No matter what happens to the LS over the next decade, it's here to stay and will quickly replace the traditional small-block Chevy. I believe that the trend from Mouse to LS engines is happening much faster than many in the industry realized until recently.
Being a grizzly old veteran comes with a certain degree of street cred, but sometimes the young punks have too much game. Even the '03 Yankees, '08 Patriots, Jennifer Aniston, and the guy who lost the last presidential election would be hard-pressed to disagree. The concept of young talent sticking it to their more experienced competition is what Mast Motorsports is all about. Not only is the company a newcomer to the aftermarket scene, but it's also run by a band of enthusiasts and engineers with trim midsections and full heads of hair. Considering that Mast Motorsports specializes in LS-series motors-which are typically pushed to the limits by racers with trim midsections and full heads of hair-being young certainly isn't a bad thing.
Founded by Horace Mast, the company offers a full line of Gen IV crate engines, ECMs, and wiring harnesses with drop-in-and-go simplicity. Additionally, Mast has developed custom motor mounts, headers, and crossmembers for most Bow Tie muscle cars to make it stupid-easy to drop an LS motor into classic Chevy iron. For readers considering an LS1 swap for their muscle car, we had Horace tell all. We also used the opportunity to learn about the latest in Gen III and Gen IV technology. With GM continually refining these innovative motors and squeezing more and more power out of them, it's time to get up to speed on what's arguably the greatest motor ever built.
"Mast Motorsports is an engineering-based engine controls, crate engine, and design company with many objectives. One is to design and engineer innovative, high-quality, exhilarating products for our customers. Another is to bring the most advanced products and engine technologies to the aftermarket. Recognizing the need for an EFI system that offered OEM-caliber drivability and flexibility, our engineers collaborated to bring this control package to the aftermarket as one of our first products. The objective was to offer EFI systems and crate engines that lacked the headaches normally involved with EFI retrofits and conversions, while integrating OEM-quality controls for accessories and drivability in one complete package. These are high-output powerplants that are tame and reliable enough to be driven daily while making enough power to be raced competitively.
"EFI conversions used to consist of buying an engine from an engine builder, chasing down half-complete EFI systems from another source, and then getting it tuned by a third-party that would have the customer either mail in their controller for tuning or rely on a calibration developed on a chassis dyno. With our system, you spend a fraction of the time required to get an engine running properly with excellent drivability.
"At Mast Motorsports, the cam lobe profiles, cam cores, pistons, valvetrain components, block machining, short-block blueprinting and assembly, ECM and wiring harnesses production, engine calibration, and engine testing are all done under one roof. The aftermarket seems to like the idea of getting a high-performance powertrain solution that has been engineered from top to bottom by one company.
"The concept of calibrated EFI systems that require no tuning has been quite a hit for our customers, while the high-end calibration capability of the M-90 ECM has been well received by customers undertaking custom setups that require further calibration. Since our inception, other markets took notice of our capabilities, and we have now expanded into powertrain manufacturing for several sectors of the automotive, airboat, off-road, and marine markets.
"Additionally, customer demand has required us to enter the drop-in short-block market. Our no-compromise engineering approach to high performance is something new to this sector of the aftermarket. Our biggest compliments have been from customers who are happy with the ease of installation, drivability, and power of their high-output project car as well our ability to provide everything necessary for their LS swap."
Cheaper to Build LS1's
Just a few years ago Gen III and IV motors cost a fortune to build, but now they can be affordable. This shift is attributable to several factors. In 1997 GM first installed Gen III engines in the Corvette, and a year later it appeared in the F-body. However, the platform was too new to the marketplace, and aftermarket parts development was in its infancy. "That's all changed within a few years, as GM started using the Gen III platform in trucks, SUVs, and other cars, which helped make the engine more widely accepted. Economies of scale coupled with easy access to cores and components drove prices down significantly," Horace explains. "One of the main reasons Gen III and IV engines used to cost a fortune to build was that manufactures had to produce parts in very small volumes. As the LS engine has become more widely accepted and the volume of engines being built has gone up, costs have naturally gone down. Although a traditional small-block Chevy can still be built for less money, a comparable LS stroker will usually produce more horsepower. Therefore, the cost gap between building, say, a 650hp Mouse motor and a 650hp LS motor has become very small in recent years. With that cost gap narrowing so much and the LS engine's advantages in fuel efficiency, drivability and reliability, many enthusiast are making the switch with their new projects. In the future, we foresee the Gen IV platform continuing to evolve as the fastest-growing segment in the aftermarket."
"The Gen IV engine platform is extremely diverse when it comes to applications. Currently we build engines for muscle cars, street rods, street/strip vehicles, drag cars, off-road vehicles, airboats, and powerboats. With such a diversity of applications and an engineering approach to engine design, our LS knowledgebase is far superior than it would be if we were to focus on building multiple engine platforms. This focus is what has led us to design products for our crate engines that we now sell to performance enthusiasts.
"For instance, our entire in-house cam program stemmed from the fact that no variable-valve-timing cam core existed, and no aftermarket cam manufacturer was willing to make us one, so we designed and built the cores ourselves. Now we offer a purpose-built cam line for all three GM Gen IV cam cores (three-bolt, single-bolt, and VVT). Although it hasn't been well publicized, we have been producing VVT cams for two years now. Furthermore, we have designed many other products simply by focusing on the capabilities of every Gen IV component. We are currently releasing 12-degree LS3 cylinder heads, our own line of shaft-mount offset roller rockers, and fuel rails for LS3, L76, L99, and LS7 plastic and aluminum intake manifolds.
"Economically, since so many parts on the Gen IV platform cross over from one configuration to another, we have the ability to keep our engine manufacturing very lean. The actual machining, honing, blueprinting, and finish assembly processes are streamlined since our engine builders follow the same routine, which reduces labor costs."
The original LS1 and LS6 cylinder heads are already dinosaurs thanks to the constant influx of innovative new castings for GM. The result is a new line of cheap and plentiful factory castings available to the public that move a tremendous amount of air. Arguably the most significant development in recent years from GM are the 15-degree rectangle-port cylinder heads that were released with the L92. These heads, along with GM's LS7 castings, are rooted in the company's Corvette road racing program.
"The GM Gen IV cylinder head design has a combination of port flow and cost that has never been seen before in the automotive aftermarket. GM is placing these cylinder heads on every truck and SUV in the country, and they flow 330 cfm right out of the box," Horace explains. Even more astonishing is that these heads are available from GM Performance Parts for less than $900 fully assembled. For this reason, Mast Motorsports utilizes the L92 castings on the majority of its crate engines and has further improved its performance and power potential. "During the R&D phase, we start with an engine simulation program and look at all characteristics of the engine-including the throttle size, intake runner length, intake manifold flow, bore, stroke, exhaust runner length, and valve timing-to determine what cylinder head configuration will respond best for a given application. Then we design custom CNC port profiles that improve port velocity and airflow while improving knock resistance in the chamber. After that, we design a custom cam lobe and camshaft that is matched to the cylinder head, intake manifold, and engine displacement. From then on, it's off to the dyno for final tuning."
People who swap late-model EFI motors into older musclecars are often seeking drop-in-and-go simplicity. To that end, Mast Motorsports has all the bases covered. "We offer everything needed to install a Gen IV engine into an older musclecar including custom headers, engine mounts, crossmembers, front accessory drive systems, fuel systems, and a variety of harmonic balancers, water pumps, and oil pans. Our M-90 ECM is the most important component for drop-in-and-go simplicity since as long as the engine has fuel pressure, it only takes three wires to hook up before the engine is ready to start," says Horace. "Most of our customers buy other conversion parts directly from us to make their engine installations as simple as possible. It also makes our customers less apprehensive about an LS swap when they know that they can get all the components they need under one roof. Our distributors also offer these same services."
"In order to suit the diverse needs of our customer base, Mast Motorsports offers a dizzying array of crate engines. Customers should consider their budget, intended application, and desired idle characteristics and power output up front. Our hand-built Hot Rod & Musclecar line of engines, which come complete with an ECM and wiring harness, is our most popular product. These hand-built crate engines are designed for the rare combination of extreme durability in racing and street environments. They include forged rotating assemblies, premium valvetrain products, and purpose-designed custom camshafts. The three primary engine blocks that we use are the LS3, LS7, and the LSX in displacements ranging from 416 to 454 ci.
"Our entry-level engines feature cam profile that yield a slight lope at idle, responsive low-end torque, a powerful midrange, and a powerband that peaks earlier. The cams in our H.O. engines yield a broader torque curve with mild lope at idle and impressive midrange and top-end power without compromising low-end torque. Our SS engines are equipped with cams that yield higher rpm power potential with a moderate lope at idle. They sound really mean at idle, but are very streetable thanks to our M-90 ECM. Every customer is looking for something a little bit different that will be perfect for their needs and expectations, which is the reason why we work tirelessly to offer a wide variety of engine combinations."
Despite the benefits of EFI, wiring it all can be a pain. To dummy-proof the installation of its crate motors, Mast Motorsports offers custom wiring harnesses to complement its engines and ECMs. "We designed our harness from the ground up to be the most capable and user-friendly units on the market. Both our M-90 DBW and M-90 WBO2 ECMs can mount anywhere, and the engine harness is truly plug-and-play," Horace explains. "To get the engine running, all you need is to hook up the power, ground, neutral safety, and ignition switch wires, and you're good to go.
"Our harness also powers the starter circuit, the ignition power circuit, the electric fan circuit, and the fuel pump circuit. This means everything is already in place to power the starter, electric fan, and fuel pump. By including these circuits, our harness saves the customer not only the cost of these separate systems, but countless hours on wiring all these sub systems up separately. We have even gone so far as to make an A/C harness that greatly reduces the installation time of a Vintage Air or equivalent A/C system with a trinary switch.
"As far as quality is concerned, each harness is manufactured to exacting tolerances following strict ISO 9001 guidelines. Most importantly, each circuit is tested prior to being removed from the production tooling. At any point in which two wires must be connected together, they are ultrasonic-welded instead of being socket-spliced or soldered."
Mast M-90 ECM
"Our M-90 ECM offers many advantages over programmable OEM-based systems that rely on mass airflow sensors, closed-loop operation, and fuel enrichment modes. Our modeled air control strategy combines speed density air metering, a throttle model, a backpressure model, a cam overlap model, injector models, and transient models that make our M-90 ECM capable of the most accurate open-loop calibrations in the aftermarket. The M-90's improved wideband knock capability can accurately detect the slightest of knock events even with substantially increased valvetrain noise and engine harmonics. This improves the accuracy of the spark calibration and also prevents engine failure due to a tank of bad gas.
"Other functions such as idle and redline governors offer more tunability as well, and all calibration adjustments are made in real time. The M-90 ECM's combination of capability, ease of use, and accuracy becomes apparent when driving a vehicle equipped with one of our crate engines. By offering an optional wideband O2 sensor that communicates directly with the ECM, the sensor readings are shown in real time and the system can be run in open- or closed-loop. For those that aren't as computer savvy, we offer precalibrated ECMs.
"Our performance packages have produced some amazing results in daily-driven vehicles. One of our first projects was transplanting an L92 SS performance package into an '01 F-body. This car ran a 10.99 pass in the 2007 LSX shootout before most people even knew what an L92 engine was, much less that there was company out there that had already developed an ECM, harness, VVT camshaft, and calibration for it that was producing results on the track."
Jacks of All Trades
The Mast Motorsports staff has impressive credentials. The staff includes mechanical engineers, machinists, head porters, fabricators, software developers, and electrical experts, all in one building. According to Horace, this breadth of talent is what enables the company to offer some of the best LS components on the market. "First off, it allows us to yield substantial efficiencies in the design, testing, and production process. Second, it yields a superior product in terms of quality, power, durability, and time to market. Lastly, there is a constant flow of good information between departments, which ensures the highest-quality product available without compromise," says Horace. "The personnel on the team is really what makes this company work. Every Mast Motorsports employee is passionate about what they do, has vision for the future direction of the company, and knows what they must do to accomplish it. We are really all on the same page, and it gives us a competitive advantage."
It wasn't long ago when enthusiasts were stuck with resleeving a stock LS1 block and praying that it didn't leak coolant. Fortunately, between production GM and aftermarket castings, there are now over a dozen different types of LS blocks to choose from. "As for the stock versus aftermarket debate, it's difficult to place a power rating on production blocks because every application and torque curve places different stresses on the base block. The stresses of a 600hp engine that peaks at 6,200 rpm are much different from the stresses of a 600hp engine that peaks at 7,200 rpm," Horace explains.
Production blocks have proven themselves as an extremely durable foundation for most crate engines. Horace says that main clearances and the addition of premium ARP main studs also help increase the durability of the LS platform's six-bolt main architecture. "The majority of the engines in our Hot Rod and Musclecar series utilize the stock LS3 and LS7 blocks as their foundation. For our LSX 454ci crate engines, we use the GM LSX block for its bore size and cylinder wall depth in order to achieve our target displacement. On our engines that produce in excess of 700hp, we only use aftermarket blocks. However, once the LS9 blocks become available, we expect to be pushing it well over 700hp."
Dynos and R&D
"The engine dyno is a critical and mandatory tool for any level of engine design, development, and testing. During the construction of our facility we built four soundproof engine dyno test cells equipped with closed-loop cooling towers and independent isolated foundations. The closed cooling system is capable of absorbing 2,000 crank horsepower continuously at an outside ambient temperature of 100 degrees F. This means we could run four engine durability tests, each at 500hp, as long as we wish and would only have to worry about the fuel bill.
"Our engine dyno gets put through the ringer to say the least, as we rely on it for all of our OEM-level point-by-point calibration work for every engine we offer. Each calibration has 160 volumetric efficiency and spark points mapped in. Moreover, the dyno is also used to break in and test every engine that leaves our facility. This way, we are 100 percent confident in the quality and the performance of each engine when the customer fires it up. The engine must maintain a certain power curve compared to its standard base engine counterpart before it is cleared for shipment. Any discrepancy in the power curve is investigated to make sure that the customer is receiving what they were promised.
"As a result of our extensive testing, we have accumulated mountains of data for hundreds of engine combos, which give us the unique advantage of having loads of data on the Gen IV platform. In my opinion, I don't believe that any engine shop can properly function without an engine dyno for research, development, and product verification."
"Standard corrected power figures are the accepted method of presenting power figures by most performance and race engine builders today. The way we are different from other shops isn't in the correction factor that's applied, but in the accuracy of the raw data that is collected from the load cell. Many shops have not used calibration weights since the day their dyno was installed. Others calibrate their load cell during yearly maintenance. In contrast, our calibration weights literally have a permanent home three feet from the dyno. The load cell is recalibrated before every engine that goes on, which usually means several times a day.
"Enthusiast must realize that there are large discrepancies from dyno to dyno, and from and one dyno manufacturer to another. I personally wish that the aftermarket would adopt a newer standardized correction factor, and that engine shops around the country would take more care in the accuracy of their published data. However, this is a competitive business where horsepower sells, so I don't see changes coming anytime soon."