Did you know you can buy a Corvette’s engine without buying the rest of the car? Are you building a project and looking for the best engine to finish it off? Do you want to drool at how much money people spend on engines? Do you want to see some of the best crate engines ever made? You’ve come to the right place. General Motors has been producing small-block and big-block engines for decades. Throw a few extra parts on one of these bad boys and you’ll be burning tires in no time. Before we talk about the best GM crate engines, let’s start by answering a few basic questions.
What Is A Crate Engine?
A crate engine or crate motor is a factory-built engine that arrives at your doorstep perfectly timed, balanced, and blueprinted, and ready to provide motive power for any project you have laying around. Included parts are a fully assembled block consisting of crank, rods, and pistons, cylinder heads, a fully assembled head consisting of valves, cams, and associated parts and engine components, and often a carburetor for fuel delivery. Big block, small block, short block, long block – a crate engine can come in all shapes and sizes.
The beauty of a crate engine is that it can go into any vehicle you want. The engine gave out in your truck? Maybe it’s time for an upgrade. Want to make a V8 Pinto? Go right ahead.
The alternative is to either rebuild an old engine yourself, have an engine builder do it for you, or buy a custom-made engine directly from an engine builder. Each of these options has a fair share of hurdles, and often it’s cheaper to order a crate engine than it is to go those other ways.
Plus, Chevrolet Performance Crate Engines include a 24-month or 50,000-mile limited warranty. That’s right, most of the GM crate engines you’re about to see carry a factory warranty, so hoon away.
What Doesn’t Come With A GM Crate Engine?
- A transmission
- Fuel delivery (tank, lines, pump, etc)
- Cooling system (coolant hoses, radiator, fan, shroud, etc)
- Charging system (battery, starter, alternator, etc)
- Induction system (air filter, breather, etc)
- Engine management wiring and ECU
These are the big things, but there are many other parts that may or may not be included with your specific crate motor – check with your provider for more details.
What’s The Difference Between A Small Block And A Big Block?
A big block has higher weight and density in the block, as well as larger valve bores, a longer stroke, and a generally larger exterior size. A big block can have the same displacement as a small block, but only the most extreme small blocks encroach on this territory.
Big and little.
Where Can I Buy A GM Crate Engine?
GM crate engines can usually be ordered through your local GM dealership. You might see online retailers like JEGS or Crate Engine Depot offer these engines, but they’re almost always asking the same price as Chevrolet themselves. We’ve found the Gandrud Auto Group’s GM Performance Motor website is the best resource around. Please note, we are not responsible for large amounts of hours lost while browsing crate engines.
Okay, let’s count down the top seven GM crate engines available through GM’s Performance Engines Catalog.
Ranking The Best GM Crate Motors!
#07. The Tow-it-All: Vortec 488 – $6,065.14
Let’s start small.
That’s right, in the GM Performance Catalog of crate engines an 8-liter V8 is considered “small”. With max revs set at just 4500rpm, the Vortec 488 is a mill designed not to power the car you’re racing, but the truck you’re hauling it with. With 375 horsepower and 475 lb-feet of torque on tap at only 3200rpm, the 488 can tow that high-dollar enclosed trailer without breaking a sweat. Or it could pull your boat, your cattle, your neighbor’s house, or the grandstands at your local dragstrip. You get the idea.
Another party trick of the 488 is its ability to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum (LPG) in addition to regular pump gasoline. That’s thanks to the stainless valves and hardened valve seats. A forged crank, rods, pistons, full-length cooling jackets, and cast-iron head and block ensure maximum durability and longevity even in high-stress situations. Just add your choice of intake manifold, carb, and all the regular bolt-ons we talked about earlier, and you’re good to go.
Or in this case, good to tow.
#06. The Classic Choice: ZZ427 L88 – $10,499.87
In 1969, when muscle cars were king, Chevrolet built a handful of Camaros and Chevelles specifically for drag racing in the NHRA Stock Eliminator class. Designated COPO, or Central Office Production Order, these specialty machines weren’t marketed to the general public. The powerplant behind them was the legendary 427 “L88”, a 450-horsepower 7-liter engine found in many other GM cars including the Corvette. But this version had high compression, required race fuel, and made an insane-for-the-time 450 horsepower. Plus, in the late 60s, Chevy didn’t use engines over 400ci in midsize cars – this meant COPOs were far and away the fastest Chevelles and Camaros on the road. From day one they were, and still are, offensively expensive.
The modern equivalent of that engine is GM’s ZZ427 crate motor. It stays true to the cast-iron block of its forefather, but runs pump-gas-friendly 10.0:1 compression, sports aluminum heads and an all-forged rotating assembly. It also favors a hydraulic roller camshaft instead of the original’s flat-tappet cam. It makes a few extra ponies over the old model, too: 480 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque will melt any tires this GM crate motor is hooked up to. As far as Chevy crate engines go, you can’t go wrong with this one.
#05. The Largest Small Block Ever Made: LSX454R – $13,278
Forged steel rods. Forged steel crank. Forged aluminum pistons. Aluminum heads. Mechanical roller cam. Huge valves. A 7100 rpm redline. A massive 13.1:1 compression ratio – that’s well into diesel territory. It all combines to make 776 horsepower, 649 lb-ft, and a whole lot of noise from its 7.4 liters of absolute fury. I’ll let GM explain what that all means.
“Quite simply, the LSX454R drag racing engine is the most powerful GM crate engine ever from Chevrolet Performance – and it’s designed to do one thing: help you win races with great durability.” “Engineers simulated 600 back-to-back drag strip passes on the engine dyno, ensuring it would stand up to years of performance without the need for major maintenance, round after round, season after season.” This small block Chevy packs a punch.
This isn’t the 350 that your neighbor pulled out of a C10 truck and slapped a hot cam into. No, this is a 110-octane-only race crate engine built exclusively to win races at the local 1320. GM advises that the LSX454R comes with no warranty and is “not for road use”. That didn’t stop this shop from stuffing the lower-compression street version into a 2012 GMC Sierra single cab truck, a vehicle which, as you may know, has almost no weight over the rear wheels. Combine it with some top shelf Chevrolet Performance parts and you’ve got recipe for speed. That must be a hoot to drive.
#04. The Nurburgring Killer: LT4 Supercharged – $14,185.56
Surely you’re aware of the C7 Corvette. You know it’s a huge leap for Corvettes. You know that valets go joyriding in them. You know a manual Z06 did the Nurburgring in 7:13.9, making it the fastest factory Corvette to ever lap that track. You know that with a little fiddling the C7 Z06 can exceed 200 mph. But did you know you can buy the beating heart of a C7 Z06 and put it in any car you want?
Like a 1978 Malibu, if you’re so inclined.
Enter the LT4 crate engine. Power comes on fast: a 1.7-liter Eaton supercharger spins at 20,000 rpm to force 9 pounds of boost into this 6.2-liter engine. That results in the same 650 horsepower and 650 torques you’ll find in the Z06 that’s sitting over at your local dealership, but for a fraction of the price. This baby has aluminum heads and pistons, titanium valves, forged rods, and even an aluminum block, for God’s sake. That’s real supercar stuff, but it runs on pump gas. And might I remind you it comes with a warranty. What more do you want?
The price gap between a complete C7 Z06 and its engine says a lot about what it takes to make a car perform that well. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that all of the engines from this point forward are absolutely insane. They’re bonkers. They’re nuts. They have no business going into any car that isn’t equally advanced in the suspension, chassis, and safety departments. If you so much as look at them the wrong way, you should probably see a doctor. Still, they’re the best GM crate engines ever made, so their reputation is well deserved. Consider this high performance crate engine if you want something with serious firepower.
#03. The Biggest Block: ZZ572 Deluxe – $15,655.49
At 9.37 liters, the ZZ572 is the mac daddy of all big block engines. It’s nearly a 1-liter EcoBoost larger than any engine ever fitted to a production vehicle (the 8.4-liter V10 in the dearly departed Dodge Viper). Naturally, that means it’s got loads of power – 727 horsepower and 680 torques – but those aren’t the most impressive specs. It has 113-cc intake ports, 2.25-inch intake valves and 1.88-inch exhaust valves, a massive 1150cfm carb (yes, a carb), a solid-roller cam with 0.714 inches of lift, 12:1 compression, and it requires 110 octane fuel. Here’s GM’s succinct English translation of those stats:
“A 10-second car is quick, but the ZZ572 could achieve that with a couple of its spark plugs left in the pits.”
With the right parts, this mill can make over 2500 horsepower.
Try stuffing that in a malaise-era Malibu. We’d rather have it in a drop-top Challenger (engine shot).
#02. The Heart of the ZR1: LS9 Supercharged – ~$20,000
Of all the ‘streetable’ GM crate engines, this one is the top dog.
It’s not that we’re going in cost order here, the LS9 crate engine ranks near the top because of its insane rarity. According to GM they aren’t building any new ones, they’re just selling the leftovers from the 2009-2013 Corvette ZR1. You know, the first Corvette to ever exceed 200 miles per hour. The one that lapped the Nurburgring four seconds faster than a Nissan GT-R way back in 2009. Nevermind that this happened nearly a decade ago – the 6.2-liter LS9 is still insane today.
Let’s start with the 9.1:1 compression, which means you can run this on pump gas. Add in a cast aluminum block, titanium valves, and a forged steel crank attached to forged titanium rods attached to forged aluminum pistons. Top that off with hydraulic roller cams, aluminum heads, and a high-helix supercharger pushing 10.5psi of boost. Put it all together and you have the monstrous mill that propelled the 2009 ZR1 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds, 100 in 7 seconds, and covered the quarter mile in 11.3 at 131 mph. Keep in mind this isn’t the spec list for a 2013 Lamborghini Gallardo, this was a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette. An all-aluminum supercharged V8 in a 200-mph American car that was faster than a GT-R, in 2009. If any car was worthy of carrying the original ZR1’s torch, it was that one.
The numbers are huge: 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft, with 90% of peak torque available from 2600 to 6000 rpm. Translation: lots of power on tap, whenever you want it.
It’s worth mentioning the base LS9 crate engine costs $17,322, but GM makes the best controller kit ($1601.27), and the LS9 requires external oil and coolant tanks. You won’t get too far without those, bringing the operational total to the eye-watering figure you see above.
#01. The Return of the COPO: COPO 350 Supercharged – $35,200
Remember those COPO Camaros of the 1960s we talked about earlier? The baddest of the bad, the stuff of bedroom posters and “I swear I saw one” stories, the kind of car the uber-rich still build replicas of today? Well in 2011 Chevrolet modified a modern Camaro in a COPO sort of way and took it to SEMA, and the response was overwhelming. So they built it for real. And at its heart, you could have this: a 5.7-liter supercharged 350 crate engine dubbed the COPO 350.
This crate engine is hand-assembled in its own special facility, presumably so as to not risk contamination by one of those plebian engines we saw earlier. Gone are the days of solid lifters and cast-iron heads – this beast combines an LSX cast-iron block, LS7/Z06 aluminum heads, forged steel crank and rods, forged aluminum pistons, hydraulic roller cams, and 10.2:1 compression. As if that wasn’t enough, GM then throws on a gargantuan 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger pushing a full 16 PSI of boost. All of that cast iron and forging means strength, and the COPO 350 can set dragstrip records day in and day out without breaking a sweat.
Like the old COPOs of the 60s, the 2011-14 models adhered to strict NHRA guidelines. That meant super-small production numbers and a price payable only by professional race teams. It also meant the car’s engine could only make 530 horsepower. But much like the Japanese engine restrictions of the 1990s, that figure seems to have been framed in air quotes. In 2016 a (not extensively) modified 2014 COPO Camaro ran an 8.323-second quarter mile at 165.80 miles per hour. Doing the math, that car was making closer to 1200 horsepower. 1200.
Yes, you can buy a GM crate engine directly from the factory, one capable of 1200 horsepower, and put it in anything you want. Providing you have enough spare change in your pocket to buy a used Tesla Model S. Oh, and GM is smart enough to not offer a warranty on this one. Sorry Doug Demuro. But again, if you’ve got the Benjamins, then this is the best crate engine for the money from GM.
Will the 2019 ZR1 bring us a new crate engine? (source)
This has been but a taste of the vast GM Performance Catalog. GM crate engines run the gamut from affordable and economical four-cylinder mills to gallon-per-mile big blocks that sound like the devil gargling Listerine. And the future is bright: Chevrolet is bringing back the COPO Camaro and the newly-launched 2019 ZR1 packs 755 horsepower and a 210-mph top speed. They’re even saying it will beat the old ZR1’s Nurburgring lap by a full 20 seconds. And if the current GM Performance Catalog is any indicator, in a few short years you’ll be able to stuff either one of those engines into your grandma’s old woody wagon. What a time to be alive