Could the ZZ6 Be Last Gen I Crate Engine?

The ZZ6 crate engine is available in either base or turnkey versions.

Don’t look for any new power parts for Gen I small-blocks from Chevy Performance in the near future, as the success of the LS platform is simply creating a cost-effective barrier that is too tough to shatter.

The base LS3 crate engine is rated at 430 horsepower with 425 lb-ft peak torque. Other models offer 495, 525 and 533 horsepower.

“It’s a good news, bad news story,” admits Russ O’Blenes, manager of GM Racing and Advanced Projects and the overseer of the Chevy Performance division. “The problem with Gen I, it’s very hard to make anything competitive when you’re looking at an LS3 for six grand.”

From a practical point of view, it is tough to compete with the Gen III/IV LS engines, especially the wide range of crate engines available through the Chevy Performance catalog. A 6.2-liter base LS3 rated at 430 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of peak torque has a street price under $6,000 these days. For about $1,200 more you can get the ECU and an oil pan designed for most musclecars. The LS family of crate engines goes up to the 638-horsepower supercharged LS9.

“The performance parts world is heavily driven by price point, and when things are in production we can sell them reasonably,” says O’Blenes, speaking at the recent opening of the GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center in Pontiac, Michigan. “But if you look at doing something new, say like a new cylinder head , what ends up happening is you get pushed to a price point that’s so close, how do you sell them?”

Although not as vibrant as past years, there is still a market for Gen I engines and parts. Some of it is driven by racing rules while the rest is a reflection of nostalgia and loyalty to the original small block. And it’s no different for fans of the big-block family.

The ZZ6 is the seventh iteration of the ZZ family, which started in 1989 with the ZZZ engine. It was rated at 345 horsepower. The next significant change didn’t happen until 1993 with the ZZ3 engine, which offered a new intake manifold and dual-pattern camshaft to boost and flatten the torque curve.

“You’re in the same boat,” adds O’Blenes. “You have to start from scratch and do something big, and then what’s the real market for it?”

The last significant offering in the Gen I catalog was the introduction last fall of the ZZ6 crate engine. The venerable ZZ4 had been produced from 1996 through 2014, which makes up the core of the LS development and expansion era. Rated at 355 horsepower, the ZZ4 still used the old L98 cylinder heads. When the ZZ5 was introduced, it came with new fast-burn heads that reflected upgrades found in the original LT4, and the ZZ6 improves even more with beehive springs, roller rockers, single-plane intake and a bigger Holley carb on the turnkey version. The engine is now rated at 405 horsepower at 5,600 rpm with 406 lb-ft peak torque at 4,600 rpm. The base model has a street price of just under $6,000 while the turnkey model hasn’t been priced at this writing.

“We’re going to concentrat on making core Gen I parts better, less expensive and more reliable,” sums up O’Blenes. “With the ZZ6 and other classic crate engines, it’s about making the details nicer.”

About the author

Mike Magda

Mike Magda is a veteran automotive writer with credits in publications such as Racecar Engineering, Hot Rod, Engine Technology International, Motor Trend, Automobile, Automotive Testing Technology and Professional Motorsport World.
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