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MSD Atomic Turbo LS Test

The Atomic Elbow

By Richard Holdener, Photography by Richard Holdener

In the spectacle that is professional wrestling, signature moves come and go, but one classic has stood the test of time: the Atomic Elbow. What differentiates the Atomic version from your run-of-the-mill elbow and makes it so effective? One word: intensity. MSD's Atomic EFI is every bit as effective and might be just as devastating to the competition, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start with the fact that we were more than a little skeptical about yet another self-learning, self-tuning EFI system—especially one that promised to work equally well on normally aspirated and (of all things) power-adder applications. Seriously, can you imagine allowing a computer to tune your turbo LS motor all by itself?

Let's take a look at the promises made by the new LS-specific Atomic EFI system (other universal systems are available for conventional applications). First off, don't confuse the promotion of a wired-less system with a wireless system. The wired-less system promised and delivered a reduction in the amount of unsightly wiring. Truth be told, wiring harnesses for both factory and stand-alone EFI systems tend to border on the excessive, making it difficult to create a sanitary engine compartment. Builders have gone to great lengths to conceal all the wiring, but MSD's system has done it for you by hiding the majority of the system under trick, billet aluminum fuel rails that also incorporate the ECU circuitry. In one fell swoop, the system has eliminated the lengthy wiring harness usually associated with remote mounting the ECU(s), replacing it with a single cord run to a hand-held controller. Our one complaint is that we'd like to see an extension cable offered for in-car (or dyno) access to the controller, but the MSD Atomic EFI system gets high marks for both the visual statement and ease of installation with good instructions and a clearly labeled harness.

It looked the part, but now it was time to see if this EFI system was indeed ready to play with the big boys. Prior to installing the Atomic EFI, we tuned this LS3 we borrowed from Gandrud Chevrolet with a stand-alone system to establish a baseline. To illustrate the effectiveness of MSD's system, we decided to start off with something easy, then drop in an Atomic Elbow of our own.

First up was the stock LS3 crate motor. In truth, setting up the system was as easy as the installation. Once we had power, we simply scrolled through the easy-to-use menu of available options. For our application, all we had to do was select LS3 from the available options of LS motors, and the Atomic EFI did the rest by selecting the necessary injectors, map, and 58X trigger wheel. You can select custom options like cam profiles, but our stock engine required only that we click LS3. Fuel was supplied to the billet rail by an Aeromotive fuel pump and regulator. According to MSD, the rails are capable of supporting more than 1,000 hp.

Once programmed, the LS3 fired up at the first push of the starter button and immediately settled into an idle with an optimized air/fuel mixture. The menu on the controller allowed us to program a desired air/fuel mixture at idle, part throttle, and WOT. We selected a 12.8:1 air/fuel mixture at WOT and proceeded to make a few pulls. All we can say is wow, because the Atomic EFI system performed as promised. The system maintained the desired air/fuel mixture at all throttle angles and loads. According to MSD engineers, GM's stock timing tables were loaded into the system, meaning the settings are conservative, rather than set for maximum power. That's no problem, because not only did the controller menu allow us to add ignition timing but also functioned as a data-logging system, which can also be displayed digitally. It's hard to believe, but once we had the LS3 running with 30 degrees of total timing, to match the ignition map used with the stand-alone management system, MSD's Atomic EFI matched the power curve of the programmable EFI system.

Based on both looks and performance, this Atomic EFI system seemed ideally suited for crate or other mild motor swap applications, but how would it perform on something with a little more zing? Of course, when we say zing, we really mean boost. To put the MSD to the test, we decided to install a new single turbo kit from CXRacing.com. Designed for an LS-powered F-body ('97–'02), the kit from CXRacing.comwill likely also be employed in swap applications, due to its front-mount turbo position (typical on LS applications). The stainless kit featured dedicated exhaust manifolds, a Y-pipe with T4 turbo, and integrated wastegate flanges. The kit also included a wastegate, a blow-off valve, and a 76mm turbo capable of supporting 800 hp. Keeping things cool was a massive, front-mounted, air-to-air intercooler, complete with all the necessary tubing, couplers, and clamps. The aluminum tubing even features beaded ends to improve sealing. Having used the 76mm turbos time and time again on various projects, it is amazing that all this hardware (minus the intercooler) sells for around $1,000.

We wondered if the Atomic EFI system would be up to the task of properly tuning a turbo LS3, so with fingers crossed, we commanded an air/fuel ratio of 11.8:1, and changed the stock MAP sensor for one of the 2-bar sensors listed in MSD's menu. As an aside, we would recommend MSD list the map sensors under 1-bar, 2-bar, or 3-bar settings, rather than part numbers, but we managed to cross-reference the necessary sensor for our test. You can also purchase a MAP sensor directly from MSD. Once again, the LS3 started on the first try and was humming away with the new turbo kit. Loading the motor with the dyno revealed the air/fuel mixture was spot-on and that MSD's engineers had again erred on the conservative side in terms of ignition timing. Full-throttle runs revealed an air/fuel mixture right at the requested 11.8:1, and we actually had to add timing (the desired method) to improve the power output with the turbo.

Aeromotive's fuel pump was capable of supporting considerably more power, but the limiting factor turned out to be our use of factory 42-pound injectors. The Atomic EFI system will accept larger injectors, but we didn't have any available for this test. Despite the injector snafu, we did manage to coax as much as 660 hp and more than 700 lb-ft of torque before running out of injector flow. These represent gains of nearly 180 hp and more than 225 lb-ft of torque at just 7 psi of boost. Turbo response was excellent, the intercooler kept the charge temperatures nice and cool, and the wastegate never missed a beat. The one area we would like to see improved on the turbo kit is the flow rate of the blow-off valve—maybe running two of the smaller units. With more fuel, the single-turbo system from CXRacing.comshould be capable of getting nearly 800 hp, or you can step up to the twin-turbo system capable of, you guessed it, 1,600 hp. The goal of this test wasn't to maximize the power output of our stock LS3 but rather to illustrate that the Atomic EFI was capable of self tuning both an NA and turbo application. If the results of this test are any indication, MSD just dropped an Atomic Elbow.

Turbo Power Graph

This graph illustrates that both the single turbo system from CXRacing.com, and MSD's Atomic EFI system performed as advertised on the LS3 crate motor. Use of stock injectors ultimately limited the power gains, the single-turbo system was capable of supporting 800 hp, and the Atomic EFI System provided a rock-steady (commanded) air/fuel m ixture of 11.8:1. We liked the fact that the engineers were purposely conservative on the timing values, requiring us to add timing to dial in the power. This is exactly the procedure you should take when tuning with a conventional stand-alone EFI system. Using the Atomic EFI, the CXRacing turbo kit increased the power output of the stock LS3 from 482 hp and 483 lb-ft to 658 hp and 709 lb-ft of torque at just less than 7 psi.

Parts List

Description Source PN Price
Atomic LS EFI MSD 2950 $2,495
Twin- turbo kit* CX Racing TRB-KIT-HD-LS1-T76-P96 $1,069
LS3 crate engine Summit Racing 19258770 $6,999.99

*Intercooler sold separately

SOURCES
Lucas Oil
302 North Sheridan Street
Corona
CA  92880
951-270-0154
http://www.lucasoil.com
Gandrud Chevrolet
800-242-2844
www.GandrudChevrolet.com
Aeromotive
7805 Barton Street
Lenexa
KS  66214
913-647-7300
http://www.aeromotiveinc.com
MSD Ignition
915-857-5200
http://www.msdignition.com
Holley Performance Products
1801 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green
KY  42101
270-782-2900
http://www.holley.com
CXRacing
http://www.CXRacing.com
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By Richard Holdener
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24 comments
DKENYON8
DKENYON8

HELLO , LOOKING FOR 1998--2002 CAMARO, FIREBIRD, TRANS AM, 
LOWER MOUNTED ALTERNATOR MOUNTING BRACKETS. FROM A LS -- 350 MOTOR, 
I'M MISSING A MOUNTING HOLE IN MY 2006 6.0 LITER BLOCK . I CAN DRILL AND TAP IT FOR A 10 X 1.5 METRIC -- IF YOU THINK YOUR BRACKET WILL THEN FIT.
  CAR CRAFT MAG LISTED AND DID A TECH 

SPECIAL ON THE PERFECT PARTS FOR THIS  6.0 L  WITH PHOTOS SUPPLIED FROM ROGER KUNKEL--JEFF  "SMITH " AND TROY MATOS

PLEASE TELL ME HOW AND WHERE ALL THESE CAN BE PURCHASED AT A REASONABLE COST. 


PLEASE CALL, DON KENYON,      585--352--1165      THANK YOU.

Carroll Smith
Carroll Smith

and Top fuel engines make 7k plus yada yada,nice job here hope they get cheaper and easier to use as updates to older musclecars

Pedro Perez
Pedro Perez

Isn't there a Ford 4 cylinder turbo making over a 1,000 somewhere here? So yeah I guess I am impressed that an ls1 could could almost come close to that little 4 cylinder.

Chuck Thompson
Chuck Thompson

Not really. Nelson racing has been doing this for years and made 4 figure numbers with a 4.3 v6. Now then, impress us...

Todd Spear
Todd Spear

700 HP is a piece of cake for a turbo LS

Mike Batista
Mike Batista

a bbc with that power would fly apart on the dyno

Gary Soares
Gary Soares

Wait a little while----BIG BANG BOOM SCRAP STEEL.

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

Apparently you don't know the kind of power LS engines can make reliably.

Liam Knight
Liam Knight

That kind of power from a LS engine will be short lived. I would wager that you can't peak out the torque on that engine a dozen times before it blows apart.

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