Vortec 8100 Big Block V8 Outpowers Competitor’s V10s
The Vortec 8100 (L18) is essentially a new engine. Nearly 80 percent of its parts have been redesigned. Yet, its foundation is one of the most celebrated engine components in automotive history, GM’s Big Block V8. The Big Block even competes against diesels in highly demanding marine and industrial applications – in essence giving Silverado and Sierra HD customers a lot more truck engine for the money than they realize.
The new Vortec 8100 shares its predecessor Vortec 7400’s valve and bore centers and bore diameter. But its stroke has been increased by 9.4 mm (.37 in.) for a higher displacement and more power. The result is awesome: the Vortec 8100 out-muscles even Ford and Dodge’s V10s!
If there is heavy towing or hauling to be done, this is the perfect powerhouse for the job. An impressive 90 percent of its peak torque is available from 1700 rpm to 4300 rpm. And when it comes to acceleration, this engine leaves its competitors in the dust, as the following comparison of comparably loaded, automatic transmission-equipped models shows.
Even with the Vortec 8100’s awesome power and performance, its specific fuel economy (per liter of displacement) is four percent better (than the 6.5 liter).
And the Vortec 8100 operates more cleanly; it already complies with 2002 “clean-fuel-fleet” requirements. Its new design also permits running on alternative fuels, including liquid propane gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG), without requiring any special valves and seats. California versions of the engine are equipped with Air Injection Reaction (AIR) and pup catalytic converters to meet that state’s more stringent emissions requirements.
The Vortec 8100’s 200,000-mile (322,000-km) durability testing includes rigors that no other gasoline engine in its class have been put through; they include running at wide-open throttle for 300 straight hours!
Its low maintenance design requires only normal oil and filter changes during the first 100,000 miles (160,000 kms). Oil changes are based on actual need. The Powertrain Control Module records engine temperature and length of operation at a given temperature, then indicates the need for an oil change with an easy-to-read “Change Engine Oil” LCD message in the Driver Message Center. The driver is also alerted to “Check Engine Oil Level,” when necessary.
Long-life engine coolant is good for five years or 150,000 miles (240,000 kms). A standard coolant level sensor warns the driver of a drop in coolant level. If a catastrophic event causes a total coolant loss, the engine protects itself against damage by running on alternate banks of four cylinders and using cool air to cool itself, enabling the driver to reach a service station.
Advanced Design Features
The Vortec 8100’s rigid cylinder block uses four-bolt main bearings to optimize crankshaft rigidity. The nodular iron crank is internally balanced and counterweighted to minimize internal stresses and bearing loads. The bearings are produced with a new alloy (A260) that increases their life and eliminates the use of environmentally hazardous cadmium. An elastic material called Vamac is used in place of rubber to support the crankshaft’s torsional rigidity: it increases both damping capability and durability. A change in the firing order (to 1-8-7-2-6-5-4-3) reduces main bearing wear and stress on the crank by seven percent.
A coil-near-plug ignition system increases ignition energy by 50 percent, reduces emissions and improves idle quality.
New pistons have a shorter deck height and skirt length; they permit the longer (0.37 inch/9.4 mm) engine stroke, without any significant increase in engine deck height and minimal heat build-up. A Teflon™ coating reduces friction. An especially short (5 mm) top ring land and new full-radius top ring design improve combustion efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions.
New cylinder heads feature replicated intake ports (each precisely equal in diameter and length) for improved fuel-air distribution and a reduction cylinder-to-cylinder variations in torque output, improving operating smoothness and efficiency. Powdered-metal exhaust valve seats and cast-iron guides enhance durability. Five head bolts circle each cylinder to assure reliable lifetime sealing, which is further enhanced by (1.3 mm) thicker, more durable head gaskets.
Hydraulic roller lifters ride on a durable steel camshaft. Stiffer ball-pivot studs support more robust rocker arms. A cast-iron cam-drive cover adds to the valvetrain’s quiet operation.
The aluminum intake manifold’s long, even-length runners yield a broad, flat torque curve plus excellent volumetric efficiency (breathing) at high rpm. The manifold is more precisely made, using a “lost foam” casting technology. It involves making a styrofoam assembly; pouring sand around it and shaking the sand into voids. Molten aluminum is then poured through the sand. It melts that foam, displaces it and cools in the shape of the part. The process permits more intricate internal crankcase ventilation passages that eliminate the need for an external crankcase valve and plumbing. This cuts maintenance costs and eliminates potential leak sources.
Fuel is delivered by a high-pressure (400 kPa) sequential port fuel injection, providing quick starts and smooth operation in cold and hot weather. An Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) meters intake air more precisely. It also reduces weight and enhances reliability/durability by replacing the 7.4 liter’s mechanical hardware with electronic sensors, wires and actuators and integrating functions such as cruise control, brake torque management and traction control into a single controller. The Vortec 8100’s new mass airflow sensor also has an integral temperature sensor to facilitate fine mixture adjustments.
Stainless steel exhaust manifolds (replacing the Vortec 7400’s cast iron) are significantly more heat resistant and durable. Manifold shields keep heat out of the engine bay and muffle the sound of high velocity exhaust flow.
The improved (over the Vortec 7400) cooling system is fully pressurized, it includes a surge tank and a single, aluminum-body double-volute pump. The pump has a durable, cast-iron case, and longer-life silicon-carbide shaft seal. Its redesigned water jackets provide more flow, and it distributes equal amounts to both banks of the cylinder case for greater efficiency. A 100 mm wider radiator provides two more liters of capacity. The transmission cooler has been relocated to boost airflow. A modulating fan clutch provides quieter operation. To prevent any potential leaks, fitting beads and hose ends were designed for tighter, more reliable fit; clamps are specified for optimum pressure and glued in place on hoses to assure proper alignment and secure sealing.
A dual belt accessory drive de-couples the engine’s alternator and accessories from the air conditioning compressor. This reduces loads on the accessory pulleys by up to 50 percent (over the Vortec 7400), improving efficiency and belt life. It also reduces accessory drive noise by nearly 50 percent (7 dBA) at 1000 rpm and further increases interior comfort by permitting the A.C. compressor to be located as far as possible from the passenger compartment. Stiff cast-iron accessory mounting brackets also help reduced noise and vibration. The drive belts are constructed of a new, non-neoprene compound that extends their life to 150,000 miles (240,000 km).
Controlled compression gaskets are used in the oil pan, rocker covers and intake manifold to eliminate leaks. Rocker rails have also been raised to prevent oil from puddling against the rocker cover gaskets.
A three-piece, thermoplastic sight shield adds to the advanced look of this superlative engine.
Vortec 8.1: Engine Basics
The Vortec 8100 is rather obviously an 8.1L V8. It was designed as a diesel alternative in the GM pickup truck line-up. The Vortec 8100 borrowed much of its design from the 454ci big block we all know and love. The main difference between the 8100 and big blocks of old is the increased stroke. This is what increased the displacement to an impressive 8.1 liters.
You might be wondering, why isn’t this massive engine used in a performance application? The Chevy LS is super popular so why isn’t this engine? Well, there are quite a few things holding the Vortec 8100 back from ever becoming popular:
- Iron block and heads, total engine weight is over 750 lbs.
- Older big block parts don’t fit on the Vortec 8100.
- Chevy LS parts don’t fit on the Vortec 8100.
- Limited production makes them harder to find than an LS.
Vortec 8.1: Performance Data
This part gets a little interesting. If the Vortec 8100 is supposed to be an alternative to the Duramax engine, then it must create lots of torque. Torque at low RPM is one of the single most important factors of a heavy-duty engine. So, how does the Vortec 8100 do? For this, we’ll look at the performance data for the GM truck applications.
330 horsepower @ 4,200 RPM
450 lb-ft @ 3,200 RPM
300 horsepower @ 3,100 RPM
520 lb-ft @ 1,800 RPM
I know what you might be thinking. “Why does an 8.1L only make 330 horsepower?” If this was a performance application that would be abysmal, however, this is a heavy duty application. It makes an impressive 450 lb-ft way down low in the RPM range. Other versions of the Vortec 8100 make as much as 550 horsepower and 690 lb-ft.
Vortec 8.1: Tuning Potential
The Vortec 8100 isn’t super impressive in stock trim, but it’s designed for heavy duty work. Like I said earlier, standard big block parts won’t fit on the Vortec 8100, so the performance parts available for it are close to none. However, this is one company who offers some very interesting Vortec 8100 parts.
Raylar Engineering is pretty much the only company interested in the Vortec 8100. They have developed multiple stroker kits to take it from 496ci to 511ci or all the way to 540ci. They also offer everything from camshafts to blowers. Their stage 3 package 540ci engine will make an insane 685 horsepower and 680 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, the stock Vortec internal components are fairly weak so any heavy modifications will require a forged bottom end.
So, Raylar Engineering makes a bunch of really cool parts to wake your Vortec 8100 up, but is it worth it? If you’re just towing their towing camshaft and the 511 stroker kit will be a killer combo for you. If you want to go fast their bigger camshaft and 540 strokers will make big power for you.
Vortec 8.1 vs Duramax
Most of the trucks that are equipped with the Vortec 8.1 could’ve been equipped with a Duramax instead. Why would someone take a gas engine over a diesel in a heavy-duty truck? Although the Vortec 8.1 was designed to be an alternative to the Duramax, why would you want the gas engine? The main reason for this is diesel availability. Diesel isn’t available at every single fuel station, unlike gasoline.
As far as tuning potential it’s pretty obvious the diesel can and will make way more torque. You can easily get 800 lb-ft or more from a Duramax, good luck achieving that with a Vortec engine. Not only that, but the Duramax will also outlast the Vortec 8.1 engine. I’m not saying the Vortec engine isn’t a bad choice, but given the opportunity, I would always pick the diesel first.
Vortec 8.1 vs LS 6.0
Although we love LS engines, they aren’t exactly built for the same purpose as the Vortec 8.1. A 6.0 LS would make an excellent engine for a high horsepower street car, but not a truck that tows stuff a lot. The Vortec 8.1 was designed for maximum torque at a very low RPM. This is what allows it to tow much better. The 6.0L engine, however, is designed for more general use.
You could always supercharge or turbocharge a 6.0L to achieve the same torque as a Vortec 8.1. The only problem is the factory reliability won’t be there anymore. When introducing power adders the longevity of your engine is significantly compromised. I know people claim to have excellent reliability with modified engines, but there’s a reason why manufacturers don’t push engines that hard from the factory.
The manufacturers thoroughly test their engines for longevity and reliability. Once power is increased, long term reliability is decreased. Hence why the Vortec 8.1 can reliably achieve a much higher torque number than a 6.0 LS.