A camshaft is a camshaft, is a camshaft, correct? This rotating piece of bump-riddled steel is designed only to open and close the intake and exhaust valves and spin the distributor. If that’s the case, why is it such a hotly debated subject among enthusiasts? If all parameters (lift, duration, and overlap) are the same, what’s the big deal?
Camshaft companies have been investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and development, and sometimes, that research and experimentation evolve into a new process or way of doing things that turns the industry on its collective ear. Case in point; Lunati Power’s Black Magic line of LS cam upgrades.
Lunati released this entirely new line of LS-specific camshafts in 2020. The camshaft maker calls this line the Black Magic series because one look and the black surface finish helps understand the name. But the camshaft’s good looks are more than just that, as Lunati is proud of the performance-enhancing capabilities of this latest offering.
We’re told the Black Magic LS cam is available in stages, which makes it much easier to pick the right camshaft, depending on the application needs. Selection is easy, as anything from a mild stage-1 grind to a radical stage-4 is available. We know how this line of bumpsticks gets its name, but what is the breakdown of the stages?
Obviously, one look at the camshaft answers that question, but what’s with the black appearance? “Unfortunately, I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you,” says Will Vance, sales manager at Lunati. We both chuckled and I asked again…there was silence. Okay, I get it. The process and the material used are apparently CIA-level proprietaries. However, just to see what would happen, I again asked Will what the coating is and how it is applied. He just stared at me, so I let it go…
Yes, Will’s response is a little vague, as Lunati is definitely keeping this proprietary process under wraps. What we do know is the Black Magic’s unique surface finish is applied in-house, and I am told it increases surface hardness and camshaft longevity. That means this appearance is more than simply good looks.
The increased surface hardness leads to improved durability of the cam’s journals, lobes, and the core itself. According to Lunati, the finish even remains intact after the initial break-in and also aids in identifying the “surface ride” area of the lifter to the camshaft. The “coating also increases the “Ra” factor…or how “slick” the lobes are. “The Ra of a typical lobe from any manufacturer — including us — is about 8 to 10,” Will states. “Some companies have invested in a polishing procedure that is boasted to get the Ra factor down to 3, our coating brings us down to a 4. We’re pretty proud of that feature as well.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “what the heck is Ra”? Ra is a measurement of surface roughness. Rough surfaces usually wear more quickly and will have higher friction coefficients than smooth surfaces. With rotating engine parts that make contact, you want it smoooooooth.
If you think this added inclusion of quality makes the LS cam more expensive, think again. I am told the goal from the outset of this line of camshafts is that it is designed to be easy on the wallet.
Staging Performance For The LS Cam
This is an excellent starting point for making great power. The Stage 1 LS cam will work with a stock converter, but a stall converter will help the performance reach its full potential. This cam offers a nice lopey idle and good drivability. The advertised duration is 271/281 degrees while the duration at .050-inch is 221/228. Lift comes in at .609/.571-inch and the LSA/ICL is 112/110 degrees.
This step-up-in-performance LS cam helps make big power with supporting bolt-ons and gives an aggressive idle quality. Automatic transmissions require the use of a stall converter for good drivability. The advertised duration is 275/291 while the duration at .050-inch is 225/238. Lift comes in at.612/.585-inch and LSA/ICL is 113/110 degrees.
If you are looking for a great max-effort camshaft for your LS, this one delivers a very aggressive idle sound and a powerband beyond 7,000 rpm. It works well if using nitrous. The advertised duration is 283/303 degrees while the duration at .050-inch is 233/250 degrees. Lift comes in at a healthy .618/.595-inch while the LSA/ICL is 113/108 degrees.
This is the largest offering for naturally aspirated LS engines. Be warned, you will be sacrificing low-RPM torque, but peak power is unsurpassed. This camshaft needs good-flowing heads and intake, as well as a stall converter to reach its full potential. It has a hefty, advertised duration of 285/295 degrees with a duration at .050-inch of 235/242 degrees. Valve lift is .621/.592-inch and the LSA/ICL comes in at 111/108 degrees.
Limited To LS
Currently, the Black Magic sticks are available only for LS engines, but we asked Will if other engines will soon be able to utilize the benefits of this coating. “Currently the Black Magic series is only available for the LS platform,” states Will. “Although with the success we have seen, we may implement it to more lines in the future.”
While taking a deeper look at the Black Magic lineup, the specs don’t read like typical budget camshaft options. There are some significantly aggressive grind profiles being offered, but those lobe profiles are specifically designed by Lunati for their power production and the lobe’s overall reliability with the rest of the valvetrain as well.
With this family of cams available in stages, I asked Will what he thought causes the most confusion for enthusiasts when it comes to camshaft selection? “Nine out of ten times, the confusion comes from not understanding that bigger isn’t always better,” Will emphatically states.
For some reason, many enthusiasts think in a “one size fits all” mentality. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always hold true. For instance, a camshaft that might work well in a 3,600-pound street car is probably not the best choice in a 3,150-pound bracket racer or a heavy four-wheel-drive truck. The selection of an off-the-shelf cam is as much about the application as it is about the engine compression ratio and size of the engine. Selecting the incorrect off-the-shelf cam will not only rob horsepower, but will also drastically affect torque output if it does not match the weight, usage, and RPM range of the vehicle.
What this means is, if you’re searching for the perfect cam for your LS engine — no matter how mild or radical that build is — and you want to get it right the first time, calling the folks at Lunati might give you an edge in power output and reliability that we are all looking for.