chatter, it is said that there's 'no such thing as a high-mileage LS' simply due to the fact that mileage seems to barely impact the engine's strength.

With decent and regular servicing, an LS block (that hasn't been tuned to high heaven) can last between 200,000-300,000 miles. This means that motors found in shops or scrappies that are sitting around the 80,000-mile mark are more than ready to be recycled into a new car once all the essentials have been checked and the necessary boxes ticked.

All-in-all, it's a great piece of kit and I look forward to someday having a shot in something like a C5 Corvette to break my LS virginity. But until then, if you're thinking about doing an LS swap, please try not to touch things like rotary Mazdas and other JDM heroes. It just doesn't seem right, I'm afraid...

This piece was part of DriveTribe's America Week, running from July 3-9, celebrating everything we love about American car culture!