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Your author was at an LA-based introduction to the announcement of General Motors’ new production engine, the LS V8 in 1995. It was a “clean sheet” redesign of the then decades old small-block Chevy (which debuted in 1955) that shared the small-block’s rod bearings, lifters and bore spacing and came with a cast iron block, but that was replaced with an aluminum-block version soon after. The LS was designed in three generations: Gen III, IV, and V (the original small-block got Gen 1 and II designations). Because it wasn’t one of the latest overhead cam whiz-bang contraptions, many journalists in the room poo-pooed the engine, but they were quickly left with their jaws on the floor as the LS engine became the best thing to happen to the small-block’s heritage, now the darling of engine swaps everywhere. The LS is not only reliably powerful on its own, but it also responds very well to the traditional hot rodder tricks like aftermarket cylinder heads, cams, intake manifolds, and all the other stuff that has built the small-block Chevy aftermarket parts industry.
Several versions of the LS were used in the Chevrolet Corvette, beginning with the LS1 in 1997 through the LS9 and others in 2013. The performance improvements in the LS-family V-8s over the previous classic small-block V-8 family are several. The lower section of the block incorporates deep side skirts, along with 6-bolt cross-bolted main bearing caps. This fully boxes the crankshaft, creating a very strong and rigid structure that has been hot-rodded by enthusiasts to over 1,000-HP, many times way more than that. Although it is the same compact physical size as the classic small-block V-8, this block can accept a 4-inch stroke as an option in its stock form, due to the cam location being slightly elevated compared to previous block designs. Also, the cam bearing journals are larger, to allow for a higher cam-lift profile than was previously possible. The stock aluminum heads can provide a high amount of air-flow, which previously could only be found in aftermarket race heads. Oh yeah, and there are a TON of aftermarket speed parts for the LS, many of which Holley makes.
But the best thing about the LS engine is how easy it is to swap into older cars that came with either small or big blocks, including just about every classic muscle car and truck of nearly any make. Let’s take a look at all of the LS Swap kits and systems Holley currently offers, shall we?
The first-generation F-bodies, both the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, are iconic in the muslcecar world. Born to give the Ford Mustang competition, loved the world over, and built in just about every way possible, the first-gen F-body is so common that some refer to them as "belly button" cars, since everybody seems to have one. But that’s not a bad thing, is it? Stout horsepower in a first-gen F-car has been the recipe from the day GM started selling them through today...so why ignore an engine that can provide plenty of power straight out of the box and more with some hop-ups? A 500-horse early Camaro or Firebird sounds like a driver's delight to us!
Engine and Transmission Mounts
Engine Accessory Drives
LS Swap ECUs
In 1970, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were completely redesigned. While performance was still hot at the beginning of the 1970s, tightening emissions laws tried to choke the spirit out of GM's pony cars. While horsepower did drop, the second gen F-bodies were just as well-known for their handling capabilities and their style. The Camaro was plenty popular during this generation, but it was the Trans Am that stole the show, especially when it's painted black with gold striping. Some feel like this was the best design for the F-body, while the first generation still enjoys dominance of the street and racing world. Of course, an LS fits in the second gen cars just as easily as it does in the early models, and there are equally as many parts for both the engine and the car as the others.
Headers and Exhaust Manifolds
Transmission Floor Panel
Hot Rod Magazine called it “The Best Camaro Ever” when the redesigned 1982 Camaro and Firebird came out, and the cars proved to be dynamite when the corners got twisty. The new chassis had different suspension geometry and parts that gave it far better handling than F-cars that came before them, and while engine performance was limited due to early emissions requirements and the learning curve of computerized electronic fuel injection, those hurdles were soon overcome and performance came back to the F-body —and in fact all EFI-equipped vehicles.
The LS engines came out in 1995, so many of the fourth generation F-bodies came with them stock, but earlier cars still had the Gen II LT1 small-block, while others were straddled with the weak V6s of the days. In 1993, the 275-horsepower LT1 was something to behold, but with the appearance of the LS1 in 1998 and a batch of hot editions that pushed 325 horsepower from the factory (and tons of potential waiting to be unlocked by gearheads), the classic small-block Chevrolet would be outclassed by its protégé. It's easy to bring the performance of a Camaro or Firebird up to their proper performance potential with a complete LS swap system (for early LT cars) or many of the bolt-on performance parts for F-bodies factory equipped with an LS. From fuel injection, manifolds and fuel pumps all the way to the exhaust system. Holley has engineered these parts to work as a system to deliver the most power and proper fit.
Floor Brace and Body Notch
The earliest GM A-body platform was the 1925-1959 platform that underpinned a considerable array of vehicles, including the Tri-Five Chevrolets, but that isn't the one most people first think of. The A-body platform was reintroduced as an intermediate-sized platform in the 1964 model year for the all-new mid-sized cars of four GM divisions: these included the Chevrolet Chevelle (and El Camino utility), Buick Special, Oldsmobile Cutlass and Pontiac Tempest. The A-body cars were the first intermediate-sized cars designed with a full perimeter frame and four-link coil-spring rear suspension, similar to that introduced on full-sized Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles in 1961 and on all other GM full-sized cars in 1965. Some of GM's most successful products in the muscle car era were A-body models, including the Pontiac GTO (widely considered the original muscle car), Chevrolet Malibu SS, Oldsmobile 442 and Buick GS.
GM’s A-body cars (Chevrolet Chevelle, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Pontiac Tempest, and Buick Skylark) got visually bigger compared to the ’67 and earlier cars, but became the prototypical muscle cars that we envision today, especially when you think of the legendary forms of these cars: the LS6 SS454, the 442 W-30, the GTO "The Judge", and the GSX. These cars accept an LS engine like it was meant to be and are excellent engine swap candidates.
The most popular X-body from GM is, of course, the Nova. But the chassis and general architecture was also used on the Oldsmobile Omega, Pontiac Ventura and Phoenix, Buick Apollo and Buick Skylark. The K-platform Cadillac Seville built between 1976-1979 is a close cousin, if you really want to mess with some heads! The X-bodies share a lot of chassis components with the first two generations of F-body (Camaro and Firebird) but there is a front suspension difference you need to be aware of when planning your build. 1968-1974 cars use the "rear steer" design of the first-generation F-body cars, while 1975-1979 cars use the "front-steer" design of the second-generation F-body. This makes an LS swap a little different—but still very possible and still a good idea. Let’s see what Holley offers to swap an LS engine into an early X-body:
The General Motors G platform (also called G-body) was used for mid-sized rear-wheel drive cars. It made its first appearance from the 1969 to 1972 model years, adapted from GM's A-body, and reappeared from 1982 to 1988. The G-body designation was originally used for the 1969–1972 Pontiac Grand Prix and 1970–1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo personal luxury cars, which rode on longer wheelbases than A-body coupes. For 1973, the Grand Prix and Monte Carlo were folded into the A-body line, with all formal-roof A-body coupes designated as A-Special (and, after 1982, G-Special). These special coupes included the Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Buick Regal. For the 1982 model year, GM introduced a new front-wheel drive A platform for its mid-size car lines. The rear-wheel drive platform that had been in use since 1978 was re-designated as the G platform, and select models remained in production.
The G-bodies were some of the last cars to follow the front-engine, large V8 and rear-wheel drive muscle car formula, remaining popular while most mid-sized cars moved to front-wheel drive. They were also among the last production-based vehicles raced in NASCAR (and competitively, with the Buick Regal in particular dominating many races in its time). NASCAR regulations continued to stipulate production body parts until 2003 (namely, the hood, roof, and deck lid), but since most of the vehicles bodies from this period had a transverse front-wheel drive layouts (many even lacking a V8 as an option), the drivetrain and all running gear were either custom-built or sourced from other (usually, older) models. As they are the last of the body-on-frame, V8 RWD mid-size breed, it makes them perfect swap candidate for an LS engine.
LS Swap Kits
Rear-drive Nissans have been the subject of a V8 swap ever since a small-block Chevrolet was shoehorned into a Datsun 240Z back in the day. When one thinks of a Nissan 240SX, it's difficult to not picture a tire-melting, howling drift car. That’s because they are perfect swap candidates for an LS motor, and mostly because it is one of the rare, rear-drive “muscle cars” from Japan that has gained wide acceptance in the hot rodding community. The Nissan S-chassis cars easily accept an American V8, while the exterior looks all the part to be a muscle car. They’re really fun little platforms, especially when you drop a 500hp LS under the hood. Although long out of production, they are still popular due to the popularity of the S-chassis in drifting competitions. But beware - prices for vehicles and parts have skyrocketed, which is sometimes known as the "drift tax".
Headers And Exhaust System
1959 saw the most radical engineering and styling changes for Chevrolet and GMC light-duty pickups since General Motors-branded trucks were introduced to the public early in the 20th century. The 1960 model year brought the arrival of the Chevy C10 series trucks, succeeding the 1955-59 Chevy Task Force series trucks. With the introduction of 1960s styling, Chevy C10 trucks were the first Chevy and GMC pickups equipped with independent front suspension. One of the biggest trends in enjoying classic trucks is customizing classic trucks, and it has only been the past 10 years when the first series of Chevy C10 and GMC trucks have risen to their highest point in collector popularity. The new 1963 Chevy C10 series adopted conventional double A-arm with coil-spring IFS. The problem with 1960-1962 Chevy C10 trucks with torsion bar front suspension is that replacement parts are scarce and expensive when found. In addition, torsion bar IFS didn't prove to provide the ride quality that was expected.
Engine and Transmission mounts
When talking about early Chevy/GMC trucks, "C" means 2WD and "K" denotes 4WD. They have become shockingly popular, with ’68-72 C10 (half-ton) fetching ridiculous money these days. That makes them a perfect candidate for an LS swap, as their price ranges are reaching early Camaro and Mustang levels. The 1967–72 Chevrolet C/K is one of the most popular, reliable, and easiest-to-drive classic pickups you can find and marks the turning point when Chevy realized it could offer truck buyers modern conveniences and comfort options in the same way it did sedan shoppers—a stunningly simple connection to make in retrospect, but one that blew the market wide open during a time when primary rival Ford steadfastly refusing to build anything other than the most utilitarian models for work use.
Although less rare than the ’68-72 Chevy/GMC trucks, the 1973-1987 design, commonly called “square bodies”, have also grown in both price and stature. Between 1973 and 1980 several major modifications included moving the windshield wipers behind the hood, developing a vertical side marker and introducing a leveled hood with less rake. The trucks also had different hood styles compared to the later models. From 1981 to 1987—the end of the truck’s generation—significant changes involved a flatter grille, horizontal side markers and the windshield wipers were moved to the top of the cowl.
Exhaust Components and Kits
Image: General Motors
The Blazer and Jimmy from 1973 to 1982 were based on the full-sized pickup trucks, with the same drivetrains and suspension parts, once again making them perfect to slam an LS motor underhood. There’s plenty of room for it too, as many of the ‘70s trucks came with low-performance small blocks and big blocks that struggle to make power. An LS will outclass those earlier mills any day of the week in terms of power, torque, and economy, and be daily-driver reliable, too!
The S-10 is a compact pickup truck that was produced by Chevrolet. It was the first domestically built compact pickup of the big three American automakers. When it was first introduced as a "quarter-ton pickup" in 1981 for the 1982 model year, the GMC version was known as the S-15 and later renamed the GMC Sonoma. A high-performance version with a turbocharged V6 was released in 1991 and called GMC Syclone (truck) and GMC Syclone (SUV). The S-trucks had sport-utility variations, the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and the GMC S-15 Jimmy. Small in size, the S-trucks have enough room under the hood to shoehorn in a small-block V8, and the personality change with the additional two cylinders added is all the reason needed to take on the project!
Steering Shaft and A/C Evaporator Side Cover
For 1994, the S-10 and Sonoma trucks (and their Blazer/Jimmy SUV counterparts) were modernized to stay competitive against the Ford Ranger. The Iron Duke four cylinder and the 60-degree 2.8L V6 were discontinued, and in their place stood a 2.2L four-cylinder that was adequate...just...and the 4.3L V6, one of GM's best designs. But 190 horsepower just won't cut it compared to what happens when a LS V8 finds its way under the hood. What was a basic little truck becomes a track weapon with just a basic V8. And who leaves well enough alone with just the engine?
Steering Shaft and A/C Evaporator Core Side Cover
Engine Accessory Drive Kits
The Jeep Wrangler YJ took the torch from the iconic Jeep CJ line in 1987 and carried it forward. With inline-six cylinder and four-cylinder engines from American Motors, the powertrain was primarily geared for making the Wrangler move...not quickly, just physically. The positive side of this coin is that YJ Wranglers are fairly light and are the perfect canvas for a wide array of modifications. Why not take some time and put some power under that hood? Whether you want high horsepower levels for mud and sand, torque for crawling, or just want to be able to merge onto the freeway without fear, an LS is a great upgrade!
Exhaust Components and Systems
Jeeps usually come with either a straight-6 or 4-cylinder, so swapping in an LS V8 is a fantastic idea....even if it’s not a “Jeep engine.” But we like to think it should be. The Jeep Wrangler (TJ) is the second generation of the Jeep Wrangler off-road and sport utility vehicle. Introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model, the TJ reintroduced the circular headlights the classic Jeep models had been known for and brought in coil-spring suspension For the 2004 model year, the long-wheelbase Unlimited model was introduced. Don't think an LS swap is only for the speed, either...the torque will work wonders off-road!
Exhaust Components And Systems
In the 1970s, the Mustang lost its mojo, struggling under the require engine regulations of the 1970s. But hope for performance started to return when the Mustang moved to the Fox chassis that had appeared with the 1978 Ford Fairmont, and then came back big when the 1982 Mustang GT and its 5.0L V8 returned to the scene. Mustang performance exploded from there on, and there are plenty who cling to the small-block Ford, but we are seeing a lot of Fox-chassis cars, including the Mustang, Capri, Fairmont and others showing up with LS power under the hood. They are certainly easier and less complicated than the Ford Modular motor, with its multiple camshafts and the timing chain long enough to jump rope with.
After a close brush with a transition to front-wheel-drive as a sport compact coupe, the Mustang got a reprieve and was redesigned for the 1994 model year. The new, curvier body came with a dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine that just couldn't stand up to the hot Camaros of the day. The Modular motor from Ford was updated through the years, culminating in the truly wicked "Terminator" Cobra, but an LS motor fits these cars so well that it’s a no-brainer today to just stick one in a car and spare yourself the fun of all of the Mod motor's quirks.