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Inexpensive Turbo Block - Staying Alive!

We get a hand from the likes of Design Engineering, One Guys Garage, TPIS, and CJ Tunes.

Eric McClellan Aug 7, 2012
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It's often said that some of the most innovative stuff going on in the world happens in the most unassuming places. You know the clandestine shop in the middle of nowhere churning out killer work and trying to compete with the big dogs. Take, for example, Nate Shaw of One Guys Garage and his plan to build a budget corn-fed 5.3L LS motor that pumps out some serious steam with a fab'd single turbo kit. We really perked up when we heard his budget: less than $6,000. For Nate, though, the key was building a combo that would last, and not just a two-pull dyno queen, since he'll actually be dropping this motor into a car.

Nate allowed us to tag along with him as he took his motor to the dyno for fine-tuning at TPIS in Chaska, Minnesota. Nate started with a virtually untouched 5.3L all-aluminum long-block from an '05 Silverado that landed in a junkyard with 130,000 miles on it. First, he replaced the head gaskets with an LS9 set to take advantage of the extra layers and provide better sealing. ARP head studs were a natural choice upgrade, as was replacing the timing chain and installing dual valvesprings with new pushrods for better reliability with boost. The only other piece that Nate changed prior to our dyno session was the oil pan, adding a stock F-body pan to clear the subframe in his vehicle. Beyond that Nate swears on a stack of GM High-Tech magazines that the rest is bone stock and untouched.

Of course, the money that was not spent on the engine internals, did go toward the turbo kit--the real source of power on this budget build. But with such a tight budget, he could have easily spent that money on the turbo and intercooler alone. "Money could be saved on the intercooler as people have proven that the eBay $100 specials do work well. I chose a higher end unit as it fits my car better and has a little better overall performance. Also, the turbo is a name-brand unit for it is a perfect combination of power capabilities and size." Getting great deals on these pieces was key to staying under budget, yet still getting quality pieces in essential areas. Plus he'd be using his own elbow grease and know-how to build the system.

Another area of performance gains is the fuel. "E85 is the fuel of choice due to its higher octane rating, cooling properties, and is easily available in Minnesota." And it also adds to the combination's reliability, that and a good tune. "People really underestimate the strength of the stock parts when you have those two things. Naturally, it won't last forever, but it works well when compared to other higher end engines--dollars to dollars. Carl (CJ Tunes) is my guy and he works magic. I don't trust anyone else to tune my engines." But of course, making serious power on E85 requires serious injectors. "I used low impedence 95-pound Delphi injectors simply due to cost, but high impedence injector prices are coming down. They do make things a little more simple as there isn't any wiring with installing a driver box between the PCM and injectors." The first pull of the motor was, in short, disappointing. Even after fiddling with some of the tuning parameters the guys at TPIS and CJ Tunes were frustrated at seeing the power leveling off at 5,000 rpm. Thankfully, Nate thought ahead and brought a much more power-friendly cam to try out. The cam proved to be a much-needed improvement in all areas of the dyno curve. The motor finally came alive and made a very healthy 824 hp and 718 lb-ft of torque. While the original plan for the motor was to run roughly 20 psi and knock out 900-or-so horsepower, but as with all things, plans don't always go that way as the sun set too early and Nate ran out of dyno time. As far as future plans for the motor, Nate tells us that an LS6 intake might gain a few more ponies, potentially as many as 20-30 horsepower, but he's fairly happy with the results and is pretty confident that this combination will be a hell of a lot more fun than that old Silverado it used to ride in. We couldn't have imagined a better way to put out to stud.


Design Engineering
Avon Lake, OH 44012
CJ Tunes

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