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The Essential History of General Motors LS Engines

From Corvettes and Camaros to Pontiac GTOs and Cadillac CTS-Vs, auto enthusiasts love an LS-powered set of wheels. To this day, gearheads around the world see General Motors’ line of LS Engines as one of the finest pieces of machinery a car manufacturer has ever created.

At BenchForce, we tend to agree. If you’re interested in learning more about the legendary LS engine, we think you’ll enjoy this piece. In it, we’re digging into its history, performance, and recent renaissance.

The Early Years of the LS Engine

In 1997, GM introduced the LS V8 engine—as we know it today—to the world. It became the primary engine used in all of GM’s rear-wheel drive cars and trucks. The LS engine was a “clean-sheet” design, meaning GM’s small-block V8 engine started from scratch.

However, the new V8 design didn’t entirely start in the 90s. Some similar variants, such as GM’s LT1 engine, date all the way back to the 1950s. Interestingly, GM’s designers stayed true to their pushrod roots with the “debut” of the LS engine, which was really a third-generation model. But new features and updates that more closely aligned with modern vehicles made it stand out from the rest. GM presented it to the world as the LS1. While their rival, Ford, shifted to overhead cams across the engine’s lineup, GM showed what their small-block design was capable of in the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette.

Almost every auto historian and researcher gives the majority of the credit for the LS engine to GM’s Powertrain Vice President of Engineering Operations, Ed Koerner. As a former National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) record holder and seasoned V8 designer, Koerner led the development of the beloved Gen III LS1.

The engine could kick out 345 horsepower at 5600 rpm, with 350 lb./ft. of torque at 4400 rpm. Initially, GM used cast iron blocks in their engines but transitioned to aluminum with cast iron cylinder liners to improve performance.

Soon after, the Chevy Camaro SS and Pontiac Trans Am adopted the LS engine, and so began the flourishing of its popularity. They were, and continue to be, so popular that car enthusiasts see them as the go-to for engine swaps for high-performance vehicles.

It wasn’t until 2001 that GM made improvements, tweaking the intake and exhaust manifolds to eek out a bit more horsepower and torque (345 to 350 horsepower and 350 lb./ft. to 365 lb./ft. of torque). But all over the world, people were making their own modifications to the engine, clocking blistering figures upwards of 400 horsepower and 405 lb./ft.

Pontiac GTO with LS Engine

Why is There so Much Love for LS Engines?

It’s nearly impossible to match the dollar-to-horsepower ratio of an LS engine. Whether you’re swapping for a restomod, hotrod, or daily driver, you’re going to be satisfied with both the performance and how much is left in your bank account.

When it comes to the family of LS engines, the interchangeability of the parts makes customizations and swaps a significantly more straightforward process. From the crankshafts to the cylinder heads, the ease with which a person can modify one of these engines inspired people to transplant them into non-GM vehicles.

Because of its popularity, the LS engine and all of the parts that come with it have garnered a massive aftermarket (e.g., EFI Connection, LSWiring, BenchForce). In fact, a kind of “LS community” emerged from the love for this classic V8 engine, inspiring LS Fest, “a celebration of everything and anything powered by the incredible GM LS engine.”

But the LS engine also came out of the gate with impressive fuel injection and airflow technology advancements, improvements in coil-on-plug ignition design, and a slimmer form factor.

Making Sense of the Numbers

GM continued to refine the LS engine for decades, ultimately creating three generations of engines and an array of variants under each:

  • Generation III: LS1 & LS6
  • Generation IV: LS2, LS3, LS4, LS7, LS9
  • Generation V: LT1

People often use the phrase “LS engine” to describe any 3rd or 4th-generation GM-built, small-block V8 gasoline engine. The LS name originated from the regular production option (RPO) code of the first generation III small block, the LS1. Some people use the phrase “LS engine” to describe generation III and IV GM small blocks V8s even if they don’t have LS in their RPO code (e.g., generation V LT1).

Finding Your Aftermarket LS Parts

The emergence of the LS engine forever changed the auto industry. It’s an elegantly simple piece of machinery that totes serious power. Gearheads have been able to reach a staggering 1000 horsepower out of these deceptively simple pushrod engines.

Because of their simplicity, LS engines have become the go-to engine for modifications and swaps. However, with the popularity of LS engines, it can be challenging to find the parts you need, when you need them.

Whether you’re reprogramming your ECU, searching for engine hardware, or looking to rewire your engine, Benchforce and its sister companies, EFI Connection and LSWiring, have the parts you need to get moving. You can also drop by our contact page if you have any questions.