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GM Performance Build Center - Trickle Down Effect

When GM Needs High-Tech Horespwer, It Turns To The Performance Build Center.

Feb 23, 2009
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Speculation on what will reside under the hood of the new Camaro runs rampant around the Internet. Undoubtedly there will be a base V-6 model, and the V-8 version will most likely roll under the power of an LS3 mill.

Camp 0810 01 Gm Performance Build Center Master Engine Builder 2/21

But if fortune smiles upon those who consider themselves loyal Camaro fans, GM just might build something really special. After all, what would be cooler than some sort of COPO edition fifth-gen Camaro with 427 cubic inches of LS7 goodness under the bonnet?

If that sounds like crazy talk, consider this: With the release of the LS9, the LS7 is no longer the baddest dog in GM’s kennel. Add to that the existing precedent of Corvette technology trickling down to the Camaro, and the idea doesn’t sound so whacked.

In any event, if GM decides to stuff something cool under the hood of the new Camaro, then chances are it’ll come from the Performance Build Center (PBC) in Wixom, Michigan.

Camp 0810 02 Gm Performance Build Center Gm Powertrain Building 3/21

Wixom is where GM turns for hand-assembled engineering masterpieces like the LS7 in the Z06, the supercharged Northstar in the V-series Caddies, and the 638hp LS9 for the new ZR1 super Vette. Engines aren’t built at Wixom by preprogrammed robots; real live flesh-and-blood craftsmen
build them.

These are true gearheads who take so much pride in their work that their name is prominently displayed on the finished product.

When Camaro Performers magazine was invited to visit Wixom—in this case to watch them build one of the first LS9 engines—we jumped at the chance to see how GM goes about hand-assembling one of their potent V-8s. After all, if we wish hard enough, maybe one will wind up in a future Camaro. n

The inside of the Wixom plant is squeaky clean and laid out around three main production lines. These lines can be quickly reconfigured to build either LS7s, LS9s, or blown Northstar engines. The blocks and cranks in the foreground are newly arrived LS9 pieces awaiting inspection. The parts that arrive from the suppliers are supposed to be clean, but GM Powertrain does it again just to make sure. Any contaminants are caught in a filter. After this initial washing, the blocks are placed in this pressure wash booth, blasted spotless and then air-blown dried.

Camp 0810 03 Gm Performance Build Center Cleaned Ls9 Blocks 4/21

Organization is the key to hand-building reliable performance engines on this scale. Each builder takes an engine through a series of stations, from bare block to finished product. Each station is laid out to accomplish a specific task. Only the tools needed are on hand. The task sheets are color-coded: green for LS9 and white for LS7 engines. If this were an LS7 build, the white tray (red arrow) would hold all the parts needed at this station. For LS9 builds, the parts are in job-specific green bins. Note the computer-controlled torque wrench.

Camp 0810 04 Gm Performance Build Center Work Station 5/21

The biggest difference between how you and I assemble an engine and how GM does it is in the use of very specialized tools. The alignment tool makes sure the timing cover is dead center to the crank and the plate ensures that the bottom is flush to the block, providing a leak-free seal to the oil pan.

Camp 0810 08 Gm Performance Build Center Alignment Tool 6/21

Cool new part alert! GM’s new LS9 engine is supercharged and the increased pressures involved means that even items as innocuous as the oil filter need to be beefed up. This new AC Delco oil filter’s canister is extra thick to resist bulging. The good news is that it should fit any LS engine. So, if you have a blown LS mill, take note of this part number.

Camp 0810 09 Gm Performance Build Center Beefier Oil Filter 10/21

Organization at Wixom extends to the parts as well as the tools. This system makes it easy for the builder to make sure he is supplied with every part needed for a station and to ensure that all of those parts end up on the engine. Note the new LS9 valve covers. They no longer have the ugly racks, and the coils bolt right to the cover for a cleaner look. Also, the color of the rack these parts are sitting on—in this case green—indicates that these are for an LS9.

Camp 0810 12 Gm Performance Build Center Ls9 Parts 14/21

Before the builder can torque down any bolt he must first scan the appropriate bar code for that set of bolts. This sets the torque wrench to the proper setting and prevents errors since the system won’t allow the builder to scan the next fastener until the first ones have been scanned and torqued.

Camp 0810 14 Gm Performance Build Center Bar Codes 15/21

As we said, every torque operation is recorded by the computer and tied to that particular engine. If there was ever a failure, this serial number could be input and a complete history of this engine would pop up. In case you’re curious, this is the 12th retail-production LS9 ever made.

Camp 0810 15 Gm Performance Build Center Complete Engine History 16/21

At three different spots along the build line there’s this symbol. If any step was missed, or if a bolt was torqued out of spec, the icon would be a sad red face. The computer checks, combined with the old school paint marks by the builders, ensures nothing is ever missed on an engine built at Wixom.

Camp 0810 16 Gm Performance Build Center Icon 17/21

With the supercharger installed, the engine is sealed and pressure tested. Air is forced into the oil and water passages and the computer makes sure there are no leaks. If the pressure isn’t held, the builder has to figure out where the leak is occurring, and fix it before the engine can move further down the line.

Camp 0810 17 Gm Performance Build Center Pressure Tested 18/21

Once the LS9 passes the pressure test, the builder installs the flywheel and dual-disc clutch on the engine. A weight is taken—in this case, a svelte 530 pounds—then the LS9 is tested.  It’s run first by natural gas so it can be externally balanced. After that, it’s hooked up to a DC motor and put through a 45-minute cold test.

When the engines are done, they are double-checked and sent offsite for 20-minute hot-test and dyno validation. It takes from 4.5 to 5 hours to build an LS9 at Wixom. This means they can churn out around 45 units a week. Will we ever see an LS7 or LS9 under the hood of a new Camaro? We’ll keep our fingers crossed. If not, there’s always the option of buying a crate engine and doing it ourselves.



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