The amount of research and development that continues to go into improving the pushrod-activated, overhead-valve internal combustion engine never ceases to amaze us. This hoary, old, but tried-and-true basic architecture has been around for...
What? A hundred years, give or take a few? No matter-for most of you reading this, the more important figure would be that Chevrolet's classic version of this powerplant has been around for just over 50 years. Its demise has been frequently predicted, and yet here we are with better classic small-block Chevy motors than ever. Aftermarket blocks, premium forged internals, heads that flow like race lungs from a decade ago, and that's just scratching the surface. The quest for power with this classic platform shows no signs of slowing down.
And if that's not enough, we got a new and improved pushrod small-block in 1997, the LS1 and its descendants. The advent of this newer platform leads the quest for power along a whole new and rapidly evolving avenue. But if there's one thing the two have in common-besides the obvious basics-it's that both GM small-blocks have driven a boom in camshaft design and technology. It makes sense-a bulletproof bottom end, great-flowing heads, and the right intake are all useless without a properly matched camshaft.
Over the past couple years we've taken a couple opportunities to dive headfirst and deep into the world of camshafts, seeking to explore and explain every facet of camshaft theory we could possibly think of. If that's the kind of article you're looking for-and we encourage you to check them out-you can find both of them in your back issues. "Performance Profiling" was in May '07, and "Got Lobes?" was in Mar. '08. They're also on our website, www.chevyhiperformance.com. We don't claim that they'll tell you everything you need to know about camshafts, but we will say they come pretty darn close.
For this article, we've decided to take a slightly different track. Rather than rehashing the hows and whys and dos and don'ts of choosing a camshaft, we decided to get on the horn to some of the top camshaft designers and engineers in the business and simply ask them to tell us about their latest and greatest. The cool thing is that's exactly what they did, letting in on some of their newest innovations.
Although it probably shouldn't have surprised us, we were slightly taken aback to find out that each company seemed to be working on different aspects of the whole cam-design picture. Somehow, we thought everyone would be barking up the same tree, that tree being camshaft design for the LSx family of engines, and we were partially right. Creating bumpsticks for the Gen III and IV engines is definitely a growth industry. But even within this modern small-block family, the approaches being taken to craft power-producing camshafts run a wide range. And that's just for naturally aspirated LSx's. According to our experts, the big rumble within the boom in LS cams comes in the forced-induction area-nitrous, superchargers, and especially turbochargers, we're told. More and more enthusiasts are putting the squeeze on their new-school powerplants. Like we said, however, that's just one lane on the road, and other companies are putting their own twists on LSx camshaft design.
Does all this interest in creating cams for Gen III and IV powerplants mean that new go-fast 'sticks for traditional small-blocks are taking a back seat? We'd have to say the answer is "maybe." We only discovered a few lines of newly designed, traditional small-block cams. What we did discover, on the other hand, is more than a handful of new valvetrain pieces developed to take better advantage of the modern cam profile designs created over the past decade or so. As we've learned on several occasions, and as the cam designers know way better than we do, an aggressive cam is of only limited benefit if the rest of the overhead valve system isn't keeping the valve in control. So springs, rocker arms, lifters, and even premium pushrods continue to be developed for traditional engines.
A primary goal of cam design, whether we're talking about traditional powerplants or the modern LS versions, is to get the valve open as quickly as possible at the precisely right time, hold it open as prescribed, then close it-and all this in perfect control. This, we found, doesn't seem to change as cam design progresses. It pretty much fits into the ethos of all cam designers.
But as for the details, that's where all the difference is made. With those particulars in mind, we'll take a manufacturer by manufacturer look at what each is up to and at the kind of cam technology you can expect in the future.
What We DidInterrogated some of today's best camshaft-designing minds to find out just where the cutting edge lies.
Bottom LineCamshaft design is one the most fertile areas in the field of internal combustion.
CostFrom hundreds to thousands, depending on what you're trying to accomplish.
We decided to approach our subjects in alphabetical order, which meant we began our conversations with our friend Billy Godbold of Comp Cams. We had no problem getting him to talk with gusto about the latest innovations coming out of Comp. "If you check out the components we're looking at today," he began. "We're figuring out how to make valvetrain pieces lighter, stronger, and stiffer. For example, we're testing pieces that run as many as 10 million cycles in big-block circle track applications." The method to this madness is pretty clear: "If we make the valve spring better, we can take so much better advantage of the cam."
Although Godbold returned to this subject, it quickly became obvious that he had other ideas aching to burst out of his mind. Ideas that can be summed up in the initials VVT-that's variable valve timing to you and me. "The L92 truck motor is incredibly impressive, making 400 SAE corrected horsepower stock and 430 hp with headers," he began. "With one of our cams and the phaser limiter kit, we made 500 hp, and it did not lose power anywhere. It's a great cylinder head, then you add the variable valve timing. We start out by giving the smaller cams lots of advance, up to 10 degrees, then you can retard those about 16 degrees. With the larger cams, piston to valve is tighter on the intake so we go down to 5 degrees advance. These designs run best with a sweep curve of about 12-degree retard, which helps the engine carry at high rpm."
Why should this matter to you or me? "I'm certain the automatic 6.2L Camaro will have VVT," Godbold disclosed. "Also, retrofits for other GM VVT LS applications will come available soon. The whole thing is better. You can move the cam around in the motor. Say you do a NASCAR cam with a 110 LSA. You can run it at 102, 106, 110, and 114 centerlines and get an idea of how it responds. It may fill in a gap, 104, 108...look at torque curve...102 best torque, 114 best high-end power. Good teams look at the specific track, look at where the engine spends time. This is something that would have taken us a lot of time and four guys on the dyno, and analyzing data in the past. Then, after you do it, you have to compromise. With the cam phaser, you can advance or retard the cam centerline to the position it runs best at each rpm. That's cool, really cool. You can get a 60-plus horsepower gain, with no loss anywhere. You can have control of the cam timing by tweaking a curve in your ECU, just like typical electronic ignition timing. It's like going from points to coil-on-plug.
"It's probably ahead of its time," Godbold continued, "but eventually it will be in many applications. GM uses it almost solely as an mpg device (they even refer to it as active fuel management), but that's not the way we're going to use it. We want to use VVT to enhance power and performance, hence Comp Cams designed the XFI SPR Cams and Phaser Limiter kits to work together in Gen IV VVT engines. Some competitors tell their customers to throw the phasers out completely. Comp has proven how robust and advanced this phaser technology can be for high-power applications. There are four grinds in this line so far."
Speaking of LSx cams, Comp's lineup has been vastly expanded. "Some of our bestselling LS cams were custom grinds," Godbold confided in us. "So it was time to step up and take care of business. It's hard to know where to start. Right off the bat, Comp has expanded its old-school sounding Thumpr series into the LS arena-ground with a 109-degree lobe separation angle, these 'sticks are designed to work with both retuned EFI and carbureted LS engines. And although the idea was to create a cam for drivers who are more worried about sound than power, the LS Thumpr's advanced intake lobe and long exhaust duration have other benefits: "With the small inlet and the big-like-a-road-race-car exhaust, they're not bad for SCCA autocross. If you want something that will shred tires and sound nasty, this is the one.
Then again, the Thumpr is just the tip of Comp's new line LSR offerings. "Some new LS heads almost flow what '90s NASCAR heads flowed," Godbold said. As a result, Comp has come up with 35-plus new part numbers "so everybody will have a cam customized for their engine without having to search message boards for todays magic custom grind," he says.
The variations are extensive. There are three subfamilies for LS Cathedral Port heads, versions for 4.8L and 5.3L engines, "all-out power versions" for 5.7L and 6.2L mills, and large-displacement variations for 6.2L and 7.4L engines. Not enough for your? Comp also developed cams for the newer rectangular-port heads for large-displacement engines (6.2L-7.4L) and all-out power apps (5.7L-6.2L). If that's still not enough, new grinds are on the way for centrifugal blowers, Roots blowers, and remote-mount turbo apps. "The new LSR cams are the quickest, more powerful, largest-area cams that Comp has ever introduced for street/strip hydraulic roller applications to date," said Godbold. Comp also designed a spring around this application. These parts are working towards a common goal...synergy in these engines with great power and valvetrain stability over 7,000 rpm.
Godbold took enough of a breath to tell us about one really trick piece for traditional small-blocks: the new Ultra-Pro Magnum Rocker Arms. "It's an arch design, he told us, a throwback to the Roman arch and webbing, and there's no better way to make something." It decreases the moment of inertia, or resistance to rotation. "We didn't just focus on the rocker body's overall mass. We focused on what really matters. Inertia is much more important," Godbold explained. We couldn't help but ask, why create a new Pro Magnum rocker, given the popularity of the existing one? "We know how to build a better rocker," he said, "The design is 20 years old, and the tooling could be replaced. We figured, why not knock it out of the park? Let's do the best Pro Magnum we can."
There's certainly a key to this technology explosion, and Godbold elaborated on it. "The difference between two years ago and today," he began, "is that we can design a system on a computer. Before, we would make a part, and 10 design variations might take four to five years. It's all about the software and being able to use it. When it comes to getting an idea of what's best for a package, we can answer these questions now. On cams, there's a lot of things we couldn't do before. We used to talk about designing a cam at the valve, but because of technological limitation, we had to design at the cam, then had to factor in the rocker arm. We can now design at the valve and factor back. We're getting newer toys, and better pieces to build. Now is the most exciting time to be in valvetrain design.... We're so much better at modeling and measurement. If we didn't have good measurement, we wouldn't have good models. You have to get the model dialed in, and the more accurate model has more inputs. It really speeds up development."
Next up-and remember, we went about his alphabetically-was a call to another of the valvetrain gurus we've been known to call when we need something cleared up for us, Crane Cams' Chase Knight. In answer to our question about what's new at Crane, Knight quipped, "It depends on your definition of new. The LS family is showing definite growth." Point taken-the platform is now more than 10 years old, but that's still new by traditional small-block standards. "We're continuously working on cams for the LS1 and LS2," he said, "and also the LSx, which usually prefers grinds with a wider lobe separation angle. We're adding more grinds in both hydraulic and solid rollers, so we have the right application for people."
Among the new selections are the Chevrolet LS Street/Strip Series and the Big-Inch-Wide Separation hydraulic roller cams, designed specifically to produce max power from big-cube LS motors while maintaining good street manners. And for those who find the LS7 lacking, Crane developed the LS7 Series Hydraulic Camshaft line with the emphasis on "extreme intake air flow."
Both cam varieties share some extra technology from Crane. For one, they use what the company calls Rapid Ramp lobes. The idea, of course, is to create that Holy Grail of power under the curve again: High-performance matched with drivability. The new 'sticks, which use a 55mm core, are de rigueur for LSx engines and are also gun-drilled, preserving the strength of the greater core while losing some unwanted weight. The bottom line is that Crane is adding more grinds in both hydraulic and solid roller so that everyone can come up with the right application.
More new components Knight clued us into are the new small-block and big-block Ultra Pro hydraulic lifters and Ultra Pro mechanical lifters. Both versions have an 8620 steel precision body that's been precision-machined, heat-treated, and micro-ground, and the hydraulics are even leakdown tested. According to Crane, these lifters are made for high-rpm, high-valve-spring-pressure applications. Ditto the Ultra Pro mechanical lifters, which use a "four-column" design that's said to reduce weight while maintaining strength and torsional rigidity. They're also heat-treated, have micro-polished needle bearings, and are made to have a lower reciprocating weight from increased rpm potential.
And if you want that kind of performance for your LS motor, don't fret-new Ultra Pro mechanical lifters are coming for LSx engines as well. These spring-loaded lifters will feature a tie-bar design, making the works stronger and lighter than the standard lifter tray configuration. "This is especially important in high-rpm drag racing actions, where they help enable high lift off a small base circle," Knight told us. "There's a lot of escalation in the Ultra Pro. That 8620 steel body holds its roundness along with gobs of spring pressure."
There's yet another new series of Crane 'sticks, the Rapid Ramp Cams. "They really accelerate valves off the seat, getting more area under the curve," Knight said. "It's very dynamically stable, and easy with the LS, light and strong. A lot of these 'sticks, Knight admitted, are street-performance grinds, especially in hydraulic versions. "More serious street guys," he said, are changing springs, lifters, and rockers. "The LSx daily drivers with broad torque band are quiet-the race guys, noisy. And then dune buggies have a different cam altogether. Then there's the road racing Daytona prototype. They're loud with a narrow upper-rpm band. Specialization is getting to be the name of the game-we've got a hundreds of different grinds, and we've always heavy into it."
Another cool piece Knight clued us into is Crane's new Pro Series L92/LS3 stud-mount rocker arm kit. Right off the bat, it comes as a complete kit with rocker arms, screw-in studs, polylocks, pushrod guides, and even pushrods to enhance valvetrain stability. They come in 1.7 and 1.8 versions, of course, and use special tapered needle bearings in the fulcrum area for quietness and longevity, and also employ Quick Lift Technology. According to Crane, this rocker body design increases duration at 0.200-inch lift (read: more power) but maintains the advertised seat-to-seat valve timing figures for ease of tuning.
Another area Crane has seen a lot of interest in is firing swap cams in traditional small- and big-blocks. "They're finding their way into our regular lineup," says Knight. "We've got the 4-7 swap (Special Firing Order) as well as the 4-7/2-3 swap-the same order as an as LS1." That one's called the SFO1 cam. "It depends on the intake, manifold, and carb," Knight told us. The SFO works well with a multicarb setup, while the SFO1 works better with single-plane manifolds.
Other than that, what Crane does is cater to customer needs. "We just about run a WWII interrogation to find out their specific uses," Knight quipped. "Different profiles, specialization, lobe lift, opening/closing ramps, powerband, tight lash cams.... We cater to customer needs, and we're constantly expanding. We've got lots of stuff going...street stuff, race stuff. We're constantly coming up with new cams."
We're sure it will come as no surprise that Crane has also significantly expanded its line of cams for Gen III and IV engines, with no fewer than three lineups: the Street/Strip Series, which is aimed right at the crowd it's named for; the LS Series Big Inch-Wide Separation Angle for big-cube LS motors; and the LS7 Series Hydraulic Roller Series, which is designed for the extreme airflow needs of that particular engine. All of them utilize Crane's Rapid Ramp lobe design and are gun-drilled for weight reduction.
For most of this endeavor, it seemed like everyone wanted to talk about LSx parts, and you can certainly get your Gen III and IV needs taken care of at Crower. In fact, the larger cam core sizes these engine use mirror what Crower is doing with many of the cams it does for aftermarket-block small- and big-blocks. Now, it's not that you can't get a street-oriented bumpstick from Crower-you'll find plenty of appropriate pieces in the company's catalog. On the other hand, Crower concentrates its efforts on ultra-high-performance pieces and race components. So when we asked Dave Crower about the kind of things he's been seeing lately, he immediately mentioned base circles. "We're seeing lots of bigger cam bearings so we can make the base circles, and therefore the cam lobes, bigger," he reported. A standard base circle is 1.868 inches, a big-block uses a 1.948 base circle, and the LS engines use a 2.168 base circle. "These larger base circles are primarily for roller tappets," he told us. "When you go with a bigger base circle, the lifter doesn't come as much out of the bore, so it's better supported and there's horsepower to be had." Surprisingly to us, these gains aren't just because a bigger base circle can run more-aggressive cam lobes. "There's the shear factor of the lobe pushing against the lifter," Crower continued. In other words, the lobe actually tries to shear the lifter off. "When the journal goes bigger, it's a big advantage powerwise." For instance, if you go to a 50mm cam core, you pick up 300 rpm of control and a degree or a degree-and-a-half of duration throughout. "The trend is to get the base circle as big as possible," Crower said, and he agreed with us that the increasing popularity of aftermarket blocks has facilitated this.
Crower has also taken a hard look at its valvetrain components in the search for more power. "Every gram you get off the valve equals 25 extra rpm. So if your valve weighs 10 grams less, that's 250 extra rpm you can spin the engine. It's like a whole-point rocker increase." You also need a good picture of the valvetrain, Crower said. If you make the spring and retainer lighter, at the same rpm you've got 20 percent less load over cam, which means 20 percent less pressure over nose. And the less weight there, the less wear on the bearings. "It's not uncommon to see NASCAR guys run under 1.300-inch od springs with 65-gram intake valves to 9,000 rpm."
Crower also pays close attention to spring rates. Using the Harvey Crane idea of camshaft intensity, the company pays close attention to the difference between advertised duration and 0.050 duration when recommending valvesprings. For instance, according to Crower, a cam with a wide spread between these figures is a smooth camshaft and doesn't require high spring pressure. As the difference drops, these faster, more intense cams need extra spring.
Crower has also been doing a brisk business in tool steel cams that don't require hard facing. They are heat-treated and nitrided and have a very thick 0.062- to 0.063-inch wear material. They're also really hard-65 Rockwell compared to a typical 40-48 Rockwell, says Crower. It's definitely a hard-core race 'stick, and Crower figures they sell 500-800 a year, as well as 500 sets of the hardened, polished lifters that go with them.
Other trends Crower sees? Besides needle bearing cams, which the company does a couple hundred of a year, he noted lots of firing-order-change cams. "We do a lot of 4-7 swaps in roller cams," he said. "We also do a lot of LS1 firing-order cams: 4-7/2-3. The swap helps distribution in the carb and harmonics in the block." That sounds like something CHP might have to test out sometime.
Crower is also selling more stainless rocker bodies-especially shaft setups and split-ratio arrangements like 1.6/1.7 and 1.7/1.8. Many of these are fitted with Crower's needle bearing rocker tips. "They're very advantageous for reducing valve guide wear, and you'll be surprised at how much easier the engine spins over." In fact, said Crower, more than half of the shaft-mount systems the company sells have needle bearings.
One of Crower's biggest stocks in trade are its stainless rocker bodies, many of which come fitted with the company's needle bearing rocker tips. According to Crower, the engine spins more freely and valve guide wear is reduced. More than half of the shaft-mount setups Crower sells are fitted with this option.
If there's anything else that Crower wanted to get across, it was to encourage buyers to call and get a recommendation. "We do more custom cams than shelf grinds," he told us. When it comes to street applications, Crower continually stays with moderate cams so heavy springs aren't required. "If you put high-flow heads on a street engine, you may lose low-end power," Crower reminded us. "And you may need a smaller cam. The biggest thing is to supply us with head flow numbers."
Crower also does extensive business in larger cam cores, such as the 50mm LS1-size core. Bigger journals have multiple advantages. They're easier on lifters and allow for better valve control at higher rpm, and this while still running more aggressive lobes, leading to power gains. The popularity of aftermarket blocks has allowed for more frequent use of larger core sizes.
We made sure to talk to most of the big names in the cam industry, but we also wanted to get some input from a free agent, Ed Curtis of Flowtech Induction. The bulk of Curtis' business is working in conjunction with select dealers and installation shops who want tailor-made valvetrain and cylinder head packages. If you wanted to oversimplify the whole deal, you could just call him a custom camshaft and valvetrain designer. Since Curtis works with a variety of camshaft manufacturers, he has access to cam lobes across the board and can use whatever works best to obtain his goal of a successful combination for the enthusiast.
During this conversation however, Curtis had one really hot topic in mind and wasn't shy about sharing his enthusiasm. "The most recent project I've been working on is our latest camshaft profiles and valvetrain packages for GM's displacement-on-demand (DOD) engines, such as the rectangular-port, L92-based, 6.0L engines. Relate that to current L92 and even the LS3 powerplants and what we'll soon see in the new Camaro." Although Curtis has been using the new Pontiac G8GT variant as the guinea pig, the technology will transfer.
He's been working very hard with one of his valvetrain dealers (New Era Performance Parts in Rochester, New York), and the guys have been doing a ton of dyno testing of various DOD-specific cam profiles. "We've learned a lot and gained a bunch of 'usable' power with these FTI DOD-specific valvetrain packages and New Era's software programming with the DOD electronic control system." Though some enthusiasts might think this kind of setup a nuisance, Curtis assures us: "Many people who contact us want to keep the DOD feature functioning."
Curtis' formula includes proprietary camshaft profiles, a heavy-duty timing set, heavy-wall pushrods, and PAC Racing beehive valve springs. These mechanical items, coupled with the New Era Performance software mods, have resulted in more than 400 rwhp (even with a 3,200-stall converter) from FTI's mule, the Project G8GT. (Remember, think new Camaro when we mention the Poncho.)
The car in question managed 12.39 at the recent NMCA LSX shootout, and that was after averaging 23 mpg on the drive from Rochester to Memphis. Curtis figures it for 11.90 at sea level, especially since the 4,200-pound G8GT was also deep staging to meet the 12.50 index class-no wonder they call these new Pontiacs "Charger Hunters," he says.
So how did Curtis go about extracting all that power from the DOD system? "In the beginning we were a bit worried, but by simply taking the time to measure everything-lifters and their bores, camshaft base circles, rocker arm geometry-we came up with the right valvetrain and lobe design to make it all work perfectly. The result was using the correct base circle and setting the preload properly, so the package was able to work with the stock GM DOD lifter along with the correct pushrod and valve spring kit we supply." Per usual, these camshaft kits include heavy-wall pushrods, aluminum roller rocker arms, and the proper valve spring. The whole thing sounds surprisingly simple, but many a long day was spent getting all this OEM-reliable, Curtis says. In fact, he says customers tell him the DOD is actually a bit quieter that the stock cam and, when using the stock mufflers, very stealthy.
The end result of this development by FTI and NEP is that currently three camshaft packages are "all very streetable," Curtis says, though he admits it will take "a certain temperament" for the aggressive one of the trio. "We also have cam kits that eliminate DOD function, but that's only in about 10 percent of applications," he confided. "90 percent of the interest is in DOD-specific applications and tend to use one of the two small cams."
So the bottom line is that there are proven base setups with 400-plus-horse motors and minor mods that still maintain great mileage. Curtis admits that he had to tone the cam specs down a little to make the DOD work smoothly, but that setup still puts a properly modded G8GT in the range of 400-410 rwhp. The more aggressive, non-DOD setup has consistently made 450-plus rwhp.
"You, too, can build up a similar sleeper with the more aggressive FTI/NEP G8GT package to your own 4,300-pound cruiser," says Curtis. "Featuring American Racing long tube headers, the NEP/FTI 'muffler eliminator' DragPipes, the FTI camshaft and valvetrain kit, the new NEP air inlet, and New Era's canned tune-and voila! You've got an 11-second four-door Bimmer Killer." But, as Curtis said of the "toned down" version, if a customer chooses that direction, there still aren't too many mid-12-second four-doors getting 23 mpg. Looking at the whole picture, it sounds like an area ripe for growth.
Now, Curtis also mentioned the research with the Escalade-style variable valve timing (VVT) and is very excited about the advantages of having a stout camshaft that acts like a small profile at idle and still makes big power when rpm increases. "It's new to the street-performance arena," he said, "though used in many OEM applications such as the Cadillac Escalade. In the beginning, VVT usage may be limited, but as a mechanical engineer I hate limits."
On the other hand, Curtis believes that the next direction for the hot rodder is getting the VVT system to work in non-VVT applications. In fact, his newest quest is to work with a software guru and create a standalone unit that will advance the cam for around-town cruising. Then, after datalogging the info, he would maximize the timing events and gain more top-end power as the pace increases. "We'll be able to plot the timing event points for optimum power in the software and put them where we want them," he claims, which sounds like a pretty good deal.
When we asked Curtis what else seemed to be popular these days, he had three words for us: turbo, turbo, turbo. "Our typical turbo customer is split between two versions of turbo combinations," he told us. "The low-boost, strong-running daily driver or the four-figure-rwhp and more race-bred combination. In either case, we always use USA-manufactured, premium components such as our own heavy-wall three-piece pushrods, PAC Racing nitrided valve springs, high-temp Viton seals, and titanium or tool steel retainers. These spring packages are overkill and battleship-quality to make sure they can deal with the extra power and heat generated by forced induction.
"The other thing I quickly learned is that both these turbo customers aren't afraid to play with the wastegate, so you must use bulletproof parts, and it is mandatory to have someone who knows what he's doing when it comes to tuning these cars. That's why I have a select and limited group of tuners I work with on my combinations.
"These shops can handle the 1,000-plus horsepower combinations that are cammed really big. Last month, Mike from New Era and I combined our heads to build a 1,030-plus rwhp twin-turbo Z06 that recently went low 10s at 149 mph-but the hottest thing I'm seeing is twin-turbo on cars having completely tame 800-900hp motors. I see a lot of STS and homemade rear-mount systems. Everybody wants an 8-second Nova that idles like a 12-second street car, and a turbo fits the bill. It's a crazy side of the market that's exploded for me, and people require the proper set of cylinder heads and matching valvetrain for them. It's a perfect fit for us."
All the companies interviewed wanted to talk about trick new cam and valvetrain parts as well as the technology used to create them. And make no mistake about it: Plenty of new parts and advanced technology is going on at Isky Racing Cams. "We've been investing in tech for the last five years," says Isky's Nolan Jamora. But the first thing he wanted to tell us about was a change in philosophy that this technology has brought. Isky calls it the "New Focus on Street Performance Guys." Jamora said, "Once, the custom camshaft was the domain of just the big-bucks racing teams. What we have done is make our cam designers available to design a cam that is perfect for the application, not just in the ballpark. You can call and talk directly to actual cam designers, not just a guy who works the tech line."
This team of designers, lead by Jamora and Tim Iskenderian, has designed hundreds of custom cams and is ready to help. Of course, it's technology that makes this type of approach possible. "We've expanded technology," he says. "The market demands it."
Isky has recently expanded its facilities for the rapid prototyping of new cam profile design and manufacturing. This consists of a state-of-the-art ProCam cam-design program and a specially equipped precision CNC master cam generator, operated under the direction of Jamora and Iskenderian. Isky is also working to upgrade every one of its cam grind machines in preparation for the new Accu-Cam precision profile measurement and accuracy standard.
This new precision technology has allowed Isky to create a family of aggressive new lobe profiles utilizing what the company calls Profile Expansion Technology. In other words, Accu-Cam standards are meant to ensure that these new state-of-the-art cam profiles will perform as designed-expanded to maximize area under the lift curve. According to Isky, this means that for a given cam lobe lift and duration at 0.050 inch, these new profiles will be longer in duration, or fatter, at higher lift checkpoints (0.200, 0.300, and so on) to maximize engine breathing potential "like never before."
Dozens of new cam lobe profiles utilizing this exclusive Profile Expansion Technology will soon be released, with more on the way. The first of these new-generation lobe designs are the Fat-Roller (hydraulic roller), the Velocitor (solid), the Mega-Max (hydraulic flat tappet), the Maximus (a lift-rule, hydraulic circle track cam), and the Vac-Max (a vacuum rule hydraulic). According to Isky, these lobe designs will be among the most aggressive cam profiles it has ever generated. Significant increases in the cam profile envelope (the area under the valve lift curve) and in engine breathing mean that more horsepower will be available at higher engine rpm without sacrificing low- and midrange torque. And for you big-block guys, the new Sportsman Series cams for BBC use the same technology. "It has a smooth closing profile," Jamora told us. "There's more torque, more power, through the whole rpm range. Of the Profile Expansion Technology, Jamora said, "You can have your cake and eat it too."
Isky hasn't neglected the LSx market. It has coming out with the LS Hydraulic Roller series and the more aggressive HRX series. There are some shelf grinds, but the spec sheet lists far more custom cam profiles. According to Jamora, the custom grinds are what the company has already done for various customers-the list will only increase as the company follows its new philosophy and creates more custom cams for customers. Isky has also created both anti-pump-up hydraulic and mechanical roller lifters that drop right into the stock LS1 lifter tray. On the other hand, for maximum performance in "severe-duty" applications, Iksy has created a tie-bar-style lifter for LSx motors that can handle more spring pressure and rpm with better control and longevity.
All that and we're still just scratching the surface. Isky has been hard at work creating high-quality springs for all apps, both B-Hives and drop-in dual springs for LSx engines, and ultra-high-quality Tool Rooms for traditional engines. When we say there's something here for everyone, that's no overstatement.
Last but by no means least, we dialed up out friend James Humphrey at Lunati to get the scoop on this veteran company's latest. To put it bluntly, Lunati is a company on a mission. While the company still sells more than its share of rotating assemblies, Humphrey declared, "We're trying to become more competitive in the cam market." Underlying that, Lunati is also experiencing a major paradigm shift: "Our philosophy is changing back to a racer's company. From competitive prices to superior products, we want to target racers." This shift in viewpoint marks a return to the company's roots, the '60s, when Lunati was the racer's choice. Unlike that racer-centric view of long ago, however, today's development effort is directed at the burgeoning LS market.
"People were tentative about modifying the LS at first," said Humphrey. "Now, 10 years later, they're throwing everything at it. They work it till it breaks, then back off. It's a different thought process, and you find them in everything. We do a lot of custom stuff, so cams are more finely tuned for our customers. With LS cams, we're at the point where if we don't have it, we can react. The custom stuff absolutely is a growth market. We're in the trenches, working, and our philosophy is changing back to a racer's company. From prices to products, we want to target racers.
"Currently we're developing a whole lot more LS-based numbered cams and profiles." Much of this effort is driven by what Humphrey has actually witnessed. "I was at the recent NMCA LSX shootout," he recalls. "There was a larger car count, and it was amazing to see what people were putting LSx motors in. There's so much being done there with power-adders, and so much action in the DOT classes. It's pretty easy to get those huge numbers, especially with all the new things being done with better-flowing heads and aftermarket blocks. It's not that easy to get all the power out of a traditional SBC."
What that lead to, according to Humphrey, was a major need to expand the Voodoo line for LS motors-in fact, Lunati doubled the amount of part-numbered cams available and also created a new series of lobes to work with power-adders, another major growth area in the LS arena. "Turbo's big right now," Humphrey observed. "We've got to have both street and all-out profiles."
As you might expect, Lunati has also been hard at work developing new valvetrain pieces to work with the new array of LS cams. For starters, there's a new Voodoo line of LS adjustable rocker arms, available in 1.7 and 1.8 ratios. Humphrey also pointed out that Lunati has been working on some new valve springs to complement the cams. "They're mostly enhanced versions of what we had. We had good coverage there, but we've added more heat treating for better longevity." That's especially important in turbo apps.
Lunati has also come up with Stock Eliminator valvesprings (it has worked extensively with NMCA racer Robin Lawrence), locks, and LS rockers. And when it comes to solid-roller LS cams, you may not find anything in the catalog, but, Humphrey assures us, "We'll do anything as a custom grind. It's an ongoing process."
Development of components for traditional small- and big-blocks has been limited compared to the LS line, but Lunati is still at work filling out the traditional engine line. In fact, camshaft engineer Harold Brookshire, who started the Voodoo line, has rejoined Lunati to complete the line. So you can certainly expect more to come.
There's also the Bare Bones line, which is a less expensive alternative for the 75-80 percent of people who just want a cam. "We still want to make sure the customer who wants a little power and sound is covered. But the premium line is still the Voodoo." As for valvetrain, Lunati has been hard at work there filling its valvetrain lineup, including a complete line of Pro Series pushrods along with more keepers, retainers, and springs, all with an eye toward bringing the company into the 21st century.
"We're in the mode of constantly developing now," Humphrey summed up. "We're back in the game to develop, and especially to work with racers. But the bottom line is that if we don't have it, we can do it. We've definitely got it covered, and we know we're not gonna stop finding people doing entirely different things." About this direction, Humphrey says, "This motor's not going away. It's here to stay. It's just so easy to make power."
Truth be told, we didn't really know what to expect when we entered the world of today's camshaft and valvetrain tech. The level of innovation and the ever-increasing performance of the products being are impressive, to say the least. The number of new cams being produced is mind-boggling-pick your powerband, pick your power level, and somebody's already producing the perfect cam for you. And now we've got 'sticks to work with previously exotic technologies like variable valve timing and displacement on demand. The future looks bright, and we can hardly wait to see what these guys come up with next.