C5 Z06 Corvette, LS6 Engine
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Ultimate LS6 Engine Guide

Chandler Stark

Meet Chandler

Chandler is an automotive expert with over a decade of experience working on and modifying cars. A couple of his favorites were his heavily modded 2016 Subaru WRX and his current 2020 VW Golf GTI. He’s also a big fan of American Muscle and automotive history. Chandler’s passion and knowledge of the automotive industry help him deliver high-quality, insightful content to TuningPro readers.

Racers have long considered the LS6 engine one of the top American V8s from the early 2000s. Chevrolet used it inside their high performance C5 Corvette Z06, and Cadillac put it in their CTS-V. Depending on the year, the engine makes 385–405 horsepower and nearly equivalent torque.

A 5.7L naturally aspirated V8, the LS6 engine was the big brother to the identical sized LS1 engine that came just a few years earlier. Read on to learn about the LS6’s history, specs, engine design, common problems, and top performance mods. 

Chevy LS6 Engine History

Chevrolet released the LS6 engine in 2001 and produced it through the 2005 model year. The LS6 was their high performance variant of the LS1 engine, which Chevrolet had released back in 1999. The LS1 was the first engine released in the third generation Chevy small-block V8 family, and the LS6 followed right on its tail. Previously, Chevy had used the LS6 engine code on their 454 cid big-block V8 in the 1970s. They revived it as an homage to the ultra-powerful Chevelle engine. 

The reason Chevy created the LS6 was due to GM chief engineer David Hill, who pushed for a powerful LS-engine. While they used the LS1 for the standard Corvette, Chevy engineers reserved the LS6 for the brand new Z06, the Corvette’s high performance variant. 

For 2001, the LS6 made 385 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. In 2002, Chevy revised the valvetrain, making it lighter and giving it stiffer springs. They also introduced a bigger and more aggressive camshaft. In addition, Chevy also revised the catalytic converter, the air intake, and the MAF, which all contributed to a new 405 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque output for 2002–2005. 

In 2004, Cadillac took the engine and put it in the CTS-V, a high performance variant of the CTS. This was a 400 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque version, which was less powerful than the Z06 version. This was due to a slightly more restrictive exhaust manifold and different engine calibration. GM phased out the LS6 after 2005 in favor of the much larger 7.0 LS7 V8 engine. 

In Retrospect

For its time, the LS6 was a very impressive engine that delivered some of the best performance in its class. For many people, the C5 Z06 is the most respected Z06 of all time. Drivers almost always praise the raw and powerful jolt from the engine, which brought the C5 Corvette to new levels.

GM LS6 Engine Specs

FamilyGM Gen III Small-Block
Model Years2001-2005
Displacement5.7L (346 cid)
AspirationNaturally Aspirated
Compression Ratio10.5:1
Bore and Stroke3.898 in X 3.622 in
Valve TrainOHV, 2 Valves/Cylinder, 16V
Fuel SystemSequential Port Injection
Head/Block MaterialAluminum
Horsepower Output385-405 horsepower
Torque Output385-400 lb-ft of torque

Vehicle Applications

  • 2001 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06 (385 horsepower, 385 lb-ft of torque)
  • 2002–2004 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06 (405 horsepower, 400 lb-ft of torque)
  • 2004–2005 Cadillac CTS-V (400 horsepower, 395 lb-ft of torque)

LS6 Engine Design

LS6 Engine drawing
Credit: Chevrolet/Motor Trend (LS6 Engine)

As mentioned, the LS6 engine belongs to General Motors’ third generation small-block V8 family. The LS6 has 5.7 liters of displacement, and has a bore and stroke of 3.898 in x 3.622 in. Both the cylinder heads and engine block are aluminum, which reduces weight vs cast iron while staying durable. While the block is similar to the same displacement LS1 block, there are important differences.

The main block differences between the LS1 and LS6, are GM gave the LS6 bulkhead vent windows on the 2, 3, and 4 main bearing bulkheads, a revised oiling system improved for higher lateral acceleration, and improved main web strength. The cylinder head uses D-port shaped exhaust ports and is the LS-cathedral style. The intake valves measure to 2.0 in while the exhaust valves are 1.550 in. They are also filled with potassium/sodium for cooling.

Internally, the LS6 uses hypereutectic cast aluminum alloy M142, flat topped pistons. Starting midway through 2001, GM engineers changed the pistons to slightly reduce the piston-to-bore clearance and added polymer anti-friction coating. This was due to complaints about cold start piston slap amongst some customers. 

From 2004–2005, the pistons used full floating wrist pins, whereas from 2001–2003  they were press fit. The connecting rods are I-Beam-style and made from powdered metal, and the LS6 crankshaft is cast iron. Compression is static at 10.5:1 for all years. 

The size of the stock throttle body is 78 mm. The LS6 uses an electronic drive-by-wire throttle setup with 30 lbs/hr flowing injectors. On the Corvette, it uses a bat-wing rear sump oil pan, and on the CTS-V it uses a rear sump oil pan. 

Valve Train Improvements

For the valves, the LS6 uses a more traditional overhead valve (OHV) pushrod valve train with 2 valves per cylinder for 16 valves total. It uses a single cam-in-block camshaft with pushrods. The lifters are hydraulic roller-style with large beehive valve springs. For 2001, the camshaft had an intake/exhaust duration of 204°/211°, lift of 0.525”/0.525”, and an LSA of 116°. In 2002, Chevrolet swapped out the camshaft for something larger and more aggressive. 

The new 2002–2005 camshaft specs had an intake/exhaust duration of 204°/218°, lift of 0.555”/0.551”, and an LSA of 117.5°. According to GM engineers, this camshaft was the most aggressive ever used in a production small-block V8. GM engineers had to leave the intake duration the same in order to keep the LS6 emissions compliant. As a result, they had to add more duration and lift to the exhaust valves to compensate. 

However, due to the new high lift cam, engineers realized the rotating mass of the valve train had to be reduced for longevity. This resulted in the 2002+ intake/exhaust stems weighing 23 grams less than their 2001 counterparts. Gm also filled the new exhaust valves with a 78%/22% potassium/sodium solution for improved cooling, and they gave them stiffer beehive valve springs. 

GM engineers also lengthened the valves to be 0.6 mm longer than other Gen III LS-series engines. To help accommodate the new valves, GM made the base circle radius on the camshaft smaller at just 19 mm. They also changed the camshaft design, spreading the lobe centerlines apart, and retarding the intake lobe by 2° and adding 1° to the exhaust lobe. 

Exhaust and Intake Improvements

The valve train was not the only area that Chevy improved on the 2002+ LS6. They also changed the catalytic converters in the exhaust, which were overly restrictive. The problem dated back to 2000, when GM was working to make their exhaust manifolds compliant with California’s LEV emissions regulations. In addition to the larger catalytic converter towards the back, engineers had to put two smaller “pup” catalytic converters towards the front of the exhaust manifold to make them compliant. 

In 2001, they used the same exhaust with the “pups” on the LS6, even though they were designing a new manifold that would meet emissions standards without using cats. GM engineers had wanted to use the new exhaust on the 2001 LS6, but they were just not ready at the time. 

On the new exhaust manifold, GM changed and improved the larger cat to a two-brick design, which meant they could get rid of the two “pup” cats towards the front. This resulted in a huge reduction in backpressure, and is largely responsible for the 20 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque gain from 2001–2002. 

In addition to improving the exhaust, Chevy also tweaked the intake a little bit for the 2002+ engine. They removed the MAF airflow straightener, which was completely unnecessary on the LS6 intake, and it helped dramatically improve flow. GM engineers also gave the LS6 a new powertrain control module (PCM) tune, to take advantage of the new intake, exhaust, and valve train improvements. 

LS6 Engine Reliability and Problems

Overall, the LS6 engine is widely considered to be a reliable and sturdy engine. Even though it is a high performance V8, you can still reasonably expect to push the LS6 past 200,000 miles without needing a major rebuild. The overhead valve, pushrod, single-cam design helps keep things nice and simple, and the block and heads are bulletproof at stock power levels. 

With that being said, the LS6 engine did have a few common problems that owners have experienced. Most of the problems were related to the 2001 LS6, and most of them were abated with the 2002 refresh. Still, they are worth mentioning. Previously, we looked at the 4 most common LS6 engine problems, so we’ll just summarize them here. Make sure to check out the article for the full breakdown.

Common Problems

The first issue that LS6 owners have raised are oil consumption problems. For some drivers, they claim their LS6 burns as much as 1 quart of oil every 500 miles. Which is a ton. Most people point to a flaw in the PCV system as the culprit for the issue, and it is prone to leaking. There is no upgraded part. So if you have oil consumption issues you need to check your oil and top it off regularly. 

The second issue is related to broken valve springs, which is primarily relegated to the 2001 LS6. Some owners complained they were prone to breaking after repeated high rpm use, which can grenade the entire valve train. In 2002, GM engineers upgraded the valve springs to larger and stiffer beehive style, which has mainly fixed the issue.

The third problem that can arise is overheating, even though the LS6 uses an aluminum block. Most people experience these problems when at the track and really pushing the engine to its limits. At times, the oil cooler and radiator have been known to fail. If you plan on using your LS6 at the track, an upgraded oil cooler and radiator are great options to help mitigate the possibility of overheating. 

The final issue we will go into is rocker arm bearing failure. This was again an issue on the 2001 LS6, and was related to the broken valve springs. However, with the 2002 valve train updates the problem has been eliminated. 

Overall, the LS6 is a very reliable engine, and when kept stock is one of the most reliable GM small-block V8s ever built. 

GM LS6 Performance Upgrades

LS6 camshaft

Now let’s get to the exciting part: How to make more horsepower and torque on your LS6. From the factory, the LS6 makes 385–405 horsepower and 385–400 lb-ft of torque. That was pretty healthy for the time and made the Z06 the king of the block, but by today’s standards it is woefully underpowered. With the monstrous C8 Z06 Corvette pumping out 670 ponies from its naturally aspirated V8, the 405 horsepower C5 Z06 looks like an adolescent teenager. 

Luckily, we have you covered for making gobs of power out of your LS6. Keep in mind, while the cylinder head, valve train, and engine block are all considered bullet proof at stock levels, the same cannot be said once the car is modified and tuned. 

Most people will say the engine block is good until around 800 horsepower, while the pistons and connecting rods are limited to 450–500 horsepower (and 7,000 rpm). Upgrading to forged internals will allow for more horsepower and rpm, and the block can be bored and stroked to a max of 427 cid (7.4 liters) for more power.

Best Bolt-On Mods

  • Cold Air Intake
  • Long-tube Headers
  • Colder Thermostat
  • Tuning
  • Upgraded Camshaft

For now, we’re just going to start with basic bolt-on upgrades that will add horsepower and torque without breaking the bank too much. For most people, a simple cold air intake is a great mod to add to any LS6-powered vehicle. While they will not add a lot of horsepower and torque on a stock LS6, especially on the Z06, they will definitely show improvement with other bolt-ons, like heads, headers, and camshaft upgrades. Check out our LS6 intake upgrade article for a more in-depth breakdown. 

After the intake, adding a set of long-tube headers is a great way to add performance to the LS6. As you saw earlier, reducing the back pressure in the LS6’s exhaust manifold is an easy way to add power, and it’s the route GM engineers took in 2002. Aftermarket exhaust manifolds are called headers, and we recommend the more effective long-tube versions over the short-tubes or “shortys.”  With long-tube headers, you can expect to gain 15–25 horsepower and equivalent torque.

The next upgrade you can make is grabbing a colder thermostat. A colder thermostat will reduce the coolant temperature in the engine, lowering the overall operating temperature. This can allow for increased compression, a more optimized air-to-fuel ratio, and the ability to run more ignition timing, without suffering from engine knock. On daily drivers, some people run into issues with the thermostat keeping the car too cold for too long, so it’s definitely something to think about for DDs. For a colder thermostat, we recommend this unit from Livernois Motorsports

Tuning and Camshaft Upgrades

Our final two bolt-on recommendations are ECU tuning and upgrading the camshaft. ECU tuning is the best way to increase performance on the LS6 hands down. With tuning, your air-to-fuel ratio, ignition and camshaft timing, fuel pressure, and much more, can be optimized to provide your car with substantial but safe horsepower and torque gains. With just a tune, you can see increases of more than 25 horsepower and torque without any bolt-on mods.

There are two primary ways to tune your LS6, either custom or canned flash tuning. Of the two, we recommend getting a custom tune. Custom tuning is similar to canned or “off the shelf” tuning, but it is specifically dialed in to your car, engine, and mods, to ensure the most power with the highest safety margin. 

Our final bolt-on is going to be upgrading the camshaft. Upgrading the camshaft can add between 20–100 horsepower, depending on the aggressiveness of the specs. Previously, we looked at the top LS6 camshaft upgrades, and we recommend going with Livernois Motorsports’ Stage 2 cams. They are great for moderate builds and have been very well reviewed. Previously, we looked at the top LS6 camshaft upgrades, so make sure to check that article out for a more in-depth breakdown.

Chevy LS6 Engine Legacy

Overall, the LS6 engine is one of the top American V8s to hit the market since the early 2000s. While it might not have the gargantuan horsepower and torque figure of today’s larger displacement V8s, the 5.7 liter V8 still remains a soft-spot for many LS enthusiasts. Producing 385–405 horsepower and 385-400 lb-ft of torque, for many years the LS6 was one of the top dogs available. 

Chevrolet and Cadillac used the LS6 in their high performance sports cars, the 2001–2004 C5 Z06 Corvette and the inaugural years of the CTS-V from 2004–2005. Here they gained their famed reputation for performance, reliability, and tunability. The engine is just at home on the track as it is on the street, and enthusiasts build them to take 100s more horsepower than the factory produced. 

Today, there are still tens of thousands of LS6 powered Z06s and CTS-Vs on the street, and the LS6 is still beloved by many. Let us know what you think of the LS6 in the comments below, and let us know your experience with them!

Read our guide on C5 Z06 Corvette Mods.

GM/Chevrolet LS6 FAQ

How old is the LS6 engine?

GM/Chevrolet released the LS6 engine in 2001, and it was in production through 2005.

Is the LS6 a good engine?

Yes, the LS6 is a reliable and powerful engine that produces substantial horsepower and does not have very many problems.

How much horsepower and torque does the LS6 make?

The LS6 makes 385-405 horsepower and 385-400 lb-ft of torque.

What cars was the LS6 engine in?

GM/Chevrolet put the LS6 inside the 2001-2004 Chevrolet C5 Corvette Z06 and 2004-2005 Cadillac CTS-V.

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