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 rest of the Top 10 in the coming days.

#3 — Chevy LT5


The Chevy LT5 engine burst onto the scene in 1990.

And then, just like that, it was gone.
The Chevrolet LT5 left quite an impression in its short six-year lifespan from 1990-95. While it didn’t create an entire movement like the Ford 5.0L or Cummins diesel, it does hold a special place in the hearts of Corvette aficionados. Created just for the Corvette ZR-1 supercar in 1990, the LT5 was powerful for its time — 50 percent more powerful than the base Corvette. The original LT5 produced 375 horsepower, but power was bumped up to 405 horses by 1993.
Power wasn’t the only thing unique about the LT5

A Little Bit Different

Produced in conjunction with Lotus Engineering, the 5.7L LT5 was unique from any other 350 small block produced by Chevrolet. It was all aluminum. It featured a 32-valve, dual overhead cam configuration rather than Chevy’s typical 16-valve design. Even the bore and stroke were slightly different than the traditional small block setup.
You can see the complete specs at ZR1netregistry.com.
The Chevy LT5 was hand-built for Mercury Marine in Stillwater, OK, making it the ultimate specialty engine. Only 6,369 engines were made for the rare Corvette ZR-1, but the LT5 also found its way to a few Corvette concepts, race cars, and even a limited run of the Lotus Elise GT1.

The LT5 played a huge role in bridging the gap between old and new at General Motors. Even though it went out of production in 1995, the LT5 helped pave the way for future engines. The dual overhead cam Northstar V8, for example, was patterned after the LT5 in many ways. GM also used its experience with the all-alloy LT5 and applied it to a whole new series of lightweight aluminum engines: the LS.

A Lot of Fun

The LT5 delivered power numbers on par with the later Gen. III LS6. Originally rated at 375 horsepower, later LT5s would top out at over 400 hp and propel the ZR-1 to 180 miles-per-hour. Quarter-mile times were into the 12s at 110 mph, but the LT5’s biggest accomplishment was setting a 24-hour endurance speed average of 175.8 mph.

While few could argue with the ZR-1’s performance, its price tag placed it out of reach for many consumers. Moreover, cars like the Dodge Viper, Acura NSX, and others fought for customer demand. The LT5 played a role in its own demise, too, as technology developed for the engine was used to created the less expensive LT1 (Gen. II) small block. Although the LT1 made less power than the LT5, it narrowed the performance gap between the base Corvette and ZR-1.

The LT5 was discontinued after 1995, but not before GM engineers learned valuable lessons to apply to future engines. And not before ZR-1 owners had a lot of fun.

LT5 Modifications

If you’re lucky enough to own an LT5, here are a few commonly sold parts to help you keep it running strong:

You can see the current list of our Top Engines of the Last 30 Years here.





1990 chevy corvette zr1 engine bay lt5
Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.