Our favorite LS swaps from LS Fest West 2023

Brandan Gillogly

After attending a few LS Fests it’s hard to be surprised to see one of the world’s most ubiquitous V-8s mounted into an obscure car or other conveyance. However, we were still impressed with the ingenuity and craftsmanship in many of the cars on display at LS Fest West 2023. Here are some of our favorite swaps from the event.

Steve Groenink’s 1973 Celica sat in a field for almost 30 years before he got his hands on it 13 years ago. It was reborn as a Pro Pouring build with a Lexus 1UZ swap, a pair of turbos, and a T-56 Magnum six-speed manual transmission. After winding up in a ditch with that build, Groenink rebuilt the car into the drag-and-drive competitor you see today. It’s powered by a 388-cubic-inch V-8 with LS3 heads, a Concept Performance LSR aluminum block, and aluminum rods. That fiendish build is mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. A single Precision XPR 98mm turbo feeds it loads of boost to the tune of 1,163 hp—as measured by the LS Fest dyno. Groenink got eliminated just before making the drag race finals at LS Fest West 2023 but still managed to run a 7.93 E.T. at 189 mph when Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s density altitude was more than 6000 feet.

We’re not sure it really counts as a swap considering a kit car doesn’t come with any engine at all, but Chris Hein’s Factory Five coupe is very impressive nonetheless. After building the car on a budget, Hein rebuilt the car to compete in drag-and-drive events like Drag Week, Sick Week, and Rocky Mountain Race Week. A set of mirror-image Garrett turbos feed a stock 6.2-liter LSA long-block and help it produce more than 1000 hp. Hein shifts the car himself using a G-Force T-56 Magnum with a Tick Performance billet front plate and McLeod clutch. The car has run in the 8s and can rack up highway miles comfortably thanks to its air-conditioned cab.

Adam Rocconi, who goes by @WS6SIX6 on Instagram, bought this Trans Am for $900 when he was 17 years old. It originally boasted a tuned port 305, but now the car is now powered by an LQ9 from a 2004 Escalade that runs Holley Terminator X EFI. Of course, now the 6.0-liter V-8 has new heads and cam as well as an intake with eight throttle bodies from Redux Racing, so it’s making a lot more than its original 345 hp rating. The individual throttle bodies took some tinkering to sync up, although the snappy throttle response seems well worth the effort. Inside, the car’s original Recaro seats were reupholstered and looked amazing with the metallic brown exterior.

Of course, there were hundreds of LS swaps on display and we couldn’t see them all, let alone get the details on all of them, so here are some additional standout swaps that we managed to snap pictures of. Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Comments

    Back in the day, it was fairly popular in my area to swap SBCs into (primarily) 80s Celicas. I had a 77 Celica at the time, and considered it, but never did it… then my 77 finally rotted away, which these things apparently do. They are next to nonexistent if you go looking for one now. Apparently someone found one, well close to one with a 73 and revived the old custom

    +1.

    My favorite LS swap is the one that didn’t happen.

    I love the creativity in hot rodding, but an LS swap is starting to seem like paint-by-numbers, no matter how unusual the chassis is.

    Hands down the Fiero. We must give props to the mad genius that massaged an LS into that confined mid engine bay.

    The engine bay of the Fiero is surprisingly roomy. Pontiac engineers designed it that way. There’s plenty of room for an LS and other engine optionss, too.

    Had Chevrolet not been S#$%-scared that Corvette sales would have been hurt, the 2nd generation Fiero would have been a giant killer. Chevy effectively killed off the Fiero just when it was getting good.

    Competition improves the breed. Can you imagine what would have been produced had GM had 2, 2-seater sportscars in its stable? The mid-engined corvette would have been built much earlier.

    I love the looks of the RX-7 but I wish it had a rotary engine not an LS. A rotary engine is what makes that car different and special.

    That RX7 is a 93-95 model, the fastest, sleekest, most desirable model. It handles like a go cart, goes like a banshee and grabs 6 figures on the collector car market in good condition. Only an idiot would have replaced that amazing setup with a Chevy. Unless he found a body and dumped the cheapest v8 he could into it because he didn’t have the time, skill or resources to do the right thing. That setup is not only ridiculous but likely handles like a lump of s—- l

    LS’s are getting to be like the SB Chevy was>>>HO HUM, everyone is doing it. That is why I quit going to street rod runs years ago. You can only take so many 350-350 cars with billet crap. Of course now the trend is ‘patina’ and ‘rat rod’ which is just another word for someone’s half finished pile.

    Amen.

    Meanwhile, it gets tiring seeing otherwise authentic looking 1930s and ’40s cars with SBCs and Turbo HydraMatics simply because these bozos can’t appreciate the original engines. Removing a vintage car’s engine/drivetrain is removing its heart, soul. What’s left is another nothingmobile. If someone’s not man enough to revive an original car, don’t ruin it. And don’t excuse the desecration with the lame “well, it wasn’t restorable, anyway.” Stick with ’50s and ’60s stuff in that case.

    There are a lot of really good engines out there that can be built fairly economically. I agree with Joe. I’m also sick of hearing and reading 350/350. Imagination is the driving force behind car building. Not LS.

    In about 1958 my friend Ron put a flat head Caddie V8 in his 39 Chev coupe.
    Lots of torque.

    That’s alright. A period engine in the same era car. And Fords and Chevies could use more torque. Have nothing against vintage speed equipment in original period engines. But we’re seeing late ’30s, ’40s Buicks, Cadillacs, Packards with SBCs. Properly rebuilt, such cars do just fine today with their original engines, especially with the taller available rear axle ratios and/or overdrives.

    1939-on Buick Centuries/Roadmasters offered 3.6:1 “economy” rear axle instead of standard 3.9. 1941-on Cadillacs offered the HydraMatic 3.36:1 rear cog as the “economy rear axle” in manual shift cars which otherwise left the factory with 3.77:1. No GMobiles ’til the 55 Chevy offered overdrive. Any Packard with factory overdrive does just fine as is. 1938-39 “overdrive Bentleys” came with 3.65:1 the better to cope with France’s Route Nationale and the new Autobahn.

    Slight increases in compression, lightened flywheels, blueprinting, sure. But leave the original engines in the car. Boys doing a man’s job/no knowledge of or appreciation for authentic cars = “retro rods,” aka junkmobiles, Frankencars. Most of this monkey see/monkey do nonsense by those who’ve never driven a period car in good shape.

    What do you have after the transplant? It’s still not a race car and doesn’t impress anyone but other clueless Joe Sixpaks. Don’t kid yourself. People drove ’30s and ’40s cars 70-80 mph in the day, esp. out West. Cords and Lincoln Zephyrs will float along at such speed by the hour. Of course, brakes good in the day no match for today’s four-wheel discs w/ ABS. So relax, and you’ll pick up fewer stone chips, etc.

    You have some dire need to drive like a teenager, use Mom and Dad’s Camry or Accord. Or buy some egregious slam bam, thank you, ma’am ’60s tin.

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