[Editor’s Note: This LS3 engine upgrade guide is the second in a series of LS engine upgrade guides assembled by a team of LS experts at Summit Racing. The LS3 engine is a Gen IV, 6.2L aluminum-block V8 car engine that first appeared in the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette. The L99—introduced for the 2010 Chevy Camaro SS—is also a Gen IV 6.2L aluminum-block V8, but with the addition of Active Fuel Management and Variable Valve Timing. Below you’ll see references to the L99 as a result. For a primer on the LS engine universe, read LS Engines 101: An Introductory Overview of the Gen III/IV LS Engine Family.]
Intro to LS3 Upgrades
On a stock LS3 engine, the following upgrades can improve performance and fuel economy:
[Every engine spec you’ll need for an LS3 project can be found here: LS3 Engine Specs: Performance, Bore & Stroke, Cylinder Heads, Cam Specs & More.]
The LS3 and L99 are both Gen IV, 6.2L, aluminum block, car engines which came under the hoods of GM performance cars between 2008 and 2017. Both the LS3 and L99 engine blocks can be pushed to 850 to 1,000 horsepower.
Both engines use rectangle port cylinder heads and have a common 4.065-inch bore diameter. They also have the internal oil passages for Active Fuel Management (AFM), even if unused.
It is common for owners of GM performance vehicles with AFM-equipped LS or LS-based Vortec engines to delete or disable the cylinder-deactivation feature to maximize engine power.
For more on that, read: How to Delete or Disable Active Fuel Management (AFM) on GM Engines.
How to Tell the Difference Between LS3 and L99
At first glance, these engines look very similar. The easiest way to tell them apart is to check the 8th digit of the VIN code.
If you don’t have the VIN, you will need to look much closer. The major differences between these engines is the special technology used in the cylinder heads which you can learn more about here.
If you have an LS3 and are on the hunt for the best mods, you’re in the right place. Here’s the roadmap to upgrading your LS3 powerplant to achieve maximum performance.
(Summit Racing’s Paul Spurlock contributed to this article.)
Upgrading the LS3 Intake Manifold and Throttle Body
The rectangle port intakes flow well, but an aftermarket intake can still make more power.
Shorter runner intake manifolds and single-plane intakes make more top-end power, but can lose just as much low-end torque. Make sure the intended power band matches your gear ratio and torque converter.
At 90mm, the factory 4-bolt throttle body is fairly large and won’t be a restriction in most applications. Most aftermarket intakes are designed to accommodate larger 102mm throttle bodies.
Upgrading the LS3 Camshaft and Valvetrain
LS engines respond well to cam swaps.
In addition to valve springs and rockers, the cam needs to match the compression, torque converter, rear-end gears, etc.
Be careful on an LS3. Piston-to-valve clearance is very tight with cams over 230-degree duration @ 0.050 inch.
The trunnion bearings in the stock rocker arms are another known weak point.
A trunnion upgrade kit should be installed when you upgrade the valvetrain.
Upgrading to full roller rockers is another option.
The stock rockers are pedestal mounted. High spring pressure (over 475 pounds) can pull the bolts out of the cylinder head. Converting to roller rockers and stud mounts is recommended for cams over 0.600-inch lift.
Upgrading the LS3 Fuel System and Tuning the Engine
Upgrading to larger fuel injectors is often needed to meet the demand of increased power.
The factory fuel pump will become a limitation around 575 hp. So, plan on upgrading the fuel pump as well.
Tuning the computer changes the fuel and ignition curves to increase performance. Plug-in programmers are easy to use, but limited. Custom tuning requires more knowledge, but will provide even better performance.
Adding an LS3 Supercharger or Nitrous Oxide System
Many supercharger kits are bolt-on and work with stock internals and pump gas. More serious kits are available, but will require internal upgrades.
Nitrous kits are also available, inexpensive, and easy to install. Street kits have lower settings that work with stock internals. More power requires higher settings and upgrading the engine internals.
Upgrading LS3 Cylinder Heads
The L99 and LS3 heads have rectangle intake ports.
The lighter hollow stem valves used in the LS3 can be installed in L99 heads to increase the rpm range. It is also common to CNC port and/or mill them up to 0.030 inch to increase compression and better airflow.
There are many aftermarket cylinder heads available. The heads flow better and have thicker decks to maintain head gasket seal. A wide range of runner and chamber volumes are available. Some also go from a 15-degree to a 13.5-degree valve angle for even more power.
A 4-corner steam kit is another smart upgrade. It reduces hot spots in cylinder #7 that can cause the piston rings to butt and crack the piston.
Upgrading the LS3 Rotating Assembly
The stock pistons are a known weak point.
They will crack in high-horsepower engines. A set of forged pistons should be high on your priority list.
When stroking, choose a piston with minimal skirt taper. This prevents the piston from rocking at BDC and scraping up the skirts.
Gen 4 rods are stronger than the Gen 3’s and have full floating pins. They can handle about 800 hp and 6,500 rpm in boosted applications. If you’re getting forged pistons, upgrade to forged connecting rods at the same time.
Even though it’s cast, the crankshaft can handle about 900 hp and 7,000 rpm (for a limited time). A broken crankshaft is bad news. Upgrading to a forged crankshaft early in your build will save you the headache later. When you upgrade, a crankshaft with a longer stroke costs about the same and increases displacement.
The chart below lists standard specs compared to common performance rotating assemblies.
Standard vs. Performance Specs for LS3 Rotating Assemblies
|Gen IV LS Standard Spec||Stroke||Rod Length / Wristpin||Bore Size / Compression Distance|
|LS3||3.622 in.||6.098 in. / 0.9431 in.||4.065 in. / 1.338 in.|
|Common Stroker Combinations||Stroke||Rod Length / Wristpin||Bore Size / Compression Distance|
|6.2L to 6.8L||4.000 in.||6.125 in. / 0.927 in.||4.070 in. / 1.110 in.|
|6.2L to 7.0L||4.100 in.||6.125 in. / 0.927 in.||4.070 in. / 1.050 in.|
|6.2L to 7.0L||4.125 in.||6.125 in. / 0.927 in.||4.070 in. / 1.050 in.|
Upgrading the LS3 Engine Block
LS3 engines (as well as the L99) have a 4.065-inch bore diameter.
The cylinders can be bored to 4.080 inch. However, we recommended leaving them as thick as possible when running boost. When bored and stroked, displacement can be as high as 427 c.i.d. (7.0 L).
(Information for this article originally appeared in this Upgrading the Gen. 4, 6.2L, LS Car Engines article at Summit Racing’s searchable database of FAQ tech info. Go there and search “LS engines” for a comprehensive collection of LS engine tech information.)
NOTE: You can find engine specs and detailed engine upgrade advice for every LS and LS-based Vortec truck engine in one place: The Definitive Guide to LS Engine Specs and LS Engine Upgrades.