With the onslaught of GM sports cars, sedans and even big-bore SUVs in the last two decades, the LS range of motors has become incredibly popular. Adding to their prevalence is their versatility. For nearly twenty years, the Corvette, the Camaro, the last GTOs, the Pontiac G8, the oddball SSR, and even the Trailblazer SS. Not only do the Corvettes and Camaros benefit from this gem of an engine, but recently, the drifting world has turned their studious eyes towards the merits of the big, American V8. Why? Because of a lightweight aluminum composition, a huge aftermarket and plenty of tuning potential for a reasonable cost.
For the money, there are few motors which can snap necks quite like the brutal, capable and easily-modified Chevrolet LS1, LS2 and LS3. Generally speaking, the LS1 will provide a little more power per modification when compared to the most potent LS2 or LS3, though striking improvements can be seen even with the 6.0-liter and 6.2-liter versions. There are more expensive, more potent versions out there like the LS9, but those tend to get quite expensive. In the name of bang-for-your-buck tuning, the aforementioned versions of the LS are probably the best, so let’s delve into some of the simplest, most cost-effective upgrades out there.
One of the biggest draws of the LS motor isn’t its availability, nor its sound, but its response to basic upgrades. For most street purposes, bolt-on modifications can produce more than enough power to crack a smile across the most sullen faces.
With the LS1, adding a larger intake system is one of the first modifications typically made. The LS6 intake is a popular modification for the LS1 and LS2, though the LS2 requires a slightly smaller throttle body to be used. With the addition of a larger throttle body, a larger mass air meter and getting a decent tune, many have seen as much as 330 hp, which is 20+ horses over the stock LS1 figures! Not only will this increase power, but throttle response improves and a throaty induction noise is gained.
Bigger is Better
Heads and cams are not the strongest parts of the LS1, and nabbing a few parts from the bigger, throatier LS6 is a great way to start things off. The heads on an LS6 feature larger ports and if ported and polished can produce a startling amount of power on the LS1, LS2, and LS3 variants.
Another route, more appropriate for the LS1, is the addition of the 5.3-liter, LM7 heads, which will increase compression while flowing at the same rate as the stock LS1 heads. This sort of modification will help the LS breathe at the top end without placing any extra demands on the ancillary components. For this reason, head packages are often all that LS modification programs entail. When people move on, they tend to move towards camshafts.
Additionally, installing a decent cam on the LS, which does not require the intake manifold to be removed for lifter access, is a total breeze, and can still allow for a degree of civility around town. If a lumpy idle, increased mid-range surge and a huge top-end snarl are what you’re after, this is the route to take.
With these modifications, you’re headed towards the 500-horsepower mark, which is easily surmountable with a few more minor modifications, but some consideration to the internals ought to be given. Most importantly, the LS1 and LS2 pistons and rods don’t tend to do so well – pistons tend to chip at the top, and the weak spot near the wrist pins is subject to cracking. If the engine’s coming apart for the head and cam modifications, getting a set of pistons from Wiseco, which have valve reliefs and come with a file fit ring set, and a set of Compstar H-beam rods is a wise way to go. These may require a bit of honing, however.
While replacing those, it’s imperative to grab a hold of a set of stronger head bolts. The stock bolts cannot be reused, and a sturdier set of ARP bolts can be seen as an inexpensive insurance plan. Along with these, some sturdier head gaskets should be satisfactory for safe builds just north of 500 horses.
Beyond that, forced induction is the way forward. Turbos and superchargers can bring the power output up to the 1,000-horsepower mark quite easily, but suffice to say, that level of performance involves an added level of intricacy. There’s more to consider, but for most garden variety LS builds, the typical head/cam/exhaust route, executed intelligently, with the right goodies for safety, can provide enough performance to make the most depressed man ecstatic, all for only a few thousand dollars.