General Motors has celebrated a major milestone today at Wixom’s Performance Build Center by building its 100-millionth small block engine. The engine chosen as the milestone motor is none other than the Corvette ZR1’s 638 horsepower LS9. Since 1955, the small block has been used in GM vehicles around the world and can also be found marine and industrial applications as well.
The current GEN-4 small block V8s power some of Chevrolet’s most popular vehicles. In addition to the three used in Corvettes (LS3, LS7 and LS9), you can it under the hood of the Camaro, Silvarado pickup and Tahoe SUV.
GM Powertrain held a live chat today on Fastlane Blog to answer questions about the engines. According to small block Chief Engineer Jordan Lee, the small block V8 is defined as having 4.4 inch spacing between cylinder bores. The big block V8, introduced in 1965 has a 4.8 inch distance between cylinder bores. Lee added this later in the chat about the bore spacing:
The distance essentially lays out the architecture of the cylinder block, it defines how big we can make the cylinders, how big we can make the bearings, etc. So it does not directly define the performance of the engine, but it allows us to design for bigger cylinder bores, bigger valves, etc. which directly affect power. It’s always a balance with how big you can make the engine, for max power, while still keeping the engine small enough to fit in the cars we want to put it in. A few years ago we had a Maserati 4.7L engine on an engine stand right next to an LS3 Small Block. The 4.7L was HUGE, yet made less power than the LS3 which was quite compact by comparison. Yet the Small Block still has large bore size which gives us the ability to efficiently make power.
On hand for the milestone celebration was David Cole, founder and emeritus chairman of Center for Automotive Research. David Cole’s father was the late Ed Cole, chief engineer at Chevrolet who oversaw development of the original small block engine.
The LS9 represents the pinnacle of performance for GM’s small block. With a rating of 638-horsepower, the LS9 can power the Corvette ZR1 to 205+ miles per hour. The 100-millionth LS9 that was built today will be preserved as part of GM’s historical collection.
GM also gave a hint to what’s in the works with the GEN-V engine – a new direct injection combustion system that will enhance the efficiency over the current engine. In the fifth-generation small block, the all-new direct injection combustion system will work with a higher compression ratio and other technologies to enhance efficiency. That means greater performance using less fuel than comparably sized GEN-4 engines.
“Direct injection is a vital progression from conventional port fuel injection that enables an advanced, new level of engine management. The precise control of combustion afforded from direct injection makes it almost entirely an engineering ‘win-win’ – you get enhanced power and torque in addition to better fuel efficiency,” said Bill Visnic, analyst and senior editor at Edmunds.com.
“The evolution to direct injection should be as significant for the next-generation small-block V-8 as perhaps any single engineering upgrade in this storied engine’s nearly 60-year history,” Visnic said.
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