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Strike Up A Spark: Daytona Sensors Makes It Easy And Smart To Light Off Your Carbureted LS Engine

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Written By: Steve Baur | Photography By: the Author and Courtesy of Daytona Sensors

Chevrolet’s LS engine platform has taken off like wildfire and has continued to burn in the hearts of enthusiasts since Fourth-Gen F-body and C5 Corvette owners began modifying their cars when the engine debuted back in the late 90s. The platform has become the basis for many a hot rod and while most have opted to keep the electronic fuel injection for a number of very good reasons, some still prefer the simplicity and/or the vintage look of a carbureted engine. With the LS engine platform ditching the traditional distributor for a more robust and accurate, computer-controlled coil-on-plug crank trigger ignition, enthusiasts needed a way to fire the spark without said computer telling the coils when to do so. Daytona Sensors can make that happen with its Smart Spark LS Control Module.

Daytona Sensors has been making electronic engine controls for over a decade now and is widely known for its top-of-the-line WEGO wide-band air/fuel ratio display systems that are used by tuners and engine builders. The company is far more than that, however, as it also offers CD ignitions and distributors, nitrous and boost controllers, timing controllers and more. It prides itself on quality products that last, and this is no more evident than the very words at the top of the company’s webpage: “No Excuses. Our Stuff Works…period.” Being based in Daytona, Florida, it should come as no surprise that Daytona Sensors is deeply involved in all forms of motorsport, including Nascar, sprint, late-model, IMSA, Trans Am, and more. Racing environments are the most demanding for electronics of any type, so the company knows what it takes for its products to perform at the highest levels.

Application

As with any production engine, the LS family has been continually refined since its introduction in the Corvette in 1997. Both hard components on the engine as well and the engine management systems have seen changes over the years, and the Smart Spark LS Control Module can operate all of them with one single, smart-looking, low-profile box. The only thing that you need to work out is which harness you’ll need for your application.

Over the years, sensor placement has changed, as has the reluctor wheel for the crank trigger. The Smart Spark LS Control Module can be used on any LS1/LS6, LS2/LS7, or LS3 engines with either 24- or 58-tooth crank triggers, and it can work with either GM LS1 or the higher energy LS2-style coils—Daytona Sensors also offers it’s own branded, and high-quality coils as well should you need a set for your build.

Allowing the Smart Spark to interface with the various engine designs are application-specific harnesses that work with each engine. Daytona Sensors also offers adaptor harnesses for those that have been using another ignition controller, but need the additional functionality that the Smart Spark offers—and the device also has the same mounting pattern as well for an easy installation.

Basic Features

The great thing about he Smart Spark is that if you’ve got a pretty basic engine combination and you just want to get it up and running, you don’t need to dive into the advanced features of the Smart Spark. On the outside, you’ll see LED indicator lights that let you know if the crank and cam sensors are connected and operational, and there is easy access on the outside of the unit to set the RPM limiter.

However, if you can’t leave anything alone and need to fine-tune the ignition for your engine, then you’ll want to take advantage of the PC Link software. This is accessed through the optional USB interface and a laptop computer, which will need to have at least a 300 MHz Pentium processor and super VGA display (SVGA with 1024 x 768 pixel resolution). It also needs to have a Windows-based operating system (Windows XP/Vista/7/8), a CDROM drive for program loading, and a free USB port as well.

Advanced Features

The Smart Spark comes preprogrammed with advance tables so you aren’t starting from scratch. This takes away a lot of the complexity that some may be adverse to at first. These tables are suitable for a wide range of normally aspirated, high-performance engines as well.

Using the PC Link software, you can program launch, burnout, and maximum RPM limits in 100rpm increments from 3,000 to 9,900 RPM.

“We have the Smart Spark on dirt track and late-model race cars that have tested the reliability of it,” said Daytona Sensor’s Dennis King. “They’ll turn 8-10,000 all race long and we’ve never had any issues.” King was also keen to point out that the Smart Spark has extremely consistent and stable commanded spark, especially at high rpm compared to the competition.

There are also 3D tables based on RPM and manifold pressure, and you can control individual cylinder timing with RPM-based offset up to ±5 degrees with 0.1-degree steps.

Taking a look at the three general purpose input terminals, one can use the for RPM limits, as well as multiple retard functions, including an optional driver-adjustable timing retard (RTD-1) that simply plugs in to the Smart Spark.

Daytona Sensors didn’t stop there, as the company also included Log software that displays real-time engine data, both during initial setup and dyno tuning.

The Smart Spark can be had for $237, and Daytona Sensors offers it as a kit with the USB interface at relatively modest $299 price tag. That’s certainly attractive, especially when compared to the competition, and King pointed out a few more details that might be of interest.

“The Smart Spark has a lower crank to run rpm, so if you have a weak battery or a stock starter, there’s no need for expensive starters and stuff like that. With other boxes, you need 150-180 cranking rpm; ours will fire at 100 to 120 rpm.”

Assembled with American made parts and components right at the company’s Daytona, Florida, facility, the Smart Spark comes with a 1-year manufacturer warranty, and as King pointed out, the tech support is far superior.

“I don’t think you’ll get better tech support. It’s nearly 24-hour tech support between office hours and the Daytona Sensors Facebook.”

We got our hands on one of Daytona Sensor’s Smart Spark LS Control Modules, hooked it up to a suitably modified LS-based engine, and ran it on the dyno for a few hours to see how easy it was to enter the timing changes and how it affected power output. Check out the captions for more details. If you’re carb’ing your LS engine project, the Smart Spark is a really great option to get it fired up and tuned for optimum performance.

The Test Mule

To get an idea of how the Smart Spark works, we got together with Greg Lovell of Antivenom High Performance in Seffner, Florida. While the shop primarily deals with fuel-injected machinery, it happened to have a carbureted LS build assembled for a shoebox Chevy project.

The test engine is a peculiar one born out of some bench racing. Lovell took a 6.0-liter block with a 4.030 bore and stuffed it with a 3.25-inch stroke, 4.8-liter crankshaft to create a big-bore, short-stroke screamer measuring in at 331 cubic inches. Lovell topped it off with Trickflow’s LS3-based 255 cylinder heads, a Mast Motorsports cast aluminum, 2-piece intake manifold, and a custom camshaft from Brian Tooley Racing.

As the Chevy wasn’t quite ready to accept the engine just yet, we hooked up with Koury Automotive and Offshore Performance to put the bullet on the company’s engine dyno. The company has been building professional racing engines for decades, and mostly on a word of mouth basis. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and they’ve come to depend on many of Daytona Sensors products for their engine dyno. In addition to a Daytona WEGO wide-band oxygen sensor and the company’s LED timing light, Koury also uses a Smart Spark when it runs its LS-based racing engines.

From a street car perspective, Antivenom’s Lovell was very happy with the box.

“The others are fine if you’re not going to really do anything with the engine. I love how compact and versatile the Smart Spark is, though, over any of the competitor’s units. The functionality is way better, too.”

Antivenom | (813) 381-3995 | www.antivenomefi.com

Daytona Sensors | (386) 322-7390 | www.daytona-sensors.com

Koury Automotive and OffShore Performance | (321) 508-0744

 


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