5 Cars You Must Never Drop An LS V8 Into

LS swaps are all the rage, primarily because they're cheap, powerful, and plentiful. But to the enthusiasts of the world, we implore you: choose character over horsepower, and let these iconic rides live in peace

Remind me later

Scour the junkyards of America and you will find an abundance of inexpensive LS engines patiently awaiting resurrection in something awesome. That’s because General Motors first launched the LS family in 1997 with the 345bhp C5 Chevrolet Corvette, then used variants of that engine in pretty much everything they made that wasn’t front-wheel drive. Then, engineers figured out a way to turn the engine sideways and shove it into the FWD Chevrolet Impala SS and Pontiac Bonneville GXP, proving nothing was safe from the LS onslaught.

They come in a range of sizes and performance configurations, but all LS-based engines share a few key traits that make them virtually irresistible for horsepower hunters. For a larger-displacement V8, their old-school pushrod design makes them compact in size and weight compared to most modern engines. Whether iron or aluminum block, they have a reputation for not just creating serious horsepower, but also being reliable and low-maintenance under such strain. There’s also a very broad, well-established aftermarket to support these engines—just choose your desired horsepower and there’s a path to get you there.

And yes, they can be had cheap. Like $250-cheap; that’s for a running 5.3-litre, 295bhp engine from a Chevy truck, not some half assembled, impact damaged block. Add a few more dollars and for less than a grand, you can have a thumping 450bhp V8 with gobs of torque, strong top-end power, and a usable shelf life longer than a can of Spam. There are even companies that specialise in conversion kits, giving petrolheads everything they need to do a complete swap.

Still, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Brand loyalty amongst car enthusiasts can run deep, but beyond that, there’s something to be said for preserving the original character of a particularly special performance machine. I’ll admit to the awesome bang-for-buck potential of an LS swap, but these are five cars where I just couldn’t bear the pain of such a heart-and-soul transplant.

1. Honda S2000

The magic of the S2000 isn’t just in how it handles, it’s spinning that magnificent, overachieving F20C - F22C1 in later North American and Japanese models - to the stratosphere, enjoying every spine-tingling note that only a high-revving Honda engine can create. If you want a nimble, two-seat, open-top sports car with an American V8, please don’t desecrate the S2000 when you can buy something called a Corvette that has all the above. Yeah, you’d have to dye your hair grey to fit the proper Corvette-owner image, but you can buy a C5 ‘Vette for far less than it would take to LS-swap an S2000.

2. Toyota Supra

LS swaps on Supras are surprisingly common in the States. Most are found on earlier-generation cars, and to be completely honest, the LS engines really have all kinds of advantages over the A70’s naturally-aspirated and turbo mills. But, like the S2000, part of the joy in driving a Supra stems from goading its inline six, especially when accompanied by a neat-o whoosh of power from the turbo. I would never, ever consider swapping out a 2JZ in the later cars, and if I wanted more punch from the earlier models, I’d much rather add boost than swap out the Supra’s soul.

3. BMW E36 M3

This might hurt some BMW lovers out there, but I’m not opposed to LS swaps on V8 Bimmers. Considering the sky-high repair costs BMW owners face in the States, an LS swap on an E39 540 can be less expensive than even relatively minor engine work on the stock 4.4-litre V8. An LS swap doesn’t really change the character of that car, but the same cannot be said for an E36 M3. Lower prices on these cars have led to LS-swapped M3s popping up at car meets, and yeah, they’re great performers. But again, it’s not about the sheer performance - wringing out an M3’s inline-six while bounding through corners is as glorious as nailing a 2-3 cog swap on a gated Ferrari shifter. Drop an LS engine into a 540, or a regular 3-series, but please leave the M3s alone.

4. Porsche 911

An LS swap into a rear-engined Porsche? Not only has it been done, but there are companies that specialise in it. One might think such action would completely upset the already tail-heavy balance of the 911, but according to these companies, the LS engine is actually lighter than the big sixes for which the 911 is known. Most swaps are being done on 993 and 996 models, which in the U.S. can actually be purchased relatively cheap right now. Still, what is a rear-engined Porsche 911 without the familiar engine clatter and boxer growl? Save such V8 swaps for Pontiac Fieros; I want my 911 to be as it was always meant to be—tail happy and horizontally opposed.

5. Mazda RX-7/RX-8

LS swaps on Mazda rotary cars are everywhere, and it’s easy to understand why. No disrespect to the rotary fans; it’s a cool engine but it does require no small amount of diligence to keep in top form, and it doesn’t have the greatest aftermarket support. Even if you source a dirt cheap RX-7 with a sketchy engine, by the time you invest in a rotary rebuild with mods, you could get one of many LS-swap kits available and be far ahead both in money and horsepower. That said, ask any RX-7 or RX-8 enthusiast why they love their car, and the answer will always be the engine. Whether it’s the smoothness, the uniqueness, the power delivery, or the simplicity, it’s what makes these cars special. And it’s why I’d stick with the rotary as well.

26 comments

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  • So, toyota has released a rotary powred car called the rx7 and the rx8, how did i not know?
    Edit: I found the official image by toyota

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    2 years ago
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  • Toyota RX7? WANT… I mean… please correct that

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  • The LS in a 911 must kill handling, the reason the flat six was chosen was because it’s low center of gravity prevented a lot of body roll.

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  • Brand Loyalty is not a Reason it’s an Excuse to keep yourself stuck in one place. Some of those car’s don’t need the help but coming from an owner of 3 out of those 5 I only found one where I agreed the last generation of it did not need a swap.

    Let’s take a look:
    1) The Early S2000’s (aka AP1’s to most owners) were a ton of fun, they reved high and had relatively minor upkeep concerns, however while the AP2 had some face lifts it lowered that amazing RPM Limit and frankly while it had gains as anything would that is not something that stays inline with your description. While I don’t think this car in either form needs an LS Swap we have seen not just LS Swaps but Viper V10 Swaps in them. Some people just want to be different and as we all know different does not always mean useful or as intended.
    With that in mind this is one that I can understand not swapping and having owned one I really enjoyed and think of fondly even though people still treated it as a Miata..

    2) The Toyota Supra, yes the Last Generation (Much like the last generation FD RX7) was the best version and it did it’s job amazingly well. That said the earlier versions are fun but they have some issues most notably is the 7MGTE and it’s right off the bat issues from the factory. However they are fixable and if you take out the 7MGTE no one cries about changing the engine with say the 1J or 2J but bring up the LS and suddenly it’s a bad thing. Just because the same company made them does not mean the swap should just be fine if that were true then any of the Tundra V8’s should also not be an issue. Those to are met with resistance.
    I will admit I am personally in the middle of a LS 6.0 Swap for a customer in his Supra replacing the 7MGTE. His was more to be different and reliable for someone with very little mechanical ability and also a lack of self control to not turn up the boost.

    That being said 2J Supra never needs to be swapped, it’s always been an amazing motor and will continue to be. So obviously this was the second and last car I agree with not swapping. It doesn’t defeat the car’s purpose when swapping it but it’s just not needed on the last generation.

    3) The BMW Side is where we start going different directions. I do agree the inline 6 is a lot of fun and a good setup but I have yet to get behind the wheel of a Swapped M3 and felt like it has lost anything. Infact every time I do it feels like an amazing driving machine. Get in that car and suddenly you have a car that still handles just as you want, predictably and controllably but it suddenly has the power to push it into so much more.
    There is no weight distribution upset, no loss of feel nor any diminishment of driver enjoyment. There is nothing about the factory inline that’s missed unlike the 2J.
    I have no desire to run out and do this to an M3 right off the bat but I can see this being a plan of attack when considering modification goals for the car.

    4) Now for Porsche and losing weight while gaining power, reliability and saving money…. yes I could believe it limits the car to a small segment of people but there is nothing about the original statements here that do not add fun, peace of mind, ability and reliability to a vehicle that’s frankly known for being fun, expensive and worth selling if it starts going to far north in terms of repairs.

    Most of the people who would consider this swap also have many other toy’s in the stable and they have a specific goal for this car. This is how they get there not only saving money but knowing they can beat the hell out of while having an edge in many different area’s and knowing it will just take it. Should they need anything it’s going to be easy and cost effective to handle.

    These are not the car’s you find commonly swapped and out on the road or at Car’s and Coffee they are purpose built and a few may make it out but the majority of us have yet to run across one or honestly even thought that someone had done them let alone made a business of it.

    5) The RX7… well what can I say I have broken this rule a few times myself. I have owned probably 7 or 8 of these vehicle all generations and have the same opinion… it’s a neat idea glad it existed… Put a V8 in it and really enjoy the car the way it should be.
    The First Generation RX7 I owned with a Swapped Ford 302 V8 Built and Turbo’d was a nightmare on wheels. It was light, scary fun and I never felt like I missed the carbed rotary it started with.

    The Next Generation was nice but again it was just another setup to issues you had to deal with and most of them costly every time. Sure it rev’d to the moon it also drank more gas, hardly lasted in turbo form to 80k and almost always spent a good amount of time frustrating you over some issue. This is the one generation that while I owned I never swapped, I jumped straight to the big fish.

    The FD 93+ RX7 is the Holy Grail, like the NSX it is a car that is considered a show stopper when it arrives esp. if it’s clean but you will not find anyone who doesn’t crowd around it because it now has an LS in-fact it’s a great example of how an LS Swap will make the car worth more. The claims of weight distribution being way off have constantly been proven wrong.
    These car’s go from unreliable, hard to get parts and work done properly for to an easy to use, owner of the streets that make other vehicles stop and revel in the amazing machine they have become.

    There is no world where you find the Rotary beating the LS Swap option unless you stick to brand loyalty as many cling to religion for a reason to oppose other things they honestly just do not like.

    As for the RX8 that will be my next project as the Rotary in them was not only a lack luster performer that got no where close to the numbers promised but even the Rotary nuts admit was a bad version. These cars have gotten dirt cheap because while they look great they are known for numerous trips to the dealer to have engine replacements. So much so that this is a common question answered in the majority of for sale listings.

    Now this is all just my take and for some reason I felt like sharing, maybe because I thought some might read it or maybe because I respect the debate from the other side it would provide with the author. Either way I respect your opinion and it was a good article. Thanks for sharing it.

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    • CroatianCarGuy Elliott Crane

      UPVOTE NEEDED FOR YOU

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      2 years ago
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    • dafiltafish Elliott Crane

      I have an RX8 S1, I fail to see why it is so horrible. It acts like an S2000, it has seating for 4 and as long as you accept the operation of the rotary then what’s the problem?

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      2 years ago
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  • I think you mean Honda Rx7.

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    2 years ago
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  • Corvette with Ford V8 swap from the factory supercharged 2003-2004 Terminator Cobra Mustang. Let the butthurt from the chevy people begin.

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  • I am a hardcore BMW guy and I’m not opposed to an ls swap in a e36. But not an m3

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    2 years ago
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  • Comments on this post: 90% NO IT’S MAZDA NOT TOYOTA 10% other shyte.

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    2 years ago
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  • Pfft. The Rx7 is the only choice I understand here.

    1) you forgot that many LS motors rev out to 6000+ rpm. Running through six or seven grand starting at the mountain of torque at 2500 sounds pretty darn wonderful

    2) The 5.3 L loves boost, even on stock internals. Get a junkyard turbo while you’re there, get welding, and make choo choo noises in your LS swapped MKIII supra. It’ll be better than the 7m any day of the week

    3) weight

    If the stock car has any front bias, an LS will probably make it handle far better. Let’s not forget the 6.2L LS3 -a 500 horse motor with bolt-ons- weighs less than the KA24 from the 240sx

    If low down torque and endless reliability will breathe new life into a Lemon destined for the junkyard, I 100% support it. Just imagine a single turbo, 6.2L 8 series BMW instead of a vanos disaster

    Paint your own picture. But if you’re looking to go LS, find something that isn’t running, and breathe new life into that tight chassis, that burgeoning land yacht, or that ratty miata. Eff the critics

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