Generally, engine modifications can be broken down into a couple of categories. There are bolt-on modifications, like headers, intakes, throttle bodies, and intake manifold upgrades, and then there are more in-depth power mods that take a bit more effort but yield massive results. Cam upgrades fall into the latter category. While it might take a bit more time and effort to install an LS2 cam upgrade, it is unquestionably one of the best ways to squeeze every bit of performance out of your LS.
LS2 Cam Upgrade Basics
While upgrading the camshaft in your Chevy LS2 is unquestionably the best bang-for-the-buck modification that you can do to the engine overall, there are a ton of variables to consider before installing one. The camshaft is one of the most central pieces of an engine and determines nearly every aspect and characteristic of how the motor runs as a whole. In a way, it is the brain of the engine, as it operates the valvetrain, which is where the combustion process starts.
As such an integral part of the engine’s operation, choosing the right cam is one of the most important parts of an LS2 build. Some enthusiasts even build their entire engine around the cam that they want to run. While that is one way to do it, it is arguably better to work out the rest of your engine modifications and choose a cam that compliments them at the end.
As there are so many different cam options available for the LS2, it can be hard to narrow it down to just one option. For that reason, it is a good idea to consult with either a cam provider or qualified tuner (ideally both) about your intended build, the type of driving that you do, the modifications that you have already done to your engine, and other specifications about your car in order to get an educated recommendation about what cam spec would work best for you.
Understanding Cam Specs
Okay, this is where things can get slightly confusing if you’ve never dealt with a cam card before. Cam specs for every engine are listed out in a string of numbers that look like complete gibberish to someone who isn’t familiar with what those numbers mean. However, it is vital to the cam selection process to understand these numbers and what they represent in terms of how they affect engine characteristics. To explain these cam specs, let’s take a look at the cam specs for a factory LS2 camshaft.
2005 Corvette/ 2005-06 GTO Cam Specs: 204°/213° 0.520 in./0.521 in. 116°
2006 Corvette / CTS-V Cam Specs: 204°/213° 0.520 in./0.521 in. 116°
2007 Corvette / CTS-V Cam Specs: 204°/211° 0.524 in./0.524 in. 117°
Listed above are the cam specs for the most popular LS2 models. As you can see, the 2005-06 Corvette, GTO, and CTS-V all share nearly identical camshafts. However, they switched the cam to a slightly more aggressive one for the 2007 Corvette and CTS-V. But, that doesn’t really help with what the numbers mean, so let’s dive deeper into that. To limit confusion, we’ll use the 2005-06 Corvette cam as an example in the following sections. Regardless, what we’re about to cover applies to any camshaft under the sun.
204°/213° 0.520 in./0.521 in. 116°
Valve Duration = 204°/213° @ 0.050in
Intake Valve Duration = 204°@ 0.050in
Exhaust Valve Duration = 204°@ 0.050in
Looking at the full cam card, the first two numbers, 204/213 in this case, represent the valve duration of the intake and exhaust valves, with the first number representing the intake valves and the second number representing the exhaust valves. So, what the hell does that mean? Well, in layman’s terms, valve duration is the amount of time, measured in degrees of crankshaft rotation, that each type of valve is open. The higher the number, the longer the valves are open.
Duration is measured at a particular point of tappet lift in order to easily compare the specs of different cams by different manufacturers. The universal standard is 0.050” of tappet lift, which is how valve duration specs have been measured across the board for decades.
So, how does valve duration actually affect the performance of an engine? Keeping the intake and exhaust valves open for a longer duration allows more air to move in and out of the combustion chamber. That is particularly crucial in the top-end, where valves operate at higher speeds. Generally, a longer (higher) duration contributes to improved top-end power, whereas a shorter (lower) duration is optimal for enhancing low-end torque.
204°/213° 0.520 in./0.521 in. 116°
Intake Valve Lift = 0.520”
Exhaust Valve Lift = 0.521”
Valve lift is the second set of numbers following the valve duration specs. Unlike valve duration which is measured in degrees of rotation, valve lift is measured in fractions of inches. Valve lift is a pretty easy one to wrap your head around, as it is the maximum distance that the cam lifts the valves off of their seats. Similar to duration, the more that a cam opens the valves, the more air can flow in and out of the combustion chamber.
You can measure lift in a couple of ways. If you see lift listed as “lobe lift,” that figure is the size of the lobe on the camshaft, measured from the nose of the lobe. “Gross lift” refers to that lobe lift figure multiplied by the rocker arm ratio. That figure is how far the valve opens in actuality and is what you’ll typically see listed on basic cam specs.
Valve lift plays a very crucial role in determining cam timing events and where power is created in the rev range. While higher valve lift results in more power across the power band, there is a point where cylinder head flow restrictions prohibit increased lift from making a positive difference. There is also a point where too much lift can cause interference issues, requiring modifications to the cylinder head if you want to push lift further. Higher lift also puts increased strain on the valve springs, which should likely be upgraded anyway if you are upgrading to a performance cam.
Lobe Separation Angle
204°/213° 0.520 in./0.521 in. 116°
Lobe Separation Angle = 116°
While there are other important ways that cam specs are measured and recorded, lobe separation angle (LSA) is the last of the extremely important cam specs that are commonly listed. Lobe separation angle measures how intake and exhaust lobes are phased with one another. Another way to think about it would be that it is the number of degrees between the peak lift of intake and exhaust lobes. Lift and duration are specs that revolve around individual cam lobes, while LSA is how all of the lobes work in conjunction.
Lobe separation angle is an important spec as it has the biggest effect on the behavior of the cam as a whole. LSA tells you the amount of overlap the cam has, which is the brief period where both the intake and exhaust valves are open simultaneously. Overlap is inversely proportional to lobe separation. Camshafts designed for better low/mid-range performance tend to have less overlap and more lobe separation, while cams designed for maximum high-rpm power tend to have more overlap and less lobe separation.
Considerations Before Camming Your LS2
Picking the right LS2 cam is actually the final stage of the process. Before you can choose the right cam for your build, you have to consider a couple of things first. Pairing your camshaft with other performance mods is the best way to extract peak performance. So, you’ll have to pick a cam that goes well with the mods that you already have installed. Cam upgrades also require more than just the new cam itself, you’ll have to upgrade the surrounding valvetrain components too. Finally, you have to consider what you’ll be using your car for, as some cams work great for some applications and not well at all for others.
Pairing A Cam With Other Mods
Like most engine modifications, combining an upgraded LS2 cam with other performance enhancements yields the best results. In fact, your cam choice might be the secret weapon that unleashes massive amounts of untapped horsepower from other supporting components. Since a cam upgrade revolves around getting more air/fuel into the engine and more exhaust out of the engine, any modification that improves airflow or exhaust flow will benefit massively from a camshaft upgrade.
For example, ported cylinder heads and upgraded intake manifolds are very common and popular modifications on the LS2. Both provide pretty substantial gains on their own, with ported heads usually yielding around 15-20 rwhp and a nice intake manifold upgrade tacking on an extra 20-25 rwhp alone. However, depending on the spec of the upgraded cam, those numbers could easily increase by 10-15 horsepower each, compounding to some pretty nice gains. The same principle applies to exhaust modifications like long tube headers as well.
Upgraded cams also work very well when combined with forced induction. There are a ton of blower-specific camshafts for the LS2 that are designed to work in unison with roots-style, twin-screw, or prochargers to make the most power and best power delivery.
Since cams can bring the most out of auxiliary power mods, the best strategy is to build out your engine with all of the modifications that you intend on installing and choosing a cam last. That way you won’t have to swap cams again if you install an upgrade that requires a better-suited cam (like a supercharger), while also only needing to get a quality dyno tune once instead of multiple times.
Unfortunately, in most cases, an LS2 cam upgrade isn’t just as easy as saying out with the old and in with the new. Installing an upgraded camshaft with a more aggressive grind puts greater strain on surrounding valvetrain components, meaning that it is a good idea to beef up everything around the cam itself. That said, some impressive builds out there run factory valvetrains without any issues. I wouldn’t advise that, but some people still do it.
Among all the valvetrain components that require upgrading, valve springs hold the utmost importance. As a general rule of thumb, a cam with valve lift higher than 0.550 will require stiffer valve springs that can withstand the continual strain put on them with a high lift cam. In general, the springs that you choose are heavily dependent on the cam, so it’s hard to give direct suggestions. However, beehive springs are a common option on cam profiles with 0.580” or less valve lift as they are light and efficient. Dual springs are a better option for cams with over 0.600” of lift, as they are the most durable. You’ll also need to replace the factory valve spring retainers as well.
Another important valvetrain component that you’ll likely want to upgrade are the factory LS2 pushrods. The factory pushrods are a weak link in the LS2 engine and can easily bend due to the forces of a new cam. Hardened pushrods aren’t very expensive and will prevent a failure down the line.
As a final note, some enthusiasts opt to replace the trunnions on the factory roller rockers instead of doing a full roller rocker replacement, as most replacement rockers fail to clear the factory valve cover.
Before even thinking about upgrading your cam, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. One of the most important is how will you be driving the car? While it’s pretty safe to assume that you want to make more power and torque, the ways in which an upgraded cam delivers that additional power and torque matter a ton as well. The best camshaft for a C6 Corvette track build is leaps and bounds different from the best camshaft for a Cadillac CTS-V drag build.
Along those same lines, power isn’t everything. Some enthusiasts seek out the cam that will produce the most power indiscriminate of where in the power band the power is delivered. That’s a rookie mistake. A cam that destroys idle quality and eliminates nearly all low-end torque in exchange for power above 6,000 rpm doesn’t make any sense for a daily driver. In most cases, the tamer the better when it comes to cam upgrades. You want to find the camshaft with the tamest specs that still accomplishes your goals. That ensures the best drivability and longevity for a cam upgrade.
A foolproof method of getting the right cam for your LS2 is putting together a solid list of your driving style, performance goals, current modifications, and future plans and presenting it to a well-respected and reputable engine builder or cam manufacturer and asking for a recommendation. That takes most of the guesswork out of the equation and ensures that you’re in the right ballpark at least.
LS2 Camshaft Upgrade Benefits
- +25-100 wheel-horsepower
- +25-100 wheel-torque
- Increased power band
- Distinctive “lopey” exhaust sound
By far the biggest benefit to a camshaft upgrade is going to be the added power. Depending on the cam profile you choose, you can add anywhere from 25-100 wheel horsepower and wheel torque to your build. While some people will claim that cams only really make a difference on the top end, that’s simply not true. The entire power band will generally get wider. On big cams where some low-end torque is lost, generally, the curve is still more favorable on the top-end.
Cams are great upgrades for naturally aspirated engines, but can also help on forced induction builds, too. Well-designed and optimized cams for the right turbo build can increase spool while sustaining more peak power.
Another “benefit” of an LS6 cam upgrade is the distinctive exhaust note from cams. While small cams will keep the exhaust sounding relatively stock, larger cams will give the distinct “chop-chop” sound we all know and love. Especially through long-tube headers, most cam swaps sound absolutely fantastic on LS engines.
Best LS2 Camshaft Upgrade Kits
With the LS engine series being some of the most customizable and modifiable engines under the sun, it should come as no surprise that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of LS2 camshaft upgrade options out there. However, they aren’t all built equal. Just to beat a dead horse even further, the right camshaft for your build might be leagues different from what we list here. Since there is so much variety, it’s hard to recommend any catch-all options. With that said, here are our recommendations for the best kits out there:
- Livernois Motorsport
- COMP Cams
- Texas Speed and Performance
1) Livernois Motorsports Cams
First on our list are the Stage 2, Stage 2R, and Stage 3 Camshafts from Livernois Motorsports. Livernois Motorsports is one of the most respected names in the LS engine-building industry. They have been putting out LS2 parts since GM released the engine, and they have a solid reputation for quality.
Livernois Motorsports offers three different camshafts for the LS2, a Stage 2, 2R, and Stage 3. The Stage 2 cam is meant for mild street builds that want some extra horsepower, with a duration of 232°, lift of 0.595”, and LSA of 114°. Livernois’ Stage 2R cam sacrifices drivability and has a duration of 236°, lift of 0.602”, and LSA of 113. The Stage 3 cam also sacrifices drivability. It has a relatively low duration of 224°, but a larger lift at 0.612”, and an optimal LSA of 114.
We’d recommend the Stage 2 cam for moderate builds. You can step up to the Stage 2R and 3 if you’re willing to sacrifice drivability for power. Even though the 2R has a longer duration, the Stage 3 has much higher lift and will probably give you the most horsepower. All of them are good choices, it just depends on what you want to get out of your cam.
2) COMP Cams
Our next recommendation for LS6 camshafts is from COMP cams. COMP cams are another industry-leading camshaft manufacturer with a very solid reputation. Some of the highest horsepower LS builds today use various COMP cams in their builds. They have an absolutely massive selection of LS2 cams that suit pretty much any build.
Starting with a mild performance cam, the COMP FSL 208/220 D, 206/218 N Hydraulic Roller Cam is probably the best offering for near-stock LS2 builds. The cam features a slightly improved, yet relatively mild cam spec of 208°/220° 0.541 in./0.541 in. 117°. Compared to the factory cam, the COMP offering improves duration and lift by a significant degree, while keeping LSA identical to the late model factory cam for the best road manners. COMP claims that this cam yields 35 horsepower on an otherwise stock LS2 with a tune.
Their other popular LS2 offering is a slightly more aggressive grind, still from their FSL cam series. In comparison to their more mild cam, the next step up has specs of 212°/224° 0.541 in./0.541 in. 116°. While valve lift remains the same on both, duration is increased significantly on this cam. The LSA is also decreased slightly for better high-rpm performance. In total, you can expect around a 50 horsepower gain from this cam. Both COMP cams are extremely well-reviewed, and neither is a bad option for a mild LS2 build.
3) Texas Speed and Performance
Our final recommendation for an LS2 cam upgrade comes from Texas Speed and Performance. TSP hasn’t been in the game as long as Livernois or COMP, but they still have an excellent reputation for quality.
TSP offers many different camshafts, like COMP Cams, and has some optimized for both naturally aspirated and boosted applications. Most of the TSP LS2 camshafts have pretty high lift of at least 0.600”, meaning they all definitely give you some performance. Their mild cams will give you 20-35 horsepower gains, while their biggest cam setups gain upwards of 75+ horsepower. They have small, mild, and max effort cams categories to help you with sizing for your build.
We recommend the TSP for pretty much any build level. Their smaller cams will produce decent power bumps while maintaining good drivability. Their larger cams will give you lots of power, but drivability will have to be sacrificed. Overall, the TSP cams are solid choices, regardless of build.