When the small-block Chevy was introduced in the ’50s, it was a mechanical marvel that hot rodders immediately embraced. At the time, it delivered more power than anything on the market. In fact, it is still a go-to engine for most enterprising hot rodders. However, in the last several decades, the Chevrolet faithful have been happily realizing a new way to motivate their rides — enter the LS engine.
Every week, I get a multitude of emails asking about where to get an inexpensive LS crate engine that is ready to run. The first questions I ask are, “what do you consider inexpensive, and how much are you willing to spend”? I get it, we are all on a budget and need to watch where our money goes, but you can still have an LS in your ride. Also, I need to know what the letter writer means by “ready to run”. Does the person want just an engine, engine and controller package, or the whole kit-and-kaboodle with an engine, transmission, and electronics?
I don’t typically need to ask anything about horsepower at first, because the emails I get typically proclaim a certain goal is announced. Unfortunately, that number isn’t usually in tune with what the person is wanting to spend. In order to help those looking for an economical crate engine that can hold its own in any situation, I decided to locate the most economical LS crate engines I could find on the internet. But before I started compiling the list, I did have a few criteria an engine must meet to be included.
Gotta Have The Horsepower
First and foremost, it must deliver a minimum of 450 horsepower. I decided on that number because making 450-horsepower with an LS is an easy task, and also, a 450-horsepower cruiser is more than respectable. The next requirement — and I thought long and hard about this — is the initial purchase cost must be $10,000 or less (at the time of this writing). That sounds like a lot — and it is, as none of us wants to spend a lot of money. I am an old-school guy and remember buying small-block Chevy crate engines for less than half that total. However, I soon learned that purchasing an almost all-new LS engine is not as cheap as purchasing a rebuilt traditional small-block. Okay, you might be thinking $10,000 is too expensive, but have you priced having an engine rebuilt?
I know the internet is full of videos showing how to make 1,000 horsepower with a junkyard LS. I will not deny the feasibility of doing that. However, has the LS simply become a disposable engine to everyone on YouTube? Do the guys making these videos enjoy changing engines every three or four days? If you’re like me, you want an engine that will be with your ride for more than one summer. I for one do not like to spend money, let alone, throw it away. I would rather spend a little more in the beginning and get something that will last. Now, back to our criteria.
Finally, to make the list, the engine must run on widely obtainable pump gas. To accomplish this, we will limit the recommended octane requirement to 93. While the cost of premium gas is climbing (once again) at the time of this writing, it’s still not like buying race fuel.
I do want to make it perfectly clear that none of the engines on this list are “turn-key” installs. In fact, I could have cut the price requisite to less than $6,000, but then it would only include short-blocks and long-blocks — not complete engines. Doing so might have looked good for the article, but when you consider you will then need to find and purchase the rest of the parts needed to make a complete engine, doing that makes no sense.
The mills on this list are complete engines (some even have controllers) in that the valve covers, intake, fuel injectors, oil pan, etc., are part of the package. However, you will still need to source items like a transmission package and controller(s), fuel system, drive-by-wire throttle pedal (unless you change to a carburetor), and a few other items depending on the engine you choose. There are great options available for those wanting a “complete” package that includes a transmission and such, but not for the price-point focused on in this article.
It goes without saying, this list is by no means an end-all compilation. If you know of a crate engine that I failed to include and it meets the previously mentioned criteria, please, add a link to the comments section to let everyone know about the option. If you want to learn more about each engine, you can click on the individual subheads and be directed directly to the webpage. So, without further ado, here are the five most economical LS crate engines I could find.
I decided to start the list with a 6.2-liter LS from BluePrint Engines that delivers a reported 530 horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque. The engine features a nodular iron crankshaft with a 3.622-inch stroke, 6.098-inch connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. Nestled inside the block is a hydraulic-roller camshaft with .612/.585-inch lift, 225/238 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift, and 113-degree LSA and 110 ICL. Up top is a pair of BluePrint aluminum heads with 72 cc chambers, 2.165/1.600-inch valves, and 259 cc/102 cc intake and exhaust runners.
To help complete your swap, BluePrint includes a GM Muscle Car Swap Oil Pan, 90mm Drive-By-Wire (DBW) throttle body, intake manifold, fuel injectors, and fuel rail, coil packs, spark plugs and wires, water pump, harmonic balancer, and installs a polished front accessory drive. The engine comes with virtually everything you need, and one thing you probably will not — a 30-month/50,000-mile warranty.
The engine is not shipped with the engine controller kit, which must be purchased separately. The controller kit is part number: BPPLS530. Finally, BluePrint Engines recommends using air intake kit PN: BPPLS01013 to ensure correct MAF calculations and dyno calibration are maintained with the above ECU/tuning. According to the website, you can have one for these for $9,699.00
The 6.2-liter LS from Speedway Motors delivers 500-plus horsepower with a 10.0:1 compression ratio. That means it’s perfect for a fun and respectable cruiser. The engine features a nodular-iron crankshaft, powdered-metal connecting rods, and hypereutectic pistons. Working the valves inside the aluminum heads is a hydraulic-roller camshaft with .612/.585-inch lift, 225/238 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift. The 72 cc chambered heads utilize 2.165/1.600-inch valves, and 259 cc/102 cc intake and exhaust runners.
The engine even includes a GM LS-swap oil pan, 90mm throttle body, intake manifold, fuel injectors, and fuel rail, coil packs, spark plugs and wires, water pump, and the harmonic balancer. To make it even easier, Speedway Motors includes a complete LS controller package, which contains all components and the proper calibration to get this engine installed in your muscle car or truck. What’s more, the 376ci LS3 will set you back $9,064.00 and comes with virtually everything you need, including a 30-month/50,000-mile warranty.
If you’re looking for a new LS engine Turn Key Powertrain can deliver what you’re after with some serious tire-melting power, we found this 372 cubic-inch street beast at Turn Key Powertrain. With 565 horsepower and 485 lb-ft of torque, you can turn those radial tires into asphalt crayons in the blink of an eye. The build starts with an aluminum block that is filled with a nodular crankshaft, forged H-beam rods, and forged Mahle pistons. The combination develops a compression ratio of 10.7:1, so you can drive across the country and not worry about where you’ll find fuel.
The aluminum heads benefit from 68 cc chambers and good CNC porting. With 2.160 and 1.590-inch valves, you can be sure to move a serious amount of air. A hydraulic-roller camshaft and DBW throttle body control the air flow, and the mill is complete with harmonic balancer, flywheel or flexplate, all sensors, fuel rails and injectors, coils, plugs and wires, and the oil and filter.
The engine does come in at the very top of the price limit, at $10,000, but for what is delivered, it’s still a great option for those looking to get a killer engine.
Although the LS in cars and the LQ engines in trucks are basically the same, some might not realize that. Luckily, the guys at ATK High-Performance Engines created a reliable powerhouse using the truck LQ4 6.0-liter engine. They begin by installing a custom camshaft in a seasoned OE block and filling it with a stock GM 3.622-inch-stroke crankshaft, 6.093-inch forged powdered-metal connecting rods and hypereutectic pistons.
All these quality parts are found under a pair of OE aluminum heads with 71 cc chambers and 2.00- and 1.55-inch valves, all of which create a very street-friendly 9.5:1 compression ratio. ATK feels this is the perfect swap for muscle cars and anyone looking to upgrade to an EFI system that doesn’t want to worry about having someone tune the system for them.
I do need to mention that the intake is FiTech’s sheetmetal unit. It’s a great intake with a great EFI system, but some cars might have a clearance issue when trying to close the hood. The engine does cost $8,239.00 and you will need to pay a $575.00 refundable core charge.
If you like to get your parts directly from Chevrolet, then you need to check out this Chevrolet Performance crate engine from Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center (SDPC). Starting with an LS3 engine, Chevrolet built the LS376 crate engine to deliver 515 horsepower. However, this is not just an off-the-shelf LS3. For starters, the engine is perfect for those enthusiasts not wanting to mess with EFI, as it comes with a carburetor-ready intake. The aluminum heads feature a 68 cc chamber and 2.165-/1.590-inch valves to make sure it breathes freely. Inside, the hydraulic-roller camshaft features a .525-/.525-inch lift and 226/236 degrees of duration at .050-inch lift.
Since it is from Chevrolet, the internals are OE spec, which helps keep costs low. But don’t worry about reliability, factory LS engines are known to travel several hundred-thousand miles without issue. Speaking of costs, we found this one for $8,658.
SDPC recommends you use the LSX ignition controller (PN: 19171130) and a Holley 770-cfm carburetor to get the engine running. The website also says you will need a Muscle Car Oil Pan kit (PN: 19212593) to use the engine in a classic.
Finally, all Chevrolet Performance crate engines include a 24-month or 50,000-mile limited warranty. If you want to purchase this one through SDPC, it will cost you $8,573.12.
Although Chevrolet has replaced the LS with the LT engine in its newest cars, there are still plenty of ways to get one of the most popular engines in the hobby between the fenders of your ride. Now that you have this list, it’s never been easier to drop a 400-plus horsepower mill under the hood of your hot rod. So what are you waiting for? Now’s the best time to give your ride the infusion of horsepower it craves.