by Hib Halverson
© September 2012
No use without permission, All Rights Reserved
"Cold," "gray" and "burrrrrrr" describe Wixom in late February. My Engine Build began early on a snowy Tuesday morning. Just the walk from the Chevy Silverado I was driving to the Performance Build Center's front door had this California boy wishing for home-or at least a warmer jacket, ear muffs and some mittens.
My climactic aversion was quickly forgotten as I entered PBC's manufacturing floor. It's an engine guy's dreamland-a parts area with a boat load of Corvette engine pieces. Floors and work benches clean enough to eat off. Power tools in abundance. Lighting so bright I almost needed my dark glasses and best of all-LS7s, LS9s and dry sump LS3s everywhere. I tell ya, I had to pinch myself to see if this was all real.
First, I met Rob Nichols, the facility's Engineering Supervisor, who gave me a short presentation on the PBC along with a safety briefing. Then, I was introduced to Mike Priest who would be my partner/instructor/supervisor for my day building an LS7. Mike is an "Experimental Assembler" (GM-speak for one who either assembles test engines for the vehicle development groups or builds engines at the PBC) and is a veteran of 37 years at GM, the last five of which have been at the Performance Build Center. He gave me a pair of safety glasses and two pairs of gloves. Now, I was officially a "Guest Engine Builder" and flattered to be joining such big dogs of the Chevrolet hobby as radio personality, Todd Schnitt, former Chevrolet General Manger, Jim Perkins, and NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick, all of whom have built engines at PBC-in fact Mr. H has done two of them!
Mike and I began work in a room off the main production floor where we picked two trays of piston and connecting rod assemblies and a tray of parts including bearings, a crankshaft position sensor, a rear oil gallery plug (some call these "barbells" or-go figure-"dumbbells") along with other small parts and fasteners.
I feasted my eyes on the high-tech titanium connecting rods taking in their dull silver color and smooth finish. Part of the mystique of the LS7 is those spiffy "Ti" (pronounced "tie") rods which reduce reciprocating mass by 30%, enhance reliability and improve durability, and here-I was going to build an engine with them.
Mike and I "clocked" the ring gaps, meaning: each gap-those of the: top ring, second ring, two oil rails and an oil ring expander-had to be properly positioned in relation to the piston top. Next, we inspected the main bearings, each rod/piston unit and the rod bearings. Finally, we installed the rod bearings in the rods and rod caps.