All Motor Vette
Reaching for 500 hp the natural way
From the June, 2009 issue of Vette
By Drew Hardin
Photography by Drew Hardin
It was tempting to subtitle this article "Reaching for 500 hp theold-fashioned way."
After all, messing around with an engine's cylinderheads, cam-shaft, valvetrain, intake, and exhaust is about astraditional a hot-rodding approach as you can get. But other than thefact that they use pushrod technology, is there really anything"old-fashioned" about 21st Century Corvette engines?
No, we thought not. That's why we went for the "natural" term, to setthis quest for power apart from the forced-induction setups you'll readabout elsewhere in this issue.
The starting point for this...
The starting point for this buildup was an 800-mile-old '04 Z06. Youhave to have a pretty serious power Jones to take apart a brand-new carin the quest for more ponies. But we're guessing a lot of you can relateto that.
We teased you with news of this buildup in the July Currents. For thoseof you who missed that tip-off, here's the deal--Al Carreon and the crewat the LA Performance Division (or LAPD, not to be confused with SoCal'smen in blue), had on their hands a like-new '04 Z06 with just 800 mileson the clock. They decided to take apart the minty-fresh LS6 and golooking for 500 naturally aspirated horsepower, within the parameters ofleaving the block and reciprocating assembly alone.
"We're not just looking for peak power, though," Al explained. "We wantdriveability, too. We're exploring what can be done with an LS1-basedengine."
It's not tough to make 500 horses when you're pushing lots of air andfuel via a turbo or supercharger, or if you've poked and stroked theengine to big-block proportions. From 346 cubes, though, and using justatmospheric pressure, it's a challenge. Not an insurmount-able one, buta challenge nonetheless. As we reported in July, the shop had reached483 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque with its first buildup attempt, but thecrew was looking to make more changes to find those additional ponies.
As Al put it, "If you're willing to accept 'just' 430 to 450 hp, wecould knock that out and do it for about half the price. But going fromthere to 500 horses means paying close attention to every little detailand using some exotic parts. When you're getting close to 500 hp, youcan expect to pay about a grand for every 10 hp."
What's the bottom-line cost of the engine profiled here? We'll save thatpiece of good news for later. Now, let's get into making power the LAPDway.
This isn't strictly a "head...
This isn't strictly a "head and cam" buildup, but those major componentswere the basic building blocks. The LAPD used Air Flow Research 205cccylinder heads and an Ultradyne hydraulic roller camshaft with 0.612inch of gross lift and 299/307 degrees of advertised duration.
LAPD chose a pair of Air Flow Research's (AFR) 205cc "Mongoose" LS1aluminum cylinder heads to go on the stock block. To get enough air intothe engine to work with the big cam he had in mind, Al sent the heads toTotal Engine Airflow to have the intake runners opened up to about 228cc's. (He admitted he would have started with AFR's 225cc heads had theybeen available when he began the buildup, but the 205s flowed just fineafter the porting job.) Inside the heads are 2.020-inchintake/1.600-inch exhaust valves that are actuated by a set of HarlandSharp 1.7:1-ratio adjustable rocker arms getting the nudge from CompCams 7/100 pushrods.
To clear the taller rocker arms, LAPD swapped the stock valve covers fora set of aluminum Katech covers that the shop had powdercoated red.Katech coil relocation brackets were also installed to give the shopbetter access to the cover bolts.
Total Engine Airflow ported...
Total Engine Airflow ported the intake side of the AFR heads to 228 cc'sto take advantage of the big cam. The exhaust side was left as deliveredfrom AFR.
When Al first began the power search, he left the heads with theiras-delivered 66cc combustion chambers. Combined with the stock pistons,they gave the engine an 11.3:1 compression ratio--a healthy increaseover the stock 10.5:1. Yet, when Al and the guys hit that 483hp plateau,they determined a bump in c.r. would help their case. So, they milledthe heads to shave the combustion chambers down to 59 cc's and then usedthin Cometic 0.035 head gaskets, the combination of which raised thec.r. to 12:1. "We'll just put in some Torco [octane boost] with the91-octane pump gas," Al reasoned.
Multiplying the cam's tall...
Multiplying the cam's tall lift is a set of Harland Sharp 1.7:1-ratioadjustable rocker arms. Comp Cams pushrods are used in the valvetrain,as is Comp's adjustable timing chain and cam-gear set.
To hit the LAPD's target number, the engine was going to have to carry abig stick, and at first Al and company thought they had the hot setup--asolid-roller cam with 0.624/ 0.649 inch of gross lift and an advertisedduration of 294/300 degrees. It was with this cam that the crew saw the483 horses. Not good enough.
To Al's reasoning, there was a problem with the cam's lobe profile.Though it was ramping up very quickly, "there wasn't enough advertisedduration," Al figured. "If you have the proper amount of duration, youwon't hurt the engine's driveability, even with a big cam. The durationallows the engine to breathe."
So a change was in order. Out came the solid roller, and in went anUltradyne hydraulic roller. It didn't have as much gross lift--"only"0.612 inch on both sides--and the ramp rate wasn't as radical. But theadvertised duration went up to 299 degrees on the intake side and 307for the exhaust, a happy place, it turns out, for this motor.
There was another advantage to switching cams. Although solid camstypically have a more docile idle, "they're way harder on the springs,"said Al. The hydraulic cam has less seat pressure, "so it doesn't beaton the seats, valves, and stems," he said.
Clearance for the tall rocker...
Clearance for the tall rocker arms was achieved by using these Katechaluminum covers. LAPD had them powdercoated red to add some underhoodcolor. Katech coil relocation brackets were also installed to providebetter access to the valve-cover bolts, not a bad idea if you're doing alot of tuning and tweaking in search of power. In this photo, you canalso see the Kook's 17/8-inch custom headers.
Intake, Fuel, Exhaust & More
The combination of intake parts that the LAPD crew assembled for theengine has remained constant throughout--a FAST intake manifold, coupledwith a 90mm Nick Williams throttle body (up from the stock 80mm), andthe stock mass airflow sensor. Air comes into the system through aVaraRam intake. To make sure there's enough fuel for the increasedamounts of air, the original fuel injectors were swapped for 32-lb/hrunits. Custom tuning of the engine's air, fuel, and ignition was handledin-house using LAPD's DynoJet chassis dyno.
Induction is handled using...
Induction is handled using a FAST intake manifold, the stock MAF sensor,and a Nick Williams 90mm throttle body. Extra fuel comes from 32-lb/hrinjectors.
Exhaust leaves the engine through a set of Kook's 17/8-inch customheaders and an X-pipe, then back to an LAPD after-cat system.
"As you can see, this isn't your everyday 'head and cam' car," Alpointed out. "Those kinds of motors don't have some of these exoticparts, like the Meziere electric water pump, 160-degree thermostat, andASP underdrive pulleys. But it takes a lot of attention to detail tomake this much power." Money, too, as it turns out. Al figures he's gotsomewhere over $14,000 invested in this engine. "But remember, for halfthat price you can have 430 hp," he added.
So, how did the new combination perform?
At the leading edge of the...
At the leading edge of the induction system is this carbon-fiber VaraRamintake.
As you can see from the accompanying dyno charts, they got close--reallyclose. Horsepower peaked at 493 at 6,600 rpm, while torque topped out at445 lb-ft at 5,400 rpm. From a driveability standpoint, the torque curveis sweet--in excess of 400 lb-ft from 3,800 rpm all the way to 6,400.
Our experience in the car matches what we saw on paper. There's a littlelope to the idle, but nothing harsh. Below 3,500 rpm, the car is almostdocile. Kick it, though, and it literally screams up to its redline.Weaving in and out of traffic on a fast-moving L.A. freeway, theon-paper difference between 493 and 500 hp is moot. This Z06 easilyleaves other traffic like, well, like it's moving backwards, to use anold cliche. There is plenty of power here--more than enough to risk thewrath of the town's "other" LAPD.
Here's how the finished engine...
Here's how the finished engine looks under the Z06's hood. Nicely done,with few tip-offs as to what lurks beneath.
Out back, exhaust leaves the...
Out back, exhaust leaves the engine via this 3-inch LAPD after-catexhaust system.
|RPM||HP (stock)||HP (modified)||Torque (stock)||Torque (modified)|
= peak figures