Dry Sump Oil System - Suck It!

Stephen Kim Sep 1, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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Although the hosts of "Top Gear" America can somehow get away with it, in most situations, sucking it up isn’t something you want to do. However, on-track beat-downs don’t qualify as most situations, and in racing environments, an oiling system that sucks incessantly is exactly what an engine needs. Enter dry sump lubrication. Just about every race car on the planet — whether it’s in NASCAR Sprint Cup, NHRA Pro Stock, or Formula One — relies on a dry sump oil system. Even those goofball drifters have them. Whether the performance machine at hand dishes out g-forces under braking, acceleration, cornering, or all three, the laws of physics do their best to uncover the pump pickup and leave it gurgling on aerated froth instead of drinking a steady supply of oil. As all five generations of Camaros continue to accelerate harder with ever-increasing horsepower totals, and corner more briskly thanks to cutting-edge suspension technology and modern tire compounds, ever-greater demands are placed upon the oiling system. It just so happens that many of today’s most capable Camaros boast LS small-block power, and as such, it only makes sense to explore what’s involved with fitting a dry sump oiling system on these motors.

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Not long ago, converting a wet sump motor over to dry sump lubrication required piecing together dozens of different parts out of a catalog. This process is hardly rocket science, but it does increase the potential for messing something up, and at the very least, it can be a major pain. Fortunately, companies like Armstrong Race Engineering (ARE) make things easy. It offers a full catalog of bolt-in dry sump systems for import and domestic engines, including several different options for LS-series small-blocks. To get a first-hand look at what it takes to fit a dry sump oiling system onto a Gen III small-block, we dropped by HK Enterprises in Houston, Texas.

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At any given time, HKE has more than two dozen LS small-blocks — ranging from street/strip to full race — under construction, and the shop has earned a reputation in the Gen III/IV community for building incredibly potent yet extremely reliable engine combos. HKE just so happened to be installing a dry sump setup on a 1,250hp 408ci drag motor during our visit, so we were eager to check it out. While the process of installing a dry sump setup is somewhat universal, there are several application-specific quirks that need to be addressed when the engine platform at hand is the LS-series small-block. That said, upgrading to a dry sump system is a big-time financial commitment that can easily top $3,000. As such, it’s worthwhile to take a comprehensive look at how they work, and the dividends they can yield in both oil control and horsepower before delving into the installation process.

Dry Sump Basics

In a typical wet sump oiling system, an internally mounted pump pulls oil out of the pan through a pickup tube. Pressurized oil is then routed through the main galley in the block en route to the oil filter. The oil then travels up the back of the block to the main feed galley, which runs through the lifter bores. From there, oil trickles down to the mains to lubricate the crank, rods, and main and rod bearing. Just like the Gen I small-block, LS-series engines direct oil to the cylinder heads through holes drilled into the lifters and pushrods. This lubricates and cools the valvesprings and rocker arms, and the oil then drains back into the pan through passages in the cylinder heads and block. Of course, this entire chain of events assumes that the oil pump pickup remains submerged in oil all the time. Anytime oil pushes up against the sides of the pan instead of going through the pickup tube, this entire sequence is disrupted, and catastrophic engine failure looms just around the corner.

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