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Why LS Engines Are So Prevalent in Classic Chevys

LS Win

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To say the LS series of engines are a success would be an epic understatement. Jump into your time machine (or TARDIS if you’re especially nerdy) and go back in time 20 or 30 years. Walk into the local hot rod engine shop and tell them you want an all-aluminum, EFI-fed small-block that puts out 500 street-friendly horsepower. One of two things will happen. Either you will get “that look” or you will be told they can do it but it will idle rough and require race gas. Engines like the one described were once fairly exotic, but thanks to the mass-produced magic of the GM LS engine series this kind of performance is now available to the masses. A brand-new LS3 crate engine from Chevrolet Performance sells for just over $6,000 and even includes spark plugs and wires. Back in the day, $6,000 would have covered the block and some machine work.

GM frankly hit it out of the park with the design of the LS series of engines. And they did it with good “old fashioned” pushrods. In fact, that’s one reason it’s so successful. GM built the LS from the ground up, but they kept it familiar to those of us used to working on the gen 1 stuff. This meant the learning curve was shorter and, as mentioned, the packaging was kept similar as well, which made stuffing them into our classics a snap. Builders and engine swappers rejoiced at the way the same pulley system could be used on everything from a 6.2L LS3 to a 4.8L iron truck engine. It’s the same with the bellhousing and a host of other parts. Heck, even the issue of tuning the computer has been getting simpler every year. This has made it a no-brainer for the aftermarket to support the platform, and over time that support made working with the engine even easier. And it’s also why you see them in so many cars featured in this magazine. We still love our early small- and big-blocks, but it’s hard to beat LS engines in terms of streetable performance. Heck, there are even entire events, such as Holley’s LS Fest, built around the performance and popularity of these mills.

And, of course, there’s the new LT variant. It has retained the tried-and-true pushrod system but a lot of technology, namely direct injection, has been added to the mix. This has made swapping them in more challenging, but, thanks to the aftermarket, working with them is becoming a somewhat easier endeavor. The LT series has a tough act to follow and we’re still undecided if it will ever match the popularity of the LS, then again we weren’t sure of the LS when it came onto the scene either.

Ls Crate Engine 2/2

An LS crate engine will never be called pretty, but at an under-rated power output of 440 horsepower (for a typical LS3) a lot of people are willing to forgive, especially when it’s easy to coax out over 500 hp with just a cam and some headers. Best of all, it will easily fit into any Chevy capable of holding a small-block and still knock down 20 mpg with the right gears and transmission.

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