Engines of the $10K Drag Shootout 3: The Year Of The Junkyard LS

Engines of the $10K Drag Shootout 3: The Year Of The Junkyard LS

If you’ve been following the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil over previous seasons, you know that the turbocharged LS platform has always enjoyed a healthy share of the field. In the first season, there were two, with a turbo 5.3-liter junkyard bullet winning the competition. In the second season, the only team to not run an LS combo was the team who won with one previously.

That season saw a turbocharged 6.0L combination take the overall win. So it really isn’t surprising that this current crop of competitors — season three — paid attention, and they have all not only elected for a turbo LS combination, but opted for one of the two previous winning combos.

There are three 5.3-liter turbocharged combos and one 6.0-liter-based turbo mill being fielded this season; no 4.8L powerplants this time around. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the four teams’ respective combinations, keeping in mind they only have $10,000 and 10 days to build the entire car, so the engines won’t get the lion’s share of the time or financial budget.

Team Home Grown was the only competitor to choose the 6.0L variant of the LS engine this season.

Team Home Grown’s Gen-III 6.0L

The Home Grown crew started out with a $400.00, 226,000-mile 6.0-liter Gen-III core as their base upon which to build – the only 6.0 build to be undertaken this season. They decided that the OE crank was plenty good for their combo, opting instead for a good set of rods, forged MAHLE pistons, and new Clevite H-series bearings and ARP studs throughout. Going .030-inch overbore during the machining process added five cubic-inches to the total displacement of the engine for a total of 369 cubes.

The Total Seal 1.5mm, 1.5mm, 3.0mm Advanced Profiling ring pack included a chrome-nitride steel top ring, cast-iron second ring, and a stainless-steel high-tension oil ring. To attach the pistons to the stock crank, Home Grown opted for a set of Scat 6.100-inch forged H-beam rods.

For the oiling system, the team opted for a Moroso “street/strip” block-hugger fabricated-steel rear-sump oil pan. This would not only minimize windage and keep the oil in the sump under hard acceleration, but will also fit their El Camino well. Also from Moroso is a high-volume racing oil pump that should keep everything lubricated.

Moving up top, the stock 317 heads were retained, with their 210cc intake ports from the factory. Most of the hard parts were left alone, including the factory 2.00-inch intake and 1.55-inch exhaust valves. However, a Brian Tooley Racing Platinum Valvespring Kit was employed to keep everything stable under load. The kit includes 377 lb/in dual-coil valve springs, titanium retainers, and 7-degree steel valve locks.

In addition to being the only 6.0-liter LS, team Home Grown is also the only team to use aftermarket connecting rods. While all the teams were provided MAHLE pistons outside of their budget, the Scat forged H-beam rods came out of their build budget.

A custom-ground COMP camshaft was used, with the new HLO series of lobe designs. The camshaft features .632 inch of lift on both the intake and exhaust side, with 233 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift on the intake side, and 237 degrees on the exhaust with a 115-degree lobe-separation angle. The OEM GM hydraulic roller lifters were retained, combined with a set of used 7.400-inch pushrods and the factory rocker arms.

Feeding the cylinders is an OEM cathedral-port truck intake and OEM throttle body. A set of E3 LST Race Coils and E3 OE replacement plug wires keep the fires lit. What really makes the Home Grown LS stand out from the crowd is the fuel delivery system. Running on E85 isn’t that crazy, nor are the Bosch 210 lb/hr fuel injectors needed to inject enough of it into the engine.

What IS crazy, however, is fitting an old Ron’s Racing mechanical fuel pump to the engine, along with a pair of injector nozzles plumbed in ahead of the throttle body to both add fuel and help cool the intake charge. Running no intercooler with the BorgWarner SX400 80mm cast-wheel turbocharger, any additional cooling offered by the E85 is a definite benefit.

As if using a mechanical fuel pump wasn’t different enough, Home Grown also plumbed a pair of mechanical injection nozzles into the intake tract ahead of the throttle body. Spraying additional E85 fuel not only gives the combination all the fuel they could need, but also acts as a chemical intercooler, much like methanol.

Villain Squad’s Gen-III 5.3L

The Villain Squad went a little different route with its engine, opting for a stock Gen-III 5.3-liter iron short-block from the junkyard for $200. For the rotating assembly, everything remained stock except for a set of chrome-silicon Total Seal AP piston rings. An OEM F-Body oil pan was retained, but a Moroso high-volume race oil pump was utilized. A set of ARP main studs replaced the factory main bolts, while a set of ARP head studs were screwed into the block.

Up top, the team sourced a set of 862 heads for a scant $75.00 from the junkyard. The increased compression from the smaller 61cc combustion chambers should, in theory, be more beneficial than the drawback of the smaller 1.89-inch intake valve the 862s offer. However, the 862s did get a host of goodies from Brian Tooley Racing, including new steel spring locators, a set of used platinum valve springs, locks, and retainers, and a new set of valve stem seals.

Villain Squad’s Gen-III 5.3-liter consists of a mostly stock short-block and a set of 862 cylinder heads.

For the camshaft, a custom Comp piece was used. Hydraulic roller lobes from the EHI family were chosen for the intake side, and from the HUC line of lobe designs on the exhaust. The intake measures .637 inch of lift on the intake and .632 inch on the exhaust, with a pretty severe duration split of 243 degrees at .050-inch on the intake and 263 degrees on the exhaust side, with a 117-degree split. Factory lifters were used along with a set of used BTR 7.400-inch pushrods and used factory rocker arms.

A factory LS1 manifold fitted with a 92mm throttle body and a billet 75mm-to-92mm adapter topped the combination off, while a set of ultra-high output LSx coils coupled with DiamondFIRE plug wires from E3 handled ignition duties. E85 fuel is introduced to the engine via a set of used Bosch 58 lb/hr injectors, which were decapped to significantly increase the flow capacity, and are controlled by a Holley Terminator.

Cramming boost down the throat of the combination is a BorgWarner S480 80mm cast-compressor turbocharger, with a massive 96mm turbine wheel. The stock exhaust manifolds were reused to funnel the exhaust gasses to the large turbine, while a VS Racing 60mm cast-stainless wastegate fitted with an Innovative MAC high-resolution 3-port boost solenoid is used to control the boost.

Several of the teams saved budget this season by buying parts of the engine from the junkyard instead of a complete salvage long-block.

Team MAK’s Bent-Rod Gen-IV 5.3L

The powerplant chosen by Team MAK is about as off-the-wall as it comes. Using a stock Gen-IV L33 long-block — with bent rods, no less — the team stated very publicly, they expected to break the 1,000-horsepower mark.  Although confident that the three bent rods would be fine, they did replace those three with non-bent OEM Gen-IV rods. “Nick and I were confident they would hold up, but to reduce our chances to any problems we swapped out the three bent rods with some other used ones we had at home. We had Micks son ship them to us overnight from Indiana,” says Adam Hodson.

The engine is so OEM, the team’s spec sheet looks like someone plain forgot to fill it out. The only aftermarket parts on the short-block are a Moroso oil pan, pick-up tube, and high-volume oil pump. They did use a set of ARP Pro-Series (ARP 2000) head studs and Summit-brand head gaskets to bolt on the otherwise stock cylinder heads. They also replaced the stock camshaft.

Unlike the other teams who took advantage of a custom camshaft, MAK went with an off-the-shelf COMP LST stage 2 turbo cam. Designed specifically for turbo 5.3-liter LS combinations with COMP’s Low-Shock Technology, the cam features .605 inch of lift on the intake side, and .610 inch on the exhaust, with 231 degrees of duration at .050 inch on the intake and 237 on the exhaust, with a 115-degree lobe separation angle.

MAK’s Gen-IV 5.3 was the only aluminum-blocked LS to make an appearance in the competition.  In addition to an alloy block, the Gen-IV engine has the popular Gen-IV factory-upgraded connecting rods. While Hodson had no problem with the idea of running the three bent rods, they did end up swapping them out.

Into the stock 5.3L manifold, the team plumbed in a set of Summit Racing 210 lb/hr fuel injectors with a set of ICT injector spacers. A set of E3 spark plugs and wires were used with the factory GM coil packs. A Holley Terminator kit was used to control fuel and spark, which would prove critical with the team’s…UNIQUE turbocharger setup.

The BorgWarner 80mm turbo was a source of contention and drama for the team, as the turbine wheel required incredibly creative interpretation to fit within the competition rules. Ultimately tech officials forced them to swap to a standard turbine wheel to come into compliance. Additionally, the team mounted the turbocharger above and behind the cab of their S10 pickup truck, requiring a significant amount of plumbing to incorporate the VS Racing 60mm wastegate and Innovate MAC boost control solenoid.

“We knew we wanted [the turbo] in the bed to help with weight bias on the no-prep surface, says Hodson. “Nick had the crazy idea of putting it above the cab. After talking it over we realized that this would also save us $300 in our budget because we wouldn’t need a scavage pump for the oil return either if it was mounted up high.” An unconventional setup for sure, but MAK team leader Adam Hodson is supremely confident in the combination putting down 1,000-plus horsepower on the chassis dyno.

The unique turbo placement led to a lot of comments from the other teams. However, remote-mounted turbochargers have been proven to work in the past, so there’s a chance MAK is walking the line between genius and madness.

Out In Front’s Gen-III 5.3-liter Pile of Parts

Team Out In Front got what has to be the best deal in the history of the $10K Drag Shootout on their junkyard LS — probably because it came as a pile of parts, which didn’t necessarily match. Their initial investment of $100.00 got them a block, crank, some hardware, and the necessary engine covers.

From there, they went with a set of Gen-IV OEM connecting rods and bored the factory block out to 3.800 inches to utilize a set of MAHLE LS1 pistons. Made from forged 2618 aluminum, they feature a much thinner 1mm, 1mm, 2.0mm Total Seal ring package – the thinnest of all four engines in the competition. The overbore brought the 5.3-liter engine to 328 cubes, making it the largest non-6.0-liter LS in the competition.

Team Out In Front used fabricated turbo manifolds from Kooks, the same as Team Home Grown, as well as an Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold, rather than making do with the OEM pieces.

Like the other teams, Out In Front utilized a street/strip oil pan and high-volume race oil pump from Moroso, a main stud kit from ARP, and like Team MAK, a set of Pro Series ARP head studs. Moving up top to the heads, both themes of “smoking deal” and “pile of parts” continued to play out, with the heads coming in at a smooth $50.00 for the pair, complete, but consisting of one 243 casting and one 799 casting.

While functionally the same heads, in stock form the surface finish is different between the two, which, on paper, in the world of minutiae, could make them perform slightly differently from one another. Assuming the 243 head didn’t come off of an LS6, the valves in the heads should be exactly the same at least.

In an odd twist, the team opted for an off-the-shelf camshaft from COMP Cams. Not strange in and of itself, the choice of an LSR Roots blower cam is what is shocking. With .624 inch of lift on both the intake and exhaust side, the duration at .050-inch of valve lift varies; 239 degrees on the intake side, and 243 degrees on the exhaust side, with the narrowest LSA of the group at 112 degrees.

“A cam is a cam. It doesn’t know what is supplying the boost,” says Out In Front team leader Marcus Thompson. “We’ve used that cam grind before with success, and because it’s an off-the-shelf grind, it was ready to go, fast.”

Like almost every other team, a Brian Tooley Racing Platinum dual valve spring upgrade kit was utilized. However, unlike the rest of the teams, Out In Front opted for a COMP Cams trunnion upgrade kit as well. With a set of brand new Chevrolet Performance hydraulic roller lifters riding on the cam, a set of used BTR 7.400-inch pushrods actuate the factory rocker arms.

By going with a slight overbore — to 3.800 inches — Out In Front had the largest non-6.0-liter LS in the competition. Going with the “pile of parts” approach, the team also used a set of Gen-IV connecting rods, which were significantly straighter than MAK’s.

Also unlike the other teams, Out In Front opted for a used Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold with a 90-degree elbow and generic throttle body. “The OEM manifold would probably work, but there’s always the chance that it will come apart. If that happens on race day, it’s game over right there. The Edelbrock intake is peace of mind,” says Thompson.

They outfitted the intake with a set of Holley 120 lb/hr injectors controlled by a Holley Terminator X. Like the rest of the teams, E3 ultra-high-output coils, plug wires, and E3 spark plugs were used to keep the cylinders firing under heavy boost.

Utilizing the same 80mm cast compressor wheel BorgWarner S400-series turbo as Team Home Grown, with the 84mm turbine wheel, Out In Front opted for an air-to-air intercooler and the seemingly standard-for-$10K-Shootout 60mm VS Racing wastegate. However, the team opted for a pair of the FAST 100psi boost solenoid kits to control boost in their combination.

Cam selection was interesting in this competition. Two teams chose custom cams from COMP, one chose an off-the-shelf turbo grind, and then Out In Front went sideways, with an off-the-shelf grind listed as being for a roots blower application.

All in all, we have four fundamentally similar, yet unique-in-their-own-way engine combinations. So whether a 6.0-liter based combo comes out on top, or one of the 5.3s takes the final win-light, one thing is for sure… it will be a turbocharged LS combination in the winner’s circle once again on season three of Horsepower Wars’ $10K Drag Shootout.

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About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent nineteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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