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The Top 10 American Performance Engines of the Last 30 Years (#9): Chevy L98 350 TPI

Editor’s note: The 1980s was a transition period for engine technology in America. The iconic carburetor gave way to fuel injection. Cubic inches were out, and liter designations marked a new era for engines — one when power and fuel economy were no longer mutually exclusive. This modern engine age has featured some of the best innovation, technology, and performance yet.

So what have been the best powerplants of these last 30 years? We asked you to help us answer that very question via Facebook and Instagram. Factoring in your votes and comments, we’ll unveil the Top 10 over the next couple of weeks.

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#9 – Chevy L98 350 TPI

Sure, the Chevy L98 was introduced in 1985 — a year before the 30-year window for this list!

But this heroic engine stuck around into the 1990s and valiantly battled the Ford 5.0L for factory performance supremacy until the LT family arrived in 1992. The 350 TPI was the flagship Chevrolet performance engine of the 1980s and could be found under the hoods of such cars as the C4 Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, and IROC-Z.

Was it the most powerful small block ever?

Hardly.

However, the original 1985 L98 offered 230 horsepower — a significant power jump over the previous engines of the day — and later-L98 Corvette engines would make as much as 245 horsepower. Following the power-starved late 70s and early 80s, this engine essentially put Chevrolet performance back on track.

But wait, there’s more!

Here are some additional reasons it made our list:

  • Technological Advancement: Featuring Tuned Port Injection (TPI), the 350 L98 was Chevrolet’s first successful foray into the world of EFI (sorry L83 crossfire engine!). With the introduction of the L98, Chevrolet was entering a bold new world — a world where power, performance, and fuel economy could co-exist. And it wasn’t going back.
  • 350 Lineage: The L98 was an important part of the legendary 350 family, bridging the gap between the old-school, carbureted Gen I engines and the modern fuel-injected LT and LS engines.
  • Iconic Looks: The “Elephant Trunk” runners of the TPI intake give the L98 an iconic appearance that’s instantly recognizable to many Chevrolet performance enthusiasts.

The 350 L98 wasn’t the most powerful engine over the last 30 years; however, there are many 350 TPI (L98) aftermarket upgrades to help you get the most from your TPI engine. Here are some of the more popular, according to Summit Racing Equipment:

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2 Comments

  1. I soon will be starting on a project for my son. Hr is 11 yrs. old now and I wanted to get him ready a 1987 Trans Am GTA that I bought years ago and has been stored. It is all original with a L98 TPI (164,000 orig. miles) 700R4, 3.42 posi.. I don’t want to build him a powerhouse drag car but would like it to have more power than the original 225 hp (I think it was). Would any of you guys be able to suggest a good sounding cam that doesn’t sound stock, but doesn’t kill the performance or require me to go with bigger injectors and throttle body? I’m not going to rule out the bigger injectors and throttle body either. Also, any other L98 tips for gaining hp is greatly appreciated. I can’t have him faster than my 1967 GTO though! 🙂

  2. OnAllCylinders says:

    Rough idle camshafts cause “roller coaster” like manifold vacuum signals that drive those early EFI computers absolutely crazy. This in turn will cause constant check engine lights, poor fuel economy and of course poor drivability. Now, that’s not to say you can’t change the camshaft but, don’t get crazy, and don’t go lumpy! These motors do respond well to airflow improvements such as exhaust, throttle bodies, runners and cold air kits. But keep in mind, more air needs more fuel. If you do all of the above, you are definitely flirting with larger injectors and a matching computer chip!

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