1,000 Horsepower For Only $8,000 — The 1K For 8K Turbo LS Challenge

Building 1,000 horsepower is no small feat. While it might be a far more common power level today than it was a decade or two ago, that doesn’t make it any less impressive, mechanically. For an engine that came stock with 320 horsepower, that four-digit mark is a lofty goal. To do it for less than the cost of a semester of college only amplifies the challenge. But we like challenges.

There are plenty of examples of someone hanging a giant turbo off a junkyard engine and making all of the boost to get a number on the screen before the engine gives up. We’re not about that moonshot dyno sheet hunting here. What we want is to try and assemble a 1,000 horsepower powerplant, that will actually stay alive when run in the car, at a price point that won’t require a second mortgage.

The key to this project is to be super selective with where the money is spent. Only replacing the components that absolutely won’t live, while taking advantage of some of the impressive quality components that come in a stock 5.3L LS truck engine, like the block, crank, heads, valvetrain, and so on. One of the reasons big power has become so commonplace, is because off-the-shelf components have gotten so good. And, as basic economics teaches us, off-the-shelf means lower prices through higher volume. It’s a great time to want to make big power.

We’re talking about more than tripling an engine’s stock power output at 1,000 horsepower. No matter how much “wiggle room” engineers build into a design, I can guarantee that no General Motors engineer who worked on the Gen-III small-block Chevrolet engine program, ever intentionally built any component to survive at 1,000 horsepower. So, our mission is to exploit the happy accidents of robustness and then tap the aftermarket for the rest.

Torque plate honing ensures that the BoostLine’s bores are nice and straight with the heads clamped on.

Building A Stable Foundation

There’s no arguing that the engine block is the foundation of making power. After all, if the cylinders can’t hold the power, everything else is for naught. The iron block from a Gen-III truck engine is one of the areas where the General’s engineers left us plenty of meat on the bone. BoostLine Performance recognizes this, and has put together a complete short-block package capable of sustaining our 1,000 horsepower goal.

Not only is it the easy button for us to just order a ready-to-go short block, but it also makes this whole $8,000 budget thing a possibility for anyone to replicate in their garage without having to be an engine builder. Starting with a Gen-III 5.3L block, the deck is flattened and squared up for a true zero deck, the mains are all align-honed, the cylinders are opened up, and then torque-plate honed to finish at 3.800 inches.

Forged H-beam rods with ARP2000 bolts and forged 4032 pistons with heavy-wall .927-inch wrist pins should hold up to our power goals nicely.

From there, an OE GM 3.622-inch stroke crankshaft, balanced for all of the new rotating assembly components with journals and a 24x reluctor wheel was set into a set of bi-metal main bearings and fastened down with a set of ARP main studs. The GM crank, even though not fully counterweighted and cast from iron, has proven itself to be more than capable of holding well over 1,000 horsepower. From there, a set of forged 4340 H-beam connecting rods were hung off the rod journals, again with a set bi-metal rod bearings. The rods included with the BoostLine short-block are 6.125 inches in length and feature a .927 bushed pin bore, and come standard with 7/16-inch ARP2000 rod bolts, checking all of the boxes for our power goals.

Gas-ported piston rings really are the new hotness. Everything we have tried them on, has just worked.

The flat top piston (well, almost flat top, they have 2.9cc worth of valve reliefs in them) is forged from 4032 aluminum and has 1.5mm, 1.5mm, and 3.0mm ring grooves machined into them. They feature an anti-wear skirt coating and come with a .180-inch wall-thickness wrist pin that will handle what we’re planning to throw at it. To seal combustion, a set of gas-ported piston rings were used. Between the gas ports and nitride coating, the seal will be improved while friction will be reduced.

For the oiling, the BoostLine short-block comes with an M295 (standard-volume, standard pressure) oil pump fitted with an OEM pickup tube, feeding from an OEM oil pan. That would complete the base $4,600 short-block from BoostLine, but we opted to have the camshaft and timing set included with the short-block, since that added less than the cost of the components alone to our total. To finish off the short-block, we opted for a Summit SFI-approved 7.5-inch steel harmonic damper.

A Budget 1,000 Horsepower Top End

Obviously, with such a harsh budget restriction on the project, we’d have to be smart on the top end. We opted for a set of 862 castings. They might have a smaller intake valve than the 243/799 heads, but they have a smaller combustion chamber as well. We decided that compression was more important than intake valve size, especially since we will have external pressurization to help with flow. We secured the heads to the block with a set of ARP2000 head bolts to maintain strength while saving money over a head-stud kit, while a set of MLS head gaskets sealed all the combustion pressure into the cylinder.

Unfortunately for us, our core engine’s valves were in rough shape, so we needed to replace them. For that, we used a set of Melling stainless factory replacement valves. Would that be an absolutely needed upgrade if the core valves were in better shape? It’s arguable both ways, but for the slight budget hit, the peace of mind makes it the right call. Remember, reliability, not just a few moonshot pulls, is what we’re ultimately after.

To control those valves, obviously, the stock valve springs go right in the garbage. We used one of Summit’s Dual Valve Spring Upgrade Kits, which comes with 400 lb/in dual springs rated for up to .600 inch of lift. The kit also comes with steel, single-groove 7-degree locks and retainers, valve seals, and spring locators. The all-in-one kit makes it easy to upgrade or outfit a set of bare core heads.

The OEM rocker arms have proven their mettle over the past two-plus decades, but there’s room for improvement in their trunnion system. So, we opted to outfit the stock arms with one of Summit Racing’s Trunnion retrofit kits. Which replaces the OE pieces with a micro-polished hardened-steel pivot bar and a pair of C932 bronze bushings for not only reduced friction and improved lubrication but also increased strength and load capacity.

Earlier, we mentioned that we opted to have the cam included with the short-block. That was a Summit Racing Pro LS Stage II Turbo camshaft. Designed around a single turbo application, the cam features 0.600 inch of intake valve lift and .575 inch of exhaust lift, with a split duration of 226 degrees intake and 230 degrees exhaust, at .050 inch, with a 113-degree lobe separation angle. A billet-steel Summit True-Roller timing set keeps the cam and crank in sync.

The option for the cam and timing set with the BoostLine block actually comes in at less than the parts cost, retail. And the cam comes installed and degreed.

Riding on the cam lobes are a set of Summit Racing’s LS7 hydraulic-roller lifters. We opted for the kit, which includes the new lifters along with a set of new lifter trays and tray bolts. Connecting the lifters to the rocker arms, we opted for a set of Summit’s “HDR Thickwall” pushrods as the best balance between strength and cost. Made from .105-inch-wall-thickness chromoly tubing, the 5/16-inch-diameter 7.400-inch-long pushrods feature 210-degree ball ends and have significantly more stiffness and strength than a standard 5/16-inch pushrod.

Inexpensive Induction

To top off the combination, we simply used all the parts from our core engine. The intake manifold, throttle body fuel rails, and associated fasteners were all stock pieces. We actually swapped intake and throttle body combinations several times on the dyno and saw no power differences. One place we didn’t skimp was the fuel injectors. We used a set of Holley EFI’s 100 lb/hr high-impedance injectors — that’s plenty for 1,000 horsepower — with a set of ICT Billet’s injector spacers to get the fitment to work out.

With the long-block all sorted out, we moved on to the pressurized parts of the build. Anyone who has recently shopped for a turbocharger, knows that the sky is the limit on how much you can spend. However, there are budget-friendly options that don’t require the use of eBay. We drove down to VS Racing’s shop just outside of Ft. Worth and picked up an 80mm VSR-series turbocharger. Fitted with the Gen-2 billet compressor wheel and a divided 1.32 A/R T6 exhaust housing, the large-frame turbocharger will supply all the air we need for our goals.

To control the boost, we used a 60mm VS Racing Gen-3 wastegate set up to work with dome pressure control out of the box (which we took advantage of). On the cold side, we used a VS Racing 50mm blow-off valve vented to the atmosphere. To feed the turbine section of the turbocharger and keep fabrication in check, we bolted on a set of forward-swept Flowtech LS Turbo headers. Made out of 16-gauge 409 stainless steel, with 1.75-inch primaries, and prefit with 3.0-inch V-band flanges, they made life a lot easier.

The rest of the fabrication is where you can spend a ton of time and/or money. Fortunately for us, we have a friend who you might remember from the Boring 4-Valve project named Matt Hayes of Never Enuff Performance. Besides being a killer welder and fabricator, he’s a horsepower junkie like all of us and can be bribed to help out with pizza and beer. No joke — he only accepted pizza and beer as payment, so we added that into our costs. Now, before you light up your torches and grab your pitchforks as a “gotcha” on the budget here, we’re going to be showcasing an affordable option for the fabrication-uninclined and compare it to this setup in a future article. You don’t need a ton of custom fabrication to make 1,000 horsepower.

Since there was no room for a traditional intercooler in the budget, we instead opted to run to Snow Performance and pick up a Stage-1 water-methanol injection kit. This allows us to chemically cool the intake charge and add a little octane to the pump gas we plan on using.

We installed three Snow injection nozzles directly into the turbo outlet. The Snow chart called for right at 20 gallons per hour of 50/50 water/methanol, so we ran three 7 gph nozzles.

Wiring And Electronics

The final step was to wire the engine up. Thanks to Holley’s Terminator X ECU kit, everything was easy, since the LS harness is a plug-and-play affair. Besides being able to effectively control fueling and ignition using all the sensors from our core engine (save for a 3-bar MAP sensor and a wideband oxygen sensor), we were also able to program some advanced boost control using a dome pressure sensor.

Mere weeks after we hit the dyno, Holley released an update that allows for additional advanced boost control methods. So, while we didn’t get to play with all of them this go-around, we will in the next round of dyno testing. In addition to the boost control, we were able to take charge of the methanol injection as well, and ramp it in for optimum effect.

Holley's 100 lb/hr injectors provided all the fuel we needed while the Terminator X Max ECU no only controlled the fuel and spark, but the boost and the water/methanol injection, too.

Ignition-wise, we had a somewhat unique setup for the dyno. We used all eight coils from the core engine, no problem. But, due to the way we fabricated the turbo kit, we needed to reroute the plug wires on just the passenger side of the engine. So, we had to add in a build-your-own Taylor spark plug wire kit to the budget. For plugs, we ran a set of Brisk Silver racing spark plugs and learned a neat lesson — even though LS engines specify taper-seat spark plugs, the heads are cut in a manner that will accept standard gasket-seat plugs.

Now, for the two questions you are all asking: How much power did it make and how much did it cost? Did we hit 1,000 horsepower? Well, the most power we saw was 1,040 horsepower and 853 lb-ft of torque at 20 psi of boost. As for whether or not it’s durable? Well, that power number came from the 75th dyno pull on the engine. So, longevity doesn’t appear to be an issue.

So, did we hit our budget of $8,000? Well, no. Sure, we could have pulled some financial shenanigans to make the numbers appear closer to the goal, or shopped around for killer swap meet deals on used parts, but we want to be transparent and show you what you can go out and replicate things for, right now, at the time of publication. In fact, there are several prices that we had to increase from the original list, because the items are no longer on sale.

How close did we come? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but our grand total in parts was $9,741. And for that amount, you can go out and replicate the build, right now. If you shopped sales and Marketplace, coupled with some patience, you could probably get that down past the $8,999 mark. Now, if you already have the turbo parts and just want a robust, 1,000-horsepower capable engine, we absolutely hit the mark, coming in at $8,271.

Even missing the mark by $1,700, we still made 1,040 horsepower for less than five digits, in a package that will actually live at that power level, not just a one-and-done banzai run for a dyno sheet. This engine isn’t done yet. We have some cool testing still left to do with it before it eventually finds a home between the framerails of… something. That part hasn’t been decided yet, but stay tuned, because there is still horsepower left to be made.

There it is. 1,040 horsepower and 853.7 lb-ft of torque while spinning to only 7,000 rpm. 1,000 horsepower, check. As for durability, that was the 75th run on the engine, so we’re confident that it will hold up.


BoostLine Performance Short Block w/ cam $4,999.00 Cam Bearings: DUR-CH-25  $23.99
Core 5.3 LS engine $350.00 Push Rods: SUM-14957400  $168.99
Heads – Core engine $0.00 Harmonic Damper – SUM-C2501 $219.99
Block – Core engine $0.00 Damper Bolt – NAL-12557840  $7.99
Intake – Core engine $0.00 Head Bolts: ARP-234-3602  $159.99
Valve Covers – Core engine $0.00 Main Studs: ARP-234-5608  $239.99
Throttle Body – Core engine $0.00 Headers: BIG-11535FLT  $255.95
Fuel Rails – Core engine $0.00 Gasket Kit: MAH-CS5975A  $156.99
Oil pan – Core engine $0.00 Fuel Injectors: 522-108X  $399.95
Front and Rear Cover – Core Engine $0.00 ICT Billet Injector Spacers: ICB-551371 $43.99
Sensors – Core Engine $0.00 Valve Job – lapping valves $0.00
Coils – Stock off engine core $0.00 Melling Valves $164.32
Oil return – Used 10AN fitting and line $0.00 Turbo – VS Racing – VSR80-400-V80 $750.00
Rods: Included in shortblock $0.00 Wastegate – VS Racing 60mm – VSR60WGD $175.99
Pistons: Included in shortblock $0.00 Blowoff valve – VS Racing VSR50BOV  $78.00
Rings: Included in shortblock $0.00 Water/Methanol kit – SNO-201RD  $374.99
Rod Bearings: Included in shortblock $0.00 Plug wire – TAY-73051 $78.99
Main Bearings: Included in shortblock $0.00 Hot Side Tubing $200.00
Cam, Stage 2 Turbo: Included in shortblock $0.00 Cold Side Tubing $100.00
Timing Set: Included in shortblock $0.00 T6 Flange: SUM 680503 $29.99
Valve Spring Kit: SUM-174003  $179.99 Labor For Welding – Coors Light $22.94×2 $45.88
Oil Pump: SUM-121170  $81.99 Labor For Welding – CiCi’s Pizza $14.99
LS Lifter Kit: SUM-HTLSKIT2  $273.98    
Trunnion Kit: SUM-141560  $164.99 TOTAL $9,716.93

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About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent nineteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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