Image: Mark Kelly/GM Powertrain
by Hib Halverson
© September 2012
No use without permission, All Rights Reserved
The "engine guy" that I am, I've always been smitten with the LS7 in the Z06 and, of late, the 427 Convertible. I think the big, high-rev'ing seven-liter is the quintessential Corvette engine of modern times. It really is an amazing piece of work; 505-hp, fat torque curve, 7100 rpm rev limit, passes emissions and no gas guzzler tax. The LS7's specific output is 1.18. Almost eight years after its debut, that remains a high mark for a normally aspirated V8 in the Western Hemisphere. I appreciate the LS9, but, to me, the case for LS7 is more compelling. There is a special mystique about that unblown, stump-pulling, high-reving Gen 4 Small-Block which gives a Z06 its seductive, bi-polar personality: almost like a Buick around town but, when run hard; it's an abuse-hungry, track rat.
LS7s are assembled at the GM Powertrain Performance Build Center (PBC) in Wixom, Michigan. Back in the fall of 2006, I spent half a day there doing an article about it for the late, great "Corvette Quarterly" magazine.
A week before that trip, I remember getting an email from a pal of mine who had just bought an '07 Z06. "I heard you're flying to Michigan," he typed, "to do a story on the LS7. My engine builder was Greg Jones. If you see him, tell him, 'Thanks for the strong, great-running engine he built.'"
Two things struck me. First: my friend said "My engine builder...", not "the engine builder" or "its engine builder" and, second: in a world where technology and automation have become second nature-in an organization the size of General Motors Powertrain Division (GMPT) having tens of thousands of employees making millions of engines a year; there's one guy, who hand-built the motor in my pal's Z06 and then stuck his name on it.
Whoa-is that cool, or what?
After that first visit to the PBC, I promised myself: someday, I'll be back to experience more about how LS7s are built. As a production Corvette engine, the LS7 will be discontinued at the end of the '13 model year. Its demise will mark the end of an era and thinking about that was the final little "push" I needed. When I ordered my '12 Z06 back in early January, I had my dealer, Tom Henry Chevrolet, a Corvette/Camaro specialist in Bakerstown, Pennsylvania, check the box for option PBC, the "Corvette Engine Build Experience." A couple of weeks later, Meg Conroy, Chevrolet's Build Experience "Concierge" emailed me to set up the trip.
On the jet back to Michigan, doing a little brainstorming for this article, I asked myself, why is there a program like the Engine Build Experience? Recently, Jim Campbell, long a GM executive associated with Corvette, and currently US Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports summed it up in a recent statement, "Building an engine is a time-honored tradition in hot rodding and this program allows enthusiasts to enjoy that magical do-it-yourself feeling, while still enjoying the value of a GM Powertrain-engineered and factory-warrantied engine. For hands-on hot rodders, this program truly enables them to say they did it all when it came to building their project. There’s nothing else like it in the industry.”
Who orders RPO PBC? There are a few well-known Chevrolet enthusiasts who've done so, but most have been Corvette buyers, hot rodders who've purchased crate engines. or racers who've bought COPO Camaros. Interestingly, Engine Build Experience participants sometimes are couples and one husband/wife "team" has built two of the engines. There have even been occasions where an entire family has done an engine together.