If you've been reading VETTE for some time, you already know about Chevy's hand-built 6.2L LS9 engine, which provides the heartbeat for every Corvette ZR1 supercar ("King of the Hill," June '08). You've probably even heard that the Z06's 7.0L LS7 engine is put together at the same state-of-the-art facility. But what you might not have known is that the LS3 engines in manual-trans '10 and '11 Corvette Grand Sport coupes are assembled at the same location, by the same highly trained craftsmen.
GM's Performance Build Center (PBC), in Wixom, Michigan, is the build site for these limited-production "halo" engines. "The PBC was established in 2005 to assemble the LS7 engine for the '06 Z06," says Carl Pickelman, PBC site manager. "It's a 100,000-square-foot facility capable of assembling up to 15,000 engines per year. We recognized the fact that in some cases engines are so important to our customers that they actually influence the purchase of the vehicle. The LS3 [dry-sump], LS7, and LS9 fit this description, and having a dedicated facility for these engines is, and was, the appropriate thing to do."
At the PBC, a highly trained team of technicians assembles these halo engines-one at a time, one builder per engine-from start to finish. The style differs dramatically from the factory assembly line, where many people contribute to an engine's assembly. At a traditional facility, the assembler generally stays in one area and specializes in one part of the process, rather than overseeing the construction of the entire engine.
"The engine builders at the Performance Build Center really put their hearts into their work," Pickelman explains. "Their passion is just as important as their extensive experience as skilled trades journeymen. The PBC assembly philosophy truly allows more time for visual and tactile identification of potential misbuilds or bad parts. Every engine is identified, through a label, as being built by a single builder, [which] instills pride and a true feeling of ownership. I'd put this team of builders up against anything the world has to offer. They are truly building some of the world's finest engines."
In March 2010, Chevy asked VETTE to be the first publication to participate in a dry-sump LS3 engine build and document the process. After being briefed on the security and safety procedures, we were introduced to Ron Hein, one of GM's ace engine builders. Hein promised to make us privy to private and proprietary engine-build techniques never before disclosed to the public.
A dry-sump LS3 takes a technician approximately three-and-a-half hours to build. During that time, he takes the engine from a bare block through full assembly. He then allows other PBC employees to process the completed powerplant through balancing and quality-control tests. When the engine is finished, it awaits shipment to the Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where it's eventually installed in a manual Grand Sport coupe.
There are currently 16 engine builders at the PBC. When you a buy a ZR1, a Z06, or a manual GS coupe, you'll find one of their names on a plate on the front lower right of the intake manifold. Their engine-building experience ranges from 25 to 35 years, which should be of considerable comfort every time you nudge the redline.
Due to the length of the build and the many steps involved, we'll be limiting our coverage to the highlights of the process. Rest assured, however, that the PBC engine techs put their formidable skills into every detail of every build, down to the most minor components.