V8s are a sticky subject in drifting. Some drivers love them and wouldn’t have any other engine in their ride, other drivers consider them to be horrific and wouldn’t go near one if their life depended on it. One family of V8s has seen a huge surge in popularity among UK drifters in the past few years – the LS.
“LS” refers to the family of small-block V8 engines produced by General Motors from 1997 up until the present day. The engines are found in everything from GMC pickups to Corvettes. Basically, if it has a V8 in it and GM make it, odds are it will be an LS. A few Cadillacs ditched the LS in favour of the dreadful Northstar 32V, which, as bad decisions go, is right up there.
LS engines were also popular in Australia, powering the long-standing Holden Commodore and Monaro. The Monaro and it’s successor, the HSV, found their way over to the UK as the Vauxhall Monaro and VXR8, and these were the only LS-powered cars sold in the UK domestic market.
On a long enough timeline, everything gets an LS. Around the world, this engine is currently more popular among drifters than a flirty promo girl. Many BDC drivers are switching over to this thunderous Yank power plant, including Max Cotton, Baggsy, Luke Woodham, Lwi Edwards, Adam Simmons, Haydn Cruickshank, Ian “Bizz” Phillips, even BDC owner Matt Stevenson is a committed LS nut. So what makes them so popular?
Well, partly their availability. There have been so many cars produced with the engine that it’s possible to find them in US junkyards for a mere few-hundred bucks. If you want to simplify your life even more, brand-spanking new engines are available in crates directly from GM, which are known, logically, as “crate motors”. Making between 400 and 700 horsepower from factory, LS engines are usually plenty stout even in reliable stock trim.
In addition, they are extremely compact. They have a comparatively old-fashioned “pushrod” cam system, meaning that unlike a lot of modern V8s, the engines have one camshaft, in the block. This means the heads are very compact and as such, the car it is being fitted to does not require a wide engine bay. Most LS engines have an aluminium block too, meaning that the weight of the cars does not change significantly.
Also, the aftermarket for an LS is absolutely enormous. There are hundreds of naturally-aspirated tuning parts and power-adders to allow you to shoot for whatever power level your heart desires. This is evident on the BDC grid, where LS builds range from Max Cotton’s stock LS3 lump to Haydn Cruickshank’s Procharger-huffing, fire-breathing 1000 horsepower LSX-R.
And last, but by no means least, performance. LS engines are famed for their low-down grunt, meaning that there is less working the gears and clutch to keep the car on power and the tyres spinning. There is also no need to continuously pound the rev limiter, which some drivers with mechanical sympathy appreciate very much.
We had a chat with Haydn about his new build, and he gave us a bit more info about just why he went for Chevy power in his JZX100:
“ My LS is an LSX-R, built by CBM who have also built similar engines for FD drivers Matt Field and Odi Bakchis. I chose the engine simply because every other drift car I have is fitted with a Japanese turbo engine, so I wanted to try a V8 too. With the ProCharger the power delivery is very different to anything else I have, linear increase unlike the turbo and oodles of torque low down. Being an alloy block it is pretty much the same weight as the original JZ motor so the weight balance of the whole car is unaffected. And revving lower than a JZ turbo feels less mechanically abusive to the engine!” – Haydn Cruickshank
So, now that you are up to speed on the background of the LS and it’s growing popularity, how do you feel about the engine? Is it the answer to every drifter’s prayers or is there a replacement for displacement?