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Dr. Jamie Meyer: Thoughts On Youth, Hot Rodders, and the LS Platform

Editor’s Note: For those who don’t know who Dr. Jamie Meyer is, you’ll soon find out. Dr. Meyer is the current Product Integration Manager for GM Performance Parts and has been involved with the automotive media for decades longer. We’re very pleased to announce that “Doc” will be a regular monthly contributor to LSXTV and we hope that you’ll enjoy his thought-provoking and informative editorials as much as we do.)

In his 1953 letter titled “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders, and Chevrolet,” Zora Arkus Duntov called upon Chevrolet management for a new generation of performance engines, parts, and cars from Chevy. He specifically called on Ed Cole’s team to develop a powerful new V8 for the Chevrolet Corvette. Zora wanted this engine to be lightweight, powerful, easy to work on, and adaptable for a wide range of automobiles. He openly admitted that, at the time, Ford dominated the hot rod scene, and Chevy had to do something to capture the youth movement.

By 1955, Ed Cole’s engineering group at Chevrolet Motor Company introduced to the world a 265 cubic-inch V8 engine that quickly became known as the small block Chevy (SBC). It was an engineering revolution for the time as it offered an incredible leap in performance with its over-head-valve design utilizing hydraulic lifters and 4.4-inch bore spacing. As we all know, the small block Chevy went on to be featured in GM cars and trucks for decades.

Mr. Zora Arkus Duntov

In all, over 90 million small block Chevy engines have been produced, with the only source of new 350 Chevy engines today being GM Performance Parts. Yes, they still go down a GM assembly line and are “brand new, all the way through” as the coming advertising campaign will point out to you.

What made the small block Chevy so popular was that is made big power (for the time), was cheap to modify, was lightweight, and was physically small – making it easy to install between the fenders of a ’32 Ford. Because of these attributes, the small block was quickly adopted by the performance world, replacing the flat-head Ford V8 as the performance engine of choice.

My, how history has a way of repeating itself…

Did Tom Stephens, current GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Operations, continue Zora’s directive when he ordered his entire GM Powertain division to build world class powertrain with a renewed focus on the small block V8? With the support of Ed Koerner, former GM Vice President of Engineering, it was a directive that resulted in the LS architecture – an engine platform that transformed the high performance industry. And, Mr. Stephens’ vision for the Chevy V8 will continue to shape this industry for several decades.

The ZZ4, the latest modern "classic" 350 small block is available at GM Performance Parts

The LS engine debuted in 1997, appropriately, in the Corvette, and then a year later, we saw it for the first time in the Camaro. Both of these cars are still iconic in their performance, and LS platform has grown to an entire portfolio of high performance engines. Like its predecessor, the LS is light, compact, powerful, and affordable to modify. And, the LS has captured the attention of youth enthusiast searching for power for their non-GM vehicle.

The one huge difference in Zora’s plan to what GM has orchestrated with the LS architecture is that Zora felt that the Corvette was the “loop hole” into this hot rod youth movement. Clearly, the Corvettes of 2010 are not built for the youth of today – unless they have parents wealthy enough, and perhaps foolish enough, to put their juvenile offspring into the world’s best sports car. But, the idea still holds true. Build a great Corvette, power it with a small block V8, take it racing, and the youth market will follow your lead.

Every day at GM Performance Parts, we sell more LS engines than we did the day before, and that trend will continue – in my humble opinion – until the day gasoline has been outlawed. What is most fascinating to me is that every day, more and more people are becoming aware of the amazing potential of the LS platform. I ask that you stop and consider what I just wrote: The masses are just now noticing a thirteen-year old engine platform.

How is this possible? I’m not really sure. Part of the lag time has been the fuel injection and the outward appearance of the LS engines. They aren’t pretty, and they look intimidating – at least if you’ve been raised on polished high-risers and twin four-barrel carbs. But, thanks to good, educational editorial over the last few years, and the fact that you can’t go to any “car function” without seeing an LS engine, this platform is catching on fast.

In case you’ve missed it, fourth generation Camaro and fifth and sixth generation Corvette owners aren’t the only ones buying up LS engines. We see classic Corvettes, first generation F-bodies, trucks of all years, street rods, Jeeps, sand rails, kit cars, and specially constructed vehicles all flocking to the LS engine. Much like the small block Chevy, the LS is becoming the choice for the hot rod industry.

“Since we cannot prevent people from racing Corvettes, maybe it is better to help them do a good job at it,” Zora wrote in his famous paper. I like to think that since we cannot prevent people from running an LS engine, maybe we should help them make it easier for them to do so. To that end, the engineers at GM Performance Parts developed the LS controller and harness package, and then just this past November, we dropped the E-ROD LS3 crate engine on the industry.

GM's latest small block masterpiece, the LS3 E-ROD making 430hp

The E-ROD will change hot rodding forever, and I hope that I get a chance to come back to go into great detail about this engine package. For now, you need to know that the GM engineers, lead by Steve Felix and Randy Gallagher, have packaged a Corvette engine with all of the necessary emissions equipment, calibrated it to work in a hot rod, and we sell them for under $8,000. It’s an emission-compliant 430-horse package that lets you experience the LS architecture in anything that you are building – with full legal compliance – and it’s good for the environment too.

Is it too cliché to quote Zora Duntov at this point in our history? I don’t think so. After a two-decade run of small block Fords, the Chevy V8 is back, and it’s better than ever. The LS engine is huge now, but with the right parts from the factory, a continued emphasis on building the worlds best cars by General Motors, and a creative hot rod community, the sky is the limit.

Stay tuned fans of the General Motors LS platform – the start of a whole new era is upon us.



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