LS are not Murray Fraser’s initials but they might as well be. The letters stand for what he is all about: ‘L’ess weight and fuel consumption with ‘S’uper horsepower delivered by so-called aluminum V8 “crate motors” from General Motors.
But before we get to Murray, some GM engine history. The Big Three automaker introduced its revolutionary small-block V8 engines in the 1955 Chevrolet models. The lightweight, eight-cylinder powerplant delivered economical high performance, with 180 horsepower. Known as the small-block engine, it graduated from 265 cubic-inch size all the way up to 350 cubic inches over four decades, and provided power for millions of GM cars and trucks.
As cars began to get larger and heavier in the late-Fifties, General Motors introduced its series of big-block engines, starting with installing a 348 cubic-inch truck engine into passenger cars for higher performance. Those engines grew in size and horsepower with up to 502 cubic-inch big-block engines for cars and trucks coming off GM assembly lines over four decades.
The light and powerful small-block Chevy engines had been the choice of hot rodders and customizers since they were introduced in the mid 1950s. But the quest for more power led many car builders to install big-block engines. But with more horsepower came more weight, and hot rodders and customizers were quick to understand the possibilities of installing the LS series of small-block engines introduced with the 1997 Corvette.
Available as the LS1, 2, 3, 7 and 9, these all-aluminum small-block powerplants can put out more than 500 horsepower, and nearly 700 horsepower when supercharged. They were found in Cadillac cars and the Escalade SUV, Chevrolet cars and trucks, Pontiac models and Corvettes.
The most powerful production engine ever from GM, the LS9 is the 6.2-litre supercharged engine in the Corvette ZR1. It is rated at an astonishing 638 horsepower.
Lesson over: Now back to Murray, who has been building hot rods since he was a teenager in South Vancouver. As a former sales manager for a downtown Vancouver GM dealership and trucking company owner, he was quick to grasp the advantages of the LS group of engines. He started Real Horsepower – a business of installing LS engines in other people’s hot rods, customized cars and restored vehicles.
In many cases, he would swap in the LS small-block engines as replacements for big-block engines to reduce weight and fuel consumption, while increasing horsepower by at least 50 per cent. “It’s like having your cake and eating it too,” he grins.
Projects underway in his rural Langley shop include a beautifully restored 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS, where Fraser is replacing the original 327 cubic-inch small-block engine with a new aluminum block LS3 “crate engine,” which is the newest LS featuring a contemporary computerized fuel-injected engine management system.
Alongside is a 1977 Chevelle that is also getting the LS3 engine treatment for the owner who decided to restore and modernize his car with all contemporary mechanical components. At the front of the garage is a 1956 Chevrolet two-door sedan that is waiting for its new supercharged LS engine, which will deliver 500-plus horsepower to the rear wheels – nearly three times the power this car was born with.
Nearby is his fully restored 2006 Chevrolet Trail Blazer SUV with a new LS2 engine under the hood. Murray is also installing an LS engine in his 1965 Chevrolet pickup truck. A row of LS engines on stands line the rear of his shop – engines looking for new homes under hoods of some the neatest cars on the west coast.
“I love the whole process, particularly the wiring,” Murray enthuses.
Learning about mechanics came at an early age. His father owned a series of businesses on Vancouver’s South East Marine Drive at the corner of Victoria Drive. They included the Fraserview Auto Court, started by his Scottish immigrant grandparents who operated it as an early motel since the 1920’s. They soon opened Fraserview Service as a Home Oil gas station and Fraserview Auto Wrecking on the nearby Fraser River.
“These businesses were very successful in their day,” Fraser says. “As a kid, I can remember the Top Dog radio station CKNW doing live remote broadcasts from Fraserview Service on Saturdays, so the business was very well known.” The Fraserview businesses closed in 1960 when Imperial Oil (ESS0) took over Home Oil and Fraserview Service could no longer operate as an independent.
These days Murray utilizes the mechanical knowhow passed down from his grandfather and father to repower old cars – making them more powerful and efficient. “I’m passionate about these motors,” he says. “They are just the right power for owners that want to use their cars with many of them taking long trips.”
One of the swaps he did was in a 1949 Cadillac convertible that had modified with a 502 cubic-inch engine.
“He was getting 10 to 12 miles to the gallon and now he’s getting 25 or 26 with less engine weight and way more power.” He says another LS engine swap in was for a 1939 Chevrolet street rod that the owner immediately drove to Chicago.
“You don’t do that with a big block because the cost for fuel would be overwhelming.”
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. [email protected]