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1998 LS1 Fix - Tax Refund Rebuild

We rebuild, refresh, and rearm a ‘98 LS1 on the cheap

Frank H. Cicerale Mar 29, 2012
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With the economy being as it is, every dollar gets stretched to the limit and then some. In the case of the performance hobby, the more bang you get for your buck, the better. It costs money to go fast and make power, but what if good old Uncle Sam gave you enough to do it instead of trying to beg, borrow, steal, and suck up to your better half? Such is the case with our subject on the following pages. If this black '98 Z28 looks familiar, then you're not mistaken as this fourth-gen F-Body has graced the pages of GMHTP in the past. However, low oil pressure has forced the Camaro to not roam the streets as intended, but instead sit in the driveway waiting for some much-needed help. Enter our tax refund rebuild.


The 80,000-mile Z28 is no stranger to the chassis dyno, the famed Raceway Park quarter-mile, or anywhere in between. The last time the Z graced the pages of GMHTP we ditched the aftermarket SLP Loudmouth cat-back for a set of Dynatech SuperMAXX long-tube headers and a Corsa 3-inch exhaust. Throw in the SLP 160-degree thermostat, an SLP air lid along with a K&N filter, and a custom tune from East Side Performance, and the Z28 laid down 328 horsepower at the rear tires while pumping out 339 lb-ft of torque as measured on the shop's Dynojet chassis dyno. Not too bad for a stock LS1. After a while, though, high RPM gear changes took its tool on the all-aluminum bullet, and it was left stranded in the driveway. With low-oil pressure (15-20 psi at idle and/or cruising speed), the time had come to do the girl justice and rebuild the aluminum lung. In this day and age, though, rebuilding a fuel-injected LS1 can be a hefty task with an even heftier price tag. While we would have loved to throw some LS6 heads and intake on this bad boy, or some hot aftermarket heads, along with a bigger throttle body, mass air meter, and more, we decided to go another route, and that would be rebuild, refresh, and reinstall the motor with a small upgrade or two for as cheap as possible. We loaded the Camaro up in a race trailer and towed it down to Tune Time Performance in Toms River, New Jersey, where Matt Hauffe and crew were up to the task of refreshing our F-body. The plan was quite simple. Matt and the boys would be tasked with removing the LS1 and putting it in the capable hands of Mike Tiedemann at MCP Competition Engines, who had several tricks up his sleeve to make the most out of our '98 block and "806" heads. Once the motor was sealed up, it would be slung back into the Camaro where the engine would be broken in before being strapped to Tune Time's Mustang dyno for some tuning.

Wounded Bullet

The one nagging question we had was why the engine started to lose oil pressure, without the death toll of a rod knock or the evidence of a spun bearing on either the crank main journal or the rod journal. "There really isn't an explanation for the engine to lose oil pressure other than it was getting tired and the clearances were a bit wide," Mike replied. "There wasn't anything wrong at all with either the main or rod bearings when I pulled it apart. The crank journals weren't scarred, so it was just a matter of catching it in time before something really bad happened." It is worth noting that the early '97-98 blocks do lack the open oil passage at the back of the block, which very well could have exacerbated the issue.


We felt safe in Mike's capable hands knowing that we should make considerably more power without giving up any streetability or durability. Step one was spec'ing a custom cam, ground by Comp Cams. The new cam is a single-pattern piece showcasing 228 degrees duration and .570-inch lift on both the intake and exhaust sides on a 116 LSA. "While this is what I would call a baby cam for the LS1, this cam profile will work great with the ported '806' heads and the stock LS1 intake manifold," Mike stated. "This should put the engine somewhere between 350 to 375 rear wheel horsepower, yet it will have great drivability, a broad torque curve, and a great powerband upstairs." Of course going with a lumpier cam meant upgrading the valvesprings as well, so we went just down the road to Manley to pick up a set of dual valve springs rated to .650-inch lift as well as locks, retainers, and seals. Manley also supplied a set of chromoly pushrods. "To be honest, we could have gotten away with single valve springs, as they wouldn't have run into any issues when it comes to coil bind, but I like the dual valve springs for two reasons," Mike explained. "First, having dual valve springs is an insurance policy in case one breaks as you don't hang a valve and create havoc. Second, when it comes to the LS motors, valvetrain stability is key, and for my liking, the dual valve springs add to the valvetrain stability."

Since there was little to no engine damage, most of the stock short-block was cleaned up and reused. "For the power level this engine will be at, the stock stuff will be sufficient," Mike says. "I just cleaned up the block, gave it a quick finish hone, and then cleaned up the pistons, rods, and crank. We are reusing the stock valves, so I cleaned them up as well." Meanwhile, new rings, bearings, lifters, and a timing set, as well as gaskets and bolts from Thunder Racing, were needed to complete the refresh. Wherever possible GM replacement parts were used, such as the oil pump. We had considered going with a high-volume unit, but Mike assured us that it was not necessary given our power level.

A Heady Affair

With this being a budget rebuild, a new set of heads were out of the question. After all, we needed to make sure we had enough coin to get the motor back into tip-top shape and the car running again. With that in mind, we turned our stock heads over to Mike, who proceeded to rework and refresh the factory "806" aluminum pieces. "There is a lot to be gained by a good porting job on these heads, especially the earlier '806' heads," Mike explained. "Most of the gains you will see with these cathedral-port heads in particular come on the exhaust side. I open up the exhaust ports and touch up the intake ports. For the most part though, all of the work I do is on the exhaust ports, as when I am done, they are completely different. I don't touch the chambers either because there really isn't much to be gained in that."

Mike's work speaks for itself, as the flow numbers for his ported heads are far superior to the stock numbers. "Stock, these heads will flow 200 to 215cfm or so on the exhaust side and between 265 and 268cfm on the intake," he said. "Now, with the porting work, the exhaust side improves to 240cfm and the intake to between 290 and 295cfm." The extra influx of air in and out, when combined with the camshaft, means the engine will breath better and make more horsepower over a wider power range. Of course those flow numbers are also owed to the attention Mike paid to the stock 2.00/1.95 valves and valve job. "I gave them a 45-degree valve job with a 30-degree back cut," Mike stated. "The 30-degree back cut will really help with the low-lift flow numbers." Last but not least, the heads were also cut to raise the compression ratio up a full point from the stock 10.1:1 to 11:1. "I milled the heads .025 to get the compression ratio up," Mike said. "I didn't have to deck the block, so for that small of an increase the slight shave I did on the heads worked. Even still, 11:1 will work on pump gas without a problem."

Curtain Call

Before we went and strapped this bad boy down to the dyno, we had to break the engine in. Per Mike's instructions, we put in 5.5 quarts of lightweight break-in oil, started the motor, checked for leaks, and ran it up between 1,200 and 2,500 rpm for 20 minutes. Following that, the oil and filter were dropped and Valvoline 10W-30 conventional oil was put in. Matt put it up on Tune Time's Mustang dyno, put in a base tune, and off we were to put 500 miles on the engine to get the rings to seat. When the 500 miles were done, we cruised back down to Tune Time to lay down some power numbers. We once again dropped the oil and filter, replacing it with the same conventional motor oil, and strapped it to the dyno. "For the first 3,000 miles, I like to have the engine run on conventional motor oil," Mike commented. "After that, you can switch over to synthetic. I like the Mobil 1 10W-40 because I have never had a problem with it, and I like the 40-weight oil because my clearances are a bit wider."

With the motor properly broken in and ready to clear its throat, the time now came to see what kind of power the new bullet could make, and see what other hidden ponies lie within the PCM. It was then that we ran into problem number one, which put us behind schedule just a bit. On the first dyno pull, the car put out 346-rear wheel horsepower, but the dyno graph was skewed in areas, indicating slippage. On the second go around, we found out exactly what was slipping when we saw flames coming from the bellhousing at 5,800rpm or so. Suffice to say the Textralia clutch in our black Z28 Camaro, true to New Jersey form, went down in a blaze of glory. We replaced the burnt up clutch with a stock GM LS7 clutch, and after another 500 miles to break the clutch in, we were finally ready for the tale of the rollers.

The car was consistent, as the first pull kicked out 342-rear wheel horsepower and 314 lb-ft of torque. We knew that the car had a lot left in it when Matt looked at the information the dyno gave us. "The air/fuel ratio was rich, at around 12.4 or so, and it had 20 degrees of timing up top," he said. "The main reason why the power number was so low was the lean condition caused a small detonation knock at tip-in and the computer pulled all the timing out." With that in mind, Matt got to work, doing his magic to try and get the tune to where it would be a tad bit richer, especially on tip-in, as well as giving the car more timing upstairs. "According to Mike, these heads really don't benefit from much more than 23 degrees of timing, so that is what I am going for, along with an air/fuel ratio of 12.8:1. I also have a few tricks up my sleeve to rid the engine of the knock at tip-in." When Matt was done, we gave it another try, and were rewarded with the results. The final numbers came in at 353-rwhp and 328 lb-ft of torque. The numbers may have been a bit higher had the engine gone past 6,000 rpm, but Mike wasn't a fan of it and, well, the injectors wouldn't handle it.

"With the stock pistons, I really don't like to see the engine spin higher than 6,000rpm because you'll crack one," he explained. "I have seen stock LS1 and LS6 pistons get past that point, but when you spin the engine up past that, it's a matter of time. If you want to rev the engine, that's when I would recommend forged pistons." The fact remains, however, the injectors will make sure that we never get past 6,000rpm as they were maxed out at that engine speed. "At 6,000rpm, the car ran out of injector, and after that, they wouldn't support the engine going any higher," Matt said. "You can get bigger injectors to go past that limit, but for this combination, they will work just fine. The tune isn't a ragged-edge, glory number type of tune. It's something that just about everyone with this combination will see great power and drivability with, as well as being safe."

Thanks to the ported stock heads and the Comp Cams bumpstick, we improved power on this stock LS1 by roughly 50 horsepower. "It's hard to compare the dyno numbers the car had before to what we just made because the Dynojet is a completely different dyno than our Mustang dyno," Matt commented. "The Mustang typically reads lower because the correction factor is different. In my experience and what I have seen come through here, though, a combination like this before the engine was rebuilt, with a tune, headers, and a cat-back exhaust, checks in around 305 horsepower on our dyno." Suffice it to say, we rebuilt this tired LS1, gave it some power with ported heads and a new cam, and did so relatively cheaply. We were able to save cash by reusing stock parts as well as keeping the combination conservative enough to use stock replacement pieces when needed, such as the lifters, oil pump, and such. Knowing that we were able to improve power by 50-rear wheel horsepower, make sure the original engine in the car would now live to see another day, and do all of that without breaking the bank makes this tax refund rebuild a success. "I have to admit though, if we were to put on an LS6 intake, a bigger mass air meter, and a bigger throttle body on, this thing would really wake up," Matt said with Mike in agreement. Hmmm-maybe we wait for this year's refund check and see what more we can squeeze out of the tax refund rebuild. Now if only our accountant would crunch those numbers!

By The Numbers

What would a budget engine rebuild be without, well a budget? With this following list, we tried to account for everything that went into the rebuild, from labor to the smallest nuts, bolts, gaskets and fluids. Our goal was to check in at a svelte $5,000. To try and keep costs down, we were able to re-use some of the gaskets, such as the valve covers, front and rear covers, and the oil pan. Some things we replaced for insurance, such as the timing cover and the oil pump. For the most part, we tried our best to tighten the belt and keep costs down. Not included in the total cost was the replacement for the leaking water pump ($125), and the LS7 clutch ($680) to take the place of our fried Textralia clutch. As you can see, we came out just over budget ($5,325.26 total). While this won't make our accountant all that happy to blow up our budget a bit, we now have a fresh bullet pumping out nearly 360-rear wheel horsepower with great drivability and, best of all, oil pressure and no worries. Guess you can argue that the extra was definitely money well spent.

Item Part Number Cost
GM Piston Rings PN 88984247 $403.12
Clevite Main Bearings PN MS2199P $163.70
Clevite Rod Bearings PN CB663P $88.06
Comp Cams Camshaft PN 54-00-11 (Lobe 3717) $399.68
Manley/Summit Racing Pushrods x2 PN 25822-8 $191.90
GM Timing Chain Set PN 73133 $68.99
GM Oil Pump PN M295 $115.99
GM LS7 Lifters PN 12499225 $129.99
Manley/Thunder Racing Valvesprings PN 131-221436-16 $226.99
Manley/Thunder Racing Retainers PN 131-23621-16 $52.00
Manley/Thunder Racing Locks PN 131-13091-16 $42.40
GM/Thunder Racing Head Gaskets (MLS .054) PN 28-12498544 $49.99
Thunder Racing Bolt Kit x2 PN 20-12498545 $55.98
Thunder Racing Damper Bolt PN 20-12557840 $4.99
GM/Thunder Racing Front Main Seal PN 20-12585673 $20.99
Thunder Racing Rear Main Seal PN 20-89060436 $20.49
Block & Crank Machine Work N/A $235
Head Machine Work & Assembly N/A $1,250
Clean, Prep & Assemble Engine N/A $1,000
Total $4,520.26


Comp Cams
Memphis, TN 38118
Manley Performance Products
Lakewood, NJ 08701
Tune Time Performance
Lakewood, NJ 08701
MCP Competition Engines
Jackson, NJ
(732) 232-8174
Thunder Racing
Baton Rouge, LA 70809
(877) 516-7223



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