Essential Engines - The Chevrolet LS

Red Corvette Engine

Source | TK

When people look to add power to their project build, there are a million different things one can do, like tunes, upgrades, turbos, superchargers, and more. However, whenever the conversation arises, you'll always hear one option: "LS swap it!" What they're referring to specifically is the LS family of engines from Chevrolet. The LS has become one of the most common engine swaps across the world, easily creating power two to three times what it made from the factory with widely available parts, breathing life into new and old projects.

Before the LS engine took over the world, the hot-rodding community and GM performance relied on the proven Small Block Chevy (SBC). This iron block V8 used carburetors for most of its decades-long life and saw service in everything from Chevy trucks to Corvettes. It was the engine swap of choice due to its low price, common parts availability, compact size, and reasonable horsepower. However, by the '90s, the additions of emissions equipment and port fuel injection were outside the original design scope of the SBC, and GM recognized the need for an entirely new design to keep up with the 21st-century competition.

Initially released in the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette with 345 horsepower, the LS1 was unique because it had more power than its iron-block predecessor and was lighter due to its aluminum construction and plastic intake manifold. Fuel economy improved, emissions decreased, and reviewers praised it as a world-class engine.

Yellow Corvette

Source | TK

Later seen in the Camaro, Firebird in 1998 and the GTO in 2003, the LS1 became a hit for its easy tuning ability and reliable power. A high-performance variant, the LS6, would be developed for the 2001 Corvette Z06. The LS6 offered 10% more horsepower, a stronger block, and an improved oil system for high-g cornering. It later jumped to GM sedans and debuted in the 2004 Cadillac CTS-V. Followed by many successors, most commonly known being the LS3, the LS soon made its name in racing, tuning and DIY builds as an essential engine in car culture.

V8 LS Engine

Source | TK

The LS1 would eventually be replaced by the 6.0L LS2 for the 2005 C5 Corvette and later the 6.2L LS3 with the 2008 C6 Corvette. Like the LS6, another high-performance variant, the LS7, was created for the C6 Corvette Z06 and then supercharged as the LS9 for the C6 Corvette ZR1 and LSA for the 5th generation Camaro ZL1. Note if you're looking for an engine to swap into your ride: while all LS engines share many of the same parts, these later LS engines differ due to the addition of cylinder deactivation technology. An LS1/LS6 are Gen III GM V8s, while later versions like the LS3 and LS9 are Gen IV engines.

Whereas the LS1 made around 350 horsepower depending on the year, the LS9, the last of the LS family, made a whopping 638 horsepower thanks to its supercharger and 10-plus years of engineering. Outside the factory, tuning companies like Holley, Texas Speed and Lingenfelter are well-known for cranking out insane amounts of power from LS engines.

Holley EFI Engine

Source | TK

While its cousin, the LT, has now replaced the LS in the GM lineup, the LS remains one of the most common swap options for a project car or resto-mod build. From crate engines to donor cars and junkyard engines, LS engines are swapped into every make and model you can think of, including smaller imports like the Mazda Miata and Toyota 86. Drifting, drag racing, or show cars are often equipped with a Chevrolet LS. This is why you'll rarely see a wrecked Corvette, Camaro, GTO, or Firebird sitting in a junkyard with an engine for long. The LS has become such a common engine swap across the car community that the phrase "LS Swap The World" has become a universally known phrase with most enthusiasts.

Race Engine LS

Source | TK

Known for making 1000 horsepower or more when modified, the Chevrolet LS is a common engine swap choice due to its power and weight. In many cases, an aluminum block LS engine can weigh less than the original motor in some cars, giving a weight advantage and power. While Ford's Coyote V8 offers similar power and weight, the DOHC engine is considerably wider, making the LS the preferred swap candidate for compact engine bays. The LS also has a reputation for parts reliability and low cost due to its widespread use, with many parts and components stocked at your local Advance Auto Parts. Once installed into a new chassis, with essential modern upgrades and tuning, even the first of the line, the LS1, is capable of making over 100 horsepower more than it did from the factory. While many Chevrolet V8 swaps will be called "LS Swaps," many of these are the related truck engine from the LQ and LM family of engines. The critical difference between these two is the LS's aluminum block vs the LQ and LM's iron block.

LS Engine

Source | TK

From the power and weight advantage to easily found parts, the Chevrolet LS V8 has a reputation for performance and passion that has forged its name into automotive history and culture. Whether an LS is the right choice for your project is up to you, but know such an essential engine has a storied past and an incredibly supportive community to rely on.

If you want to learn more about other critical engines, look through our articles and stay tuned for more.

Last updated January 24, 2023