A 5.3L that shows you don’t need to go broke to enjoy some LS power in your Chevy
The biggest complaint about LS-type engines is they cost a lot of coin to get into. Yeah, the typical LS mill will bleed more cash from your wallet compared to a traditional smallblock, but if you’re careful and don’t need a bazillion horsepower, then it can be more of a flesh wound instead of a gushing flow of Benjamins. You see, not every LS build has to be a dry-sump LS7 or 600-plus horsepower stroked LS3. There are many LS variants out there and some of them are downright affordable. Shop smart and set realistic expectations and you can have modern LS EFI goodness under your hood for not much more than a quality Gen I small-block.
The term to keep in mind is “economy of scale.” That’s to say, you need to think about what is plentiful in the marketplace. If it’s easy to find (large supply) then the prices will typically be less. So, with that bit of Econ 101, the most affordable LS variants on the planet would be the 5.3L and 4.8L examples. Hundreds of thousands of these have been produced and are now easy to find parted out online and languishing in salvage yards.
We decided to try a 5.3-liter since it’s by far the most common engine out there. Rather than buy a complete engine we opted to build one from various sources. Why? Well, when you buy a pullout engine you typically end up with a lot of leftover bits and a complete engine tends to cost more than if you buy the components separately. We were going to go this direction with the block, but Summit Racing had 5.3L blocks so inexpensive it wasn’t worth the effort to hunt one down in a salvage yard. The rest is a combination of new and used parts to end up with a done and ready-to-run engine. Now, if your wallet is a bit light, you can do things even cheaper than we did by going with used parts. But keep in mind that running used lifters or a “broken-in” oil pump does up the risk factor a bit.
As for our goal, it was simple. To make at least 400 hp on the cheapest 87-octane fuel California has to offer. We wanted a ton of vacuum at idle along with smooth performance.