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.

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