VM: As a high-ranking engine engineer, what is your current objective for the Corvette’s V-8 engine?
JL: My objective is to make sure I shepherd the engine and the car so that it always maintains top billing as the premier sports car in the industry. The small-block engine is a unique animal in that it’s the only engine I know of that has been around for so many generations. Its roots began in ’55, and with each new generation it’s transformed and modernized to be relevant and segment leading for its day. No other engine has such a long-lived legacy as the beloved small-block. It will continue to [evolve] for many generations to come.
Today our Gen IV line-up is class leading. The 638hp LS9 helps make the ZR1 the supercar that it is. Our future Gen V lineup will be equally exciting and shepherd in a new age for the next generation of small-block engines.
VM: Theoretically, without advanced engine technologies, the Chevrolet small-block could still be 265 cubic inches and pumping out 190 horsepower, while achieving 8-mpg fuel economy. Let’s talk about advanced engine technologies today, and the role they’ll have in tomorrow’s small-block.
JL: We’re always looking at advanced technologies. Ultimately they all go into doing two things: improving combustion efficiency, and increasing power and torque. With improvements in combustion efficiency, we’re ultimately looking at burning every drop of fuel in the combustion chambers, so that GM vehicles optimize fuel economy and reduce emissions. Improvements in combustion efficiency also help improve power and torque, by allowing higher compression ratios and reducing knock sensitivity. I’d call that a win-win in the engine department.
VM: What specific advanced technologies do you foresee as most promising to Chevrolet’s small-block V-8?
JL: It’s no secret that Gen V small-blocks [for the ’14 Corvette and beyond] will have direct injection. It is a phenomenal technology that allows us to do some very unique things with the engine design. GM uses direct injection in a lot of our engines. So do our competitors, but they appear to use it selectively. GM doesn’t want to be as selective, because direct injection offers tremendous advantages in performance. It’s one of the few technologies that allow us to actually improve fuel economy, while also improving horsepower and torque.
VM: How will it do this?
JL: VETTE readers may already know that injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber gives us much more control over the fuel-injection and fuel-mixing processes. What they may not know is that when fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber, the evaporation of the fuel has a cooling affect on the piston and chamber, which significantly reduces knock sensitivity and allows an increase in the compression ratio. The higher compression ratio is the key to improving both fuel economy and horsepower.
VM: Are you intimating that the implementation of direct injection will allow Chevrolet to raise the compression ratio of the new Gen V small-block going into the Corvette?
JL: High compression, as VETTE readers know, helped muscle cars of the past make a lot of power—much more than lower-compression engines. It used to come with a detriment, however, in that high-compression engines were very knock sensitive. I think you’re going to be in for a surprise when you see the stats on the next-generation engine, and what we’re able to achieve in the subject areas of power, torque, and fuel economy as a result of this technology.
VM: What’s your prime mission for the Corvette?
JL: I want the Corvette to be what it always has been: one of the finest sports cars in the world, and not just the finest American sports car—though it is very American, and there is a lot of Americana with Corvette. It’s such a unique car in that it straddles a lower retail price and competes with cars that cost two, three, and even four times as much. I think the Corvette is on par with the best out there in the world.
VM: You recently visited the General Motors Performance Build Center (PBC), where select LS3 and all LS7 and LS9 engines are hand-built by Performance Build Specialists. You took the time that day to hand-build an LS9, which will be installed in a Corvette ZR1. First, what is your opinion of the Performance Build Center?
JL: I love it. I describe it as “our little crown jewel” for putting engines together. We have the finest technicians building these engines by hand, and they go into the finest cars GM produces in the sports-car segment.
VM: What prompted you to want to hand-build a LS9?
JL: As you know by now, I love engines. I’m always tinkering on engines, and having the opportunity to build one is always a thrill. With that said, there’s also a serious reason why I built an LS9 recently. The build process is an opportunity for me to get hands-on experience with the quality procedures and process, look at the quality of the parts going into our premium engines, and evaluate how we track part and assembly quality throughout the build process.
VM: Will select Gen V small-blocks be hand-built at the Performance Build Center?
JL: As we look at manufacturing future small-block engines, it’s possible we may do future engines at our Performance Build Center.
VM: Did you come away from your recent PBC experience with specific insight?
JL: Yes. One of the things that struck me when I was hand-building an LS9 is how elegant and efficient the small-block is—the way the parts are designed, the way they fit together, the simplicity in the construction, and how small the package is. That’s one of my big takeaways from that build experience.
Then there are the pieces themselves, such as the pistons and the connecting rods. Those titanium connecting rods and intake valves, they’re jewelry.
All of the precision that goes into making those components, and how easily the engine is assembled, is incredible to me.
VM: Is GM’s high-performance engine design and manufacturing the best in the world?
JL: Absolutely. I’m always looking at competitive engine designs. Many other high-performance competitor engines—Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even Porsche, for that matter—are extremely complex. Ultimately an engine is evaluated on a few key attributes: power, torque, fuel economy, mass, refinement, and package size. When I evaluate our engines against the competition, we win in most, if not all, categories. We do have the best engineering and manufacturing in the world. I’ll say it again: Absolutely.
VM: From racing Mustangs in your dad’s ’76 Corvette to being GM’s chief engineer of small-blocks, has it been a fun career?
JL: It’s been an incredible career. I truly have a dream job. Working with an incredibly talented team of engineers designing, developing, and manufacturing small-block engines for Corvette is a dream come true. I try never to forget that fact or take it for granted. As an enthusiast, there’s nothing better.