We made a trip to Houston, TX last fall for the Production Engine Remanufacturers Association (PERA) annual conference. As part of that week, we decided to give ourselves a few extra days to visit some engine shops in the area. One shop we knew we had to see in person was Late Model Engines.
This shop, specializing in late model engines such as LS, LT and Hemi platforms, has been in business for 20 years, and has been featured in several Engine of the Week articles in the past, and was named our America’s Best Race Engine Shop in 2020. Knowing the kind of shop co-owners Bryan Neelen and Pecos Loughlin run, we were excited to see inside for ourselves.
Late Model Engines is comprised of 17,000 sq.-ft. and nearly 30 employees. The shop, in addition to its engines, makes and machines engine components and does everything in-house. Following an extensive tour, we got to see some engines coming together in the assembly room, including this naturally aspirated 440 cid LT1 engine. Bryan gave us the full rundown of the build.
“It’s a 440 cubic inch LT1 based off of the new Concept Performance LTR block,” Neelen explained. “It’s a 4.185” bore with a 4.000” stroke and 12:1 compression. The customer is going to be running on E85 and turning 8,000 rpm with the engine. It is a low lash roller. It’s a Cam Motion camshaft with Manton rockers, PAC valve springs and the cam has a little over .750 lift and low 250s at .050 on the intake on a 113 lobe separation, so not too crazy. This customer is going to be using this in a road race application in a Camaro for our friends over at Vengeance Racing. This thing is going to be a badass car. The engine will also be running our low-profile intake manifold, our VVT delete front cover, and our timing chain guide.
“We’re running our CNC-ported CID cylinder head castings with a 2.200” intake valve and a 1.600” exhaust valve with a real efficient port design. It’s a great performer when you have 8,000 rpm, 750 horsepower, 600 ft.-lbs. of torque – this thing is going to get after it.”
This rowdy LT1 also features a rotating assembly comprised of a Callies crank, Callies connecting rods and custom Diamond pistons.
“The custom pistons are something we’ve put into our private label part number selection,” Neelen says. “This is a part number that we keep on the shelf. It’s a 4.185 bore giving us 12:1 compression with the 64cc chamber and lateral gas ports. It’s based off Diamond’s 2K forging, so it’s a really, really nice, high-end piston that’s great for this application.”
This particular LT1 features a wet sump oiling system to fit into the Camaro and its application, but this LT combo can be altered to fit numerous cars and applications as needed.
“The customer very well may progress into an external dry sump system to get rid of the factory style pump,” he says. “This setup can be configured in a multitude of ways and we can run the factory LT1 or LT4 dry sump system. We have a few different options for dry sump. We’re actually working on the development of an oil pan right now to run some different pumps, so that’s something that we’re going to have in the future.
“This block we primarily use for boosted applications, but this customer is looking to go the extra mile in his naturally aspirated set up. But, the majority of these that we’ve been building is our 1,400 and 2,000 horsepower, either 427 or 400 cubic inch combos, so we take advantage of the six bolts per cylinder, the billet caps, priority main oiling – this block is pretty sweet for all that.
“I love the 440 combo, the big bore and relatively large stroke. It just takes the 427 to the next level. We opened up the chambers with a specific chamber design to take advantage of the larger bore on this one. As engine builders, we love a naturally aspirated engine. It seems everything is boosted these days, or at least a majority of it, so when we get to build naturally aspirated engines, it gives you a little bit more ability to do everything you can to get the power out of it.”
According to Bryan, this NA 440 LT1 was screaming on the engine and making all the right sounds. Now, it’ll go to Vengeance Racing to be installed in the customer’s Camaro.
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade1, Elring – Das Original and NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected].