By on February 11, 2013

Elteeone - photo courtesy of Cars In Depth

General Motors’ powertrain engineers have undoubtedly demonstrated with the LS family of V8 engines that pushrods still have a place in the 21st century. As successful and popular as the LS has been, I don’t think it’s much of stretch to assume that the new LT1 V8 in the all new seventh generation Corvette will eventually replace the LS engine in its various permutations and applications. The LT1, still a cam in block engine, and still with Ed Cole’s 4.40 inch bore centers, adds direct injection to the Small Block Chevy heritage. The LS family has also been popular as crate motors, used by customizers and high performance enthusiasts as well as with a small industry of companies that specialize in high performance GM products. While you can buy a LS from General Motors with up to 638 horsepower, if that just doesn’t satisfy your need for speed, companies like Callaway, Lingenfelter and Hennessey have shown that the LS engine’s basic architecture is capable of putting out almost twice that power. After talking with Ken Lingenfelter about the new Corvette, I wonder, though, just how tuner-friendly the new LT1 will be.

I ran into Lingenfelter in front of the Classic Car Club of America’s display at the Chicago Auto Show. Ken’s a noted collector of Corvettes and other performance cars who took over Lingenfelter Performance Engineering when his cousin, John, who started LPE, was killed in a car wreck. Ken’s a car guy’s car guy and I see him at tons of car events around the Detroit area, as an exhibitor, as a vendor and as an attendee.  A while back he graciously gave me access to shoot 3D photos and video of his collection. He was in Chicago to show some LPE massaged cars, including a very nicely done ’67ish StingRay body on a C6 Corvette chassis with Lingenfelter power, built by Karls Kustom Corvette .

Alex Dykes’ posted some nice pics of the cutaways at the Chicago Auto Show. They’re fine photographs but you haven’t seen cutaways until you’ve seen them in 3D. Talk about engine porn! To view in 3D without glasses, cross your eyes slightly so that your right eye is looking at the left image and vice versa. Then relax your eyes similar to when using a pair of binoculars, and a stable third, 3D image will fuse in the middle of the other two images. You might have to move closer or farther from the screen for the ideal distance

When I asked Lingenfelter if LPE has had a chance to work on the LT1 yet, he told me that GM’s been rather close to the vest with the new engine. He also said since the LT1 is the first time that GM has used direct injection in their V8 engine family, there’s going to be a learning curve for the tuners. One thing he said, though, may not bode well for 1,000+ HP LTs. Lingenfelter said that engines are designed with performance limits. Think of the way that Formula One used to use “hand grenade” qualifying engines, motors built to make crazy power but not last longer than a few laps. According to Lingenfelter, the production versions of the LS engine still leave a lot of room for performance improvement, they’re nowhere near the limits of the performance envelope. From what he’s learned about the new LT1, Lingenfelter fears that the motor, which has the highest specific output of any GM engine ever, 450 HP and 450 lb-ft of torque from 6.2 liters of displacement, may be closer to the limits of its performance envelope in production form than the LS. No doubt the LT1′s architecture can handle the 600 or 700 HP that the eventual ZR1 edition of the C7 will have, but 700 HP is commonplace in the LS tuning world and Lingenfelter is concerned that they may not be able to wring much more than that out of the new Corvette engine.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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34 Comments on “Ken Lingenfelter: New LT1 Engine A Challenge for Tuners...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Chicken Little says, ‘The sky is falling!’

    FYI: Most 2.0T engines have double the output of the LT1, including GM.

    The mechanicals are nothing new. Getting around software to unleash the extra power is usually the challenge. It was over a year after the LS was released when the tuning software companies were able to offer notebook tuning to the public.

    • 0 avatar
      dave504

      Except for the fact that you can’t compare a forced induction engine with a naturally aspirated engine in terms of specific output.

      The problem with tuning direct injection is when people want to swap heads and cams and make radical changes outside of the factory parameters. Port injected cars make it super easy to change fuel pumps, filters, and injectors, but there are no aftermarket fuel system parts for DI engines. I would imagine that the 1,000 hp limit is due to the fuel system parameters.

  • avatar
    lowsodium

    As much fun as it is to see them making crazy HP #’s on the dyno, anything over 600hp is a waste of time. Its not all that much fun to drive when the tires break loose everytime you touch the throttle.

  • avatar

    That’s a very interesting point, and it could spell trouble for enthusiasts…not to mention the handful of small automakers that use GM running gear, like Shelby Supercars…

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Lingenfelter fears that the motor, which has the highest specific output of any GM engine ever, 450 HP and 450 lb-ft of torque from 6.2 liters of displacement”

    I am confused by this statement; the 6.2 litre motor in the ZR-1 Corvette is 638 HP, the ZL-1 Camaro develops 580 HP from its 6.2 motor and the Z06 Corvette generates 505 HP from its 7 litre LS motor. They are all way beyond the 450 HP mark from the same basic LS architecture.

    (Chevrolet managed to wrangle 465 SAE gross HP from the nascent 1970 LS-7 454 Corvette motor and that was a long time ago.)

    • 0 avatar
      dave504

      Specific output refers to horsepower per liter, which is only valid for naturally aspirated engines. The LT1 just beats the Z06 in this regard, but it is still not the highest specific output of any GM engine ever. The naturally aspirated 3.6 in the CTS makes 318 hp, so maybe the LT1 is the highest specific output V8 engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Silent Ricochet

      The ZR-1 Motor (LS9) is supercharged, the motor in the ZL-1 Camaro, an LSA, is also supercharged. We’re talking about naturally aspirated engines. Yes, the motor in the Z06 Corvette is naturally aspirated and produces more horsepower, but it’s also a 7.0L engine. Per liter, this new LT1 produces more power (72.5 hp/Liter) while the Z06 engine produces 72.1 Horsepower Per liter.

      So technically, this IS the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine they’ve made. SAE HP in the 1970′s is much different from today as well, so the comparison isn’t quite fair.

      • 0 avatar
        rpol35

        It occurred to me after the fact that maybe he meant aspirated but because he didn’t specifically state that it threw me off.

        Agreed, SAE gross vs. SAE net is not a valid comparison, it just looked good in copy.

        Thx.

      • 0 avatar
        ...m...

        …are pushrod V8s inherently inefficient, or does GM just leave a lot of power on the table when designing the safety margins for their stock tunes?..

        …a decade ago, the market enjoyed several naturally-aspirated straight-fours pulling 100HP/litre with exemplary reliability, all in everday street cars from major manufacturers…i’ve considered that the benchmark for respectable specific output ever since, so i’ve been surprised to see this new generation of direct-injection motors not take things a step beyond, given their expanded bag of tricks…

        …even so, seventy-something horsepower per litre just doesn’t sound very impressive to me; in fact it sounds pretty weak…

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        ….M…. The LT1 matches VTEC in torque per displacement and beats it by a bunch with 400 ft-lbs at 2,000 rpms. More than the new M5 turbo.

      • 0 avatar
        ...m...

        …well of course it has more torque down low: it has more displacement, that’s to be expected…corvette motors don’t spin very fast, though, certainly not on order with V8 exotica, but i presume that’s by design, high-displacement torque given priority over high-rev power?..

        …i’m just surprised to read that 72 HP/litre is GM’s highest specific output ever, given the range of lighter-weight non-bruiser drivetrains they’ve produced globally: it’s just not a particularly-remarkable number…

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Pushrod motors, because of all the mass in the valvetrain, cannot rev as high as OHCs. The sky high hp naturally aspirated cars like the S2000 achieved, were all at very high rpm. A 2 liter engine spining 9000 rpm, assuming it can breathe well enough to fill cylinders equally well, will burn as much mixture as a 4 liter one revving 4500. The difference is that to rev that fast, it cannot have a pushrod engine, while for the 4 liter, pushrods may well make sense, since it cold well be the mass and speed of the pistons themselves that limits revs, making the choice of valve train much less relevant.

        Sportbike engines take this even further. Foregoing the relatively long stroke of car engines, they rev to 13000 rpm or beyond, and generate over 200 hp / liter in the case of 600cc supersports. GP bike engines and F1 car engines (18000+ rpm or so) take this even further into the loonisphere, since longevity, fuel efficiency, emissions and cost are no longer pressing concerns. As far as I know, they’re getting almost 300 hp / liter out of NA F1 engines these days.

    • 0 avatar
      CarnotCycle

      “…465 SAW gross HP from the nascent 1970 LS-7 454 Corvette motor…”

      Comparisons with motors that old have to take into account more than the motor. The fuel available in 1970 was leaded gas, which has much better knocking properties at high compression. That and smog-junk are why big motors got so powerless in the 70′s (~7:1 and a smog pump eviscerates performance of any engine).

      It has taken decades for car makers – using computers, injectors, cat converters, and finally direct injection – to get back to similar compression levels, so now you see comparable power again appearing in engines of similar displacement.

      • 0 avatar
        Camber Gain

        @…m… a naturally aspirated 1.6L I4 will have a much smaller diameter piston than a 6.2L V8. IIRC detonation is basically a nucleation process, with the probability of it happening being very strongly dependent on the length the combustion gasses travel inside the combustion chamber. Because of that, you can safely run much higher compression ratios and more aggressive timing in an engine with smaller combustion chambers with the same octane gas. Because of that, specific efficiency should favor smaller engines.

    • 0 avatar
      akitadog

      If we’re talking about highest specific output for ANY GM engine, then the 2.0T in the Caddy ATS wins hands-down, at 136 hp/l. If we’re talking highest specific output of NA engines, then it’s the 3.6 V6, also in the Caddy ATS, at just over 89 hp/l.

      Of course, we know how useless the whole hp/l metric really is.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        BMEP: ask about it in engineering journals.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “Of course, we know how useless the whole hp/l metric really is.”

        Exactly. I really wish the internet as a whole would stop using it as a measure of an engine as it doesn’t account for the power under the curve. Just “peak” power, at whatever usable or unusable RPM that may be.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    The ZR1 Vette and the ZL1 Camaro are both supercharged. The Z06 vette motor is dry sump and basically a limited production motor.

    It is obvious that the LT1 is gonna put out monstrous, satanic levels of power with a blower. And especially with twin turbos, which is what got the LS motors over 1,000 horses.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    My Corvette only has 450 HP and 450 ft/lbs. What will I do??? First world problems at there worst!!!

    Not being critical, I’m just amused. If getting massive horsepower from an engine (in a street car) floats your boat go for it.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I wouldn’t worry too much. GM still sells crate engines with carburetors so I’m sure that low volume shops like LPE will have continued access to engines that they can work with.

    However, I’m somewhat confused by what Ken is saying: Is he suggesting that the new technologies used on the LT engine make is less tunable or that that the construction of the engine is such that it can’t handle much more power?

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      He’s just justifying a nice little price hike for himself.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Direct injection allows a manufacturer to tune an engine closer to the limit. It is possible the LT1 runs leaner, has higher compression and has more lightweight internals than previous GM V8s. And it now has a high pressure fuel system that will be expensive to upgrade and difficult to tune.

      It’s the same issue with new diesels. Direct injection allows massive power as stock compared to older diesels (judged on specific hp/l metrics) but the fuel system is finicky, the internals are built more lightweight than before, the blocks don’t use as much reinforcement… etcetera… all the old school “common sense” about diesels being more robust than gassers basically gets chucked out the window.

      DI engines do have lots of performance potential, but they leave less of it on the table for the aftermarket to extract, since they’re tuned closer to the limits than port-injected ones.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    “To view in 3D without glasses, cross your eyes slightly so that your right eye is looking at the left image and vice versa.”

    You will be getting a stiff letter from my optometrist.

  • avatar
    thesal

    All this sounds like waaay too much conjecture with almost no information. There’s no need to get panties in a bunch over specific horsepower, it relates only to peak HP and doesn’t really say anything about what the engine can/cannot handle.

    Power is a combination of Torque and RPM, assuming that the RPM ranges of the new LT1 will be similar to the old/current LSs, the amount of “power the engine can put out” will be limited by the torque. Torque is a force unit, so it relates directly to structural strength of the block/components.

    If Lingenfelter knows something about changes to the overall strength of the motor/components, then we may be onto something. Afterall, it is kinda inefficient as a manufacturer to overdesign a motor to the point where more than double the output can be achieved reliably. It would make sense to pare down where available and reduce weight (and save materials).

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The LT1 may have the “basic architecture” of 1000+ HP LS engines, but that’s where the similarities end. The LS9 has low compession and all forged interals while the LT1 has cast reciprocating parts and high compression. Meaning the LT1 in stock form is near its design threshold and can’t take much boost without racing fuel. It would be easier to start off with a crate LS9 that rebuilding the LT1.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    FWIW LT1 has forged crank and rods, and cast pistons.

  • avatar
    skor

    I can picture a snarky Jeremy Clarkson looking at this thing and saying, in a fake American accent, “Hey Murica, I got your pushrod for you right here!”

  • avatar
    msatlas

    The LS3 is 6.2L and makes 430 hp, for a specific output of 69.4 hp/L. The LT1 makes 450 hp from the same displacement, for 72.6 hp/L. That’s only a 4.6% jump in specific output. That in and of itself doesn’t seem to indicate a significant difference in the remaining headroom available in the LT1 versus the LS3.


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