Camshaft Terminology

Understanding Camshaft Specifications


Lift refers to maximum valve lift. This is how much the valve is “lifted” off its seat at cam lobe’s highest point.

How does it get measured?

Cam Lobe Lift Valve Lift is the amount (usually in inches) that the valve is lifted off of its seat. It is usually measured with a dial indicator at the tip of the valve. Lobe Lift is the amount (usually in inches) that the cam lobe increases in radius above the cam base circle.

Tip: To quickly find maximum lobe lift, measure the base circle of the cam and subtract it from the thickness across the cam lobe’s highest point (see the diagram below).

Tip: Maximum valve lift can be calculated by multiplying the maximum lobe lift times the rocker ratio. For example, a 0.310″ lobe lift cam yields 0.496″ of valve lift when using a 1.6 ratio rocker arm.

Formula: valve lift = lobe lift x rocker ratio

What does it do?

The intake and exhaust valves need to open to let air/fuel in and exhaust out of the cylinders. Generally, opening the valves quicker and further will increase engine output. Increasing valve lift, without increasing duration, can yield more power without much change to the nature of the power curve. However, an increase in valve lift almost always is accompanied by an increase in duration. This is because ramps are limited in their shape which is directly related to the type of lifters being used, such as flat or roller.



Duration is the angle in crankshaft degrees that the valve stays off its seat during the lifting cycle of the cam lobe.

How is it measured?

Advertised duration is the angle in crankshaft degrees that the cam follower is lifted more than a predetermined amount (the SAE standard is 0.006″) off of its seat. Duration @.050″ is a measurement of the movement the cam follower, in crankshaft degrees, from the point where it’s first lifted .050″ off the base circle on the opening ramp side of the camshaft lobe, to the point where it ends up being .050″ from the base circle on the closing ramp side of the camshaft lobe. This is the industry standard, and is a good value to use to compare cams from different manufacturers.

What does it do?

Increasing duration keeps the valve open longer, and can increase high-rpm power. Doing so increases the RPM range that the engine produces power. Increasing duration without a change in lobe separation angle will result in increased valve overlap.



Lobe separation is the angle in camshaft degrees between the maximum lift points of the intake and exhaust valves. It is the result of the placement of the intake and exhaust lobes on the camshaft.

How is it measured?

Cam Lobe Separation Lobe separation is usually calculated by dividing the sum of the intake centerline and the exhaust centerline by two.

What does it do?

Lobe separation affects valve overlap, which affects the nature of the power curve, idle quality, idle vacuum, etc.



Overlap is the angle in crankshaft degrees that both the intake and exhaust valves are open. This occurs at the end of the exhaust stroke and the beginning of the intake stroke. Increasing lift duration and/or decreasing lobe separation increases overlap.

How is it measured?

Overlap can be calculated by adding the exhaust closing and the intake opening points. For example, a cam with an exhaust closing at 4 degrees ATDC and an intake opening of 8 degrees BTDC has 12 degrees of overlap.
Keep in mind that since these timing figures are at 0.050″ of valve lift, this therefore is overlap at 0.050″. A better way to think about overlap is the area that both lift curves overlap, rather than just the crankshaft angle that both valves are open. Therefore, one can see that decreasing the lobe separation only a few degrees can have a huge effect on overlap area.

What does it do?

At high engine speeds, overlap allows the rush of exhaust gasses out the exhaust valve to help pull the fresh air/fuel mixture into the cylinder through the intake valve. Increased engine speed enhances the effect. Increasing overlap increases top-end power and reduces low-speed power and idle quality.



The intake centerline is the point of highest lift on the intake lobe. It is expressed in crankshaft degrees after top dead center (ATDC). Likewise the exhaust centerline is the point of highest lift on the exhaust lobe. It is expressed in crankshaft degrees before top dead center (BTDC). The cam centerline is the point halfway between the intake and exhaust centerlines.



Cam Advance and Retard Advancing or retarding the camshaft moves the engine’s torque band around the RPM scale by moving the valve events further ahead or behind the movement of the piston. Typically, a racer will experiment with advancing or retarding a cam from “straight up” and see what works best for their application. Lunati camshafts are ground to provide maximum performance and are designed to be installed to the specifications listed on the cam card.

How is it measured?

A cam with a 107 degrees intake lobe centerline will actually be centered at 103 degrees ATDC when installed 4 degrees advanced.

Most Lunati camshafts have a certain amount of advance ground in. “Ground-in advance” can also be found by subtracting the intake lobe centerline from the lobe separation.

What does it do?

Advance improves low-end power and response. For a general summary of the affects of camshaft timing, refer to the following tables:


begins intake event sooner
opens intake valve sooner
builds more low-end torque
decreases piston-to-intake-valve clearance
increases piston-to-exhaust-valve clearance
delays intake event
opens intake valve later
builds more high-end power
increases piston-to-intake-valve clearance
decreases piston-to-exhaust-valve clearance