Back in 1997, GM introduced the LS engine, and the hot rodding community was excited at the prospect of an all-aluminum, fuel-injected small-block. And while they saw the swap potential of this new mill, they also saw what could be best described as a "homely looking" engine. The main problem was the valve cover-mounted coil packs and associated wiring. It was just a huge departure from the relatively clean look of the Gen I small- and big-block, and the black, plastic intake manifold compounded the problem. Still, the LS has become the "go-to" engine when one wants to infuse classic metal with new-school muscle. That was 16 years ago, and in that time hot rodders have gotten pretty damn creative when it comes to making this unattractive mill shine in the engine bay. Relocating coils, re-routing wires, beauty covers, and even old-school air cleaners have all been used to turn the blasé into beautiful.
We looked back at some of the LS engine bays we've shot over the years and picked out a few that might get your creative juices flowing. After all, nothing says you can't look good and go fast.
An option with LS engines is to fully embrace its high-tech roots. In the case of Karl Dunn’s 1968 that meant his builder, JCG, combined carbon fiber with custom billet widgets to make the LS7 look right at home in the first-gen. Items aside from the actual LS engine, like the Detroit Speed Inc. wiper motor and Wilwood brake master help as well. Painting the LS7 intake helped lose the plastic vibe inherent to LS engines.
The new-generation Camaro’s engine bay resembles a bowl of spaghetti with all of the wires and hoses running about. Centerforce Clutch’s 2010 SS (May, 2011) solved the aesthetics issue by topping the homely LS3 with a bright and shiny 2.3L MagnaCharger. An even bigger help was using aftermarket fuel rail covers to hide the coils and a large chunk of the wiring.
Once again, we found the best way to dress up an LS engine in a new Camaro was to perch a blower on top. In this case, it was Clay Lawson’s 2010 SS (Dec., 2012). The huge Kenne Bell Mammoth blower hides most of the engine, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Trust us, dressing up the engine bay of a fourth-gen is no easy task. In the case of Greg Edwards’ 2002 SS (May 2012), he made big style points by repainting the bay and color-matching the FAST 102mm intake. He also used a pair of T76 Turbonetics turbos to distract from the more cluttered area towards the firewall. The Jet-Hot coating on the headers and tubing added some practical bling to the busy but beautiful engine bay.
Now, the LS engine isn’t prone to winning beauty contests, but even the simple act of hiding the coil packs helps to ditch a ton of clutter and wiring. With Brian Hobaugh’s 1973 (Feb., 2013), we loved the track-ready looks of the Mast Motorsports 416 LS3. The taller Mast cast-aluminum valve covers look a ton better than the stockers.
Many times hiding the clutter is much easier than trying to remove it. For this, the best recourse is some sort of engine cover. Mark Lengal (July 2012), stole an idea first fielded by the C5 Corvette and used some fuel rail covers to not only hide the coils and wires, but also carry over some graphics from the car. He also painted the LS6 intake manifold, which is an inexpensive and easy way to make any LS engine look better.
Of course, going high tech isn’t the only course. With Dave and Karen Leisinger’s 1970 Crusher Camaro (June, 2012), Lakeside Rods and Rides used aircraft-inspired sheetmetal to disguise the LS, tone down the coil packs, and give the RHS race block engine a very cool and industrial look. The Meziere electric water pump dresses up the front of the engine and frees up a few horsepower.
Greening Auto Company used a combination of a custom-fabbed individual runner intake and a top cover to clean up the throttle body and drastically beautify the engine bay on Jimmy Jackson’s 1968 (May 2012). They also hid the coils and used some smooth valve covers to further clean things up.
Zach Schary (May 2013) showed us that you really can dress up an LS engine bay even on a tight budget. The paint lends a Trans-Am vibe to the carbureted LS engine. A billet power steering tank helps to get rid of the LS plastic feel, and the sleeker design of the newer GM valve covers work to clean up the clutter. Also, keep in mind that if you want to have this look and retain EFI, then you can simply mount a throttle body in place of the carb.
Rather than go for a custom look, you could do what Mark Stielow did on his 1967 (May 2013) and make the LS look like GM installed it. The use of the LS9 blower and beauty cover works with Mark’s placement of OEM pieces such as the ECU and fuse box to give the engine bay a factory-fresh look.
Painting the block, water pump, and valve covers really helped Mike Cornelius’ budget-built 5.3L LS (Sept. 2012) look a ton better. But, what really made it look clean was the Edelbrock intake topped with a Holley carb. Again, rerouting wires and making a few changes can add more than a few style points to your LS engine bay.
Use the right valve covers, along with big enough engine covers, and you won’t even know there’s an LS engine in the bay. A great example of this is the Lakeside Rods and Rides-built SCAR 1967 Camaro owned by Karen Leisinger.
In the case of our Bad Penny project car, we decided to embrace the coil packs rather than fight the hassle of hiding them. The Katech valve covers utilize a bracket system that
Lokar’s Skip and Debbie Walls, showed what’s possible with their Goolsby Customs-built 1969 Camaro (June 2013). Thanks to a beautiful Vintage Air FrontRunner drive system and custom-fabricated engine bay panels, this LS looks fantastic. Rather than trying to relocate the coil packs, the Goolsby team worked up these covers to hide the clutter and give the LS a more traditional V-8 shape.