The 5.3L truck engine has been overlooked for too long. We bolted on an intake, a carb, he
With all the hype about the Gen III LS1 and 6.0L engines, a little 5.3L engine has appeared in well over a million GM trucks since 1998 that's been overlooked in the rush to make horsepower. This engine displaces a mere 325 ci, but what it lacks in displacement, it more than makes up for in horsepower efficiency. Over the years, we've heard about several low-dollar 5.3L truck engines that made excellent power with only a few minor changes, so we thought we'd try our own version and see what happened. We were pleasantly surprised when this basically stock engine made well over 430 hp with just a cam change. But there's much more to this story, so let's get to it.
The Truck 5.3L
The basic 5.3L Gen III engine began its production life in 1999. In its base form, it comes as either an iron-block LM7 5.3L or an LM4 aluminum blockversion appearing in GM light duty pickups, Suburbans, Yukons, and vans, which means there are literally thousands of these used engines now in boneyards. The original LM7 5.3 is basically an iron-block LS1 engine with a smaller 3.78-inch bore (the 5.7 is 3.89-inch) rated at between 285 and 295 hp and 325 to 335 lb-ft of torque in stock GM trim. These engines also share the 5.7L's 3.622-inch stroke, and some enterprising car crafters have built an iron-block 5.7 merely by boring the block to the 5.7 bore dimension and using a 5.7L rotating assembly (the cranks are different due to piston weight). The stock 5.3L comes with a decent 9.5:1 compression ratio right out of the box and uses essentially the same cylinder head as its larger LS1 cousin, but with a smaller combustion chamber.
Finding a 5.3L Gen III iron block engine that's been orphaned from a wrecked truck is not
GM also built a smaller number of LM4 5.3L engines that are aluminum- block duplicates of the LM7. Thisversion got an inkling of recognition as the original engine for the '04 SSR truck. Otherwise, it is exactly the same as the iron-block 5.3L engine and you can expect to pay more if you find one. Then, just to make things interesting, GM upgraded these engines to a Gen IV configuration in 2005, although they still shared much of the same Gen III architecture. The most plentiful Gen IV iron-block 5.3L is the LH5. There's also the LY5 aluminum-block variation. This engine is rated at 320 hp stock with 340 lb-ft of torque.
Identifying these engines is easy. Look first for the tall plastic intake manifold and then find the 5.3 cast into the block on a pad near the back. But be careful. Many light-duty trucks came with smaller 4.8L (293ci) engines. If the engine is still in the vehicle, look for the emissions decal under the hood. But even that isn't a guarantee. The beauty of the 5.3 is that there are so many of these engines out there, buying one with minimal mileage in good shape for an affordable price shouldn't be difficult. We found ours at a junkyard and landed the engine for $550 without the plastic truck intake manifold and the accessory drive. We also got the starter motor, water pump, coil packs, and flexplate.