Our mail servers have just been expanded. We have added acres of desk space to handle your hate mail, and have hired an additional phone operator with a calming voice. It is not that we are trying to stir up the pot here (well, maybe a little), but what we will discuss here will anger some and make others giddy with excitement. What we are talking about is the forbidden and polarizing world of cross-branded engine swapping-and in particular, putting a Chevy engine into a Ford.
Now, before you start sending those sneering, wiseguy emails telling us what we can do with ourselves and where we can go, take a step back and recall that cross-breeding has been around since Chevy 350s were swapped into Ford Deuce coupes. [Or how about flathead Fords into everything else?-ed.] This may represent everything sacrilegious to the Bow Tie and Blue Oval faithful, but we are merely reporting the facts from the garages of America-and fiction this is not. Besides, if you have read this far, chances are the pictures of our newest little plaything have already caught your attention. So let us explain.
We don't know about you, but we cannot exactly run to the local car dealership to buy our way to performance. Sure, we would love to strap ourselves into the spankin' new Corvette or GT500 Mustang of our choice, but reality sets in quickly each time we look into that crib, or at our mortgage statements. All this leaves us with limited time and financial resources, but do not think of it as a bad thing-it brings out the creative best in all of us. When a wallet has no voice, a welder and savvy shopping can speak volumes. So let's build our way to straight-line performance, with resourceful ingenuity, careful research, and intelligent decision-making. Anyone can do a backyard engine swap, but only a few can do it right. Let us show you the path to interfaith automotive relations. Can we get an Amen?
So Why An Ls1?Unless you have been living under a cold, damp rock next to Osama bin Laden's hairy big toe, you will have noticed an incredible shift in the engine-swap landscape. Gone are the days of traditional American small-blocks, such as TPIs and 5.0s. In their places are the latest offerings from the Big Three, which have burrowed their way into our hearts (though not all work best for a cost-effective and logical solution). We know that both the Chrysler HEMI and Ford 4.6 are also excellent candidates, but each has some rather significant drawbacks (i.e., the neo-HEMI is not developed enough in the aftermarket to make it popular), and they are a bit too new to be considered affordable. Ford's "modular" 4.6 may have a lot of factory and aftermarket support, but their top-heavy design is rather hard to work around, and the street prices for the more desirable 32-valve and supercharged versions are almost out of this world.
Although these other two engines have certainly built up plenty of aftermarket interest, there is no doubt that the LS-series engines from GM have been taking the world by storm. Again, these are just the facts. With its lightweight, all-aluminum construction and ridiculously underrated 305-hp, even in its weakest form the LS1 has proven to be an affordable and practical engine able to briskly propel anything from a Mazda RX-7 to a tri-five Chevy. Additionally, getting your hands on one of these has never been easier, with jewels listed everywhere from local classifieds to online marketplaces. The incredible aftermarket and factory support from GMPP has also made it easier than ever to build the wickedest little street machine of your dreams.
Why On Earth A Mustang Swap?The late-model (or more accurately, the early late-model Mustang), was produced from 1979 to 1993 by the hundred-thousands. These boxy Fox-chassied cars came in coupe, hatchback, and convertible body styles, and weighed as little as 2,800 lbs in earlier V-8 iterations. Even when gussied up with all the safety-mandated trimmings, the later cars typically weighed no more than 3,300 lbs, despite its cast iron mill. So, it did not take long for Ford fanatics to discover the potential of the Fox Mustang, particularly on the dragstrip. Thus, many parts were made for these cars, and two decades later, a mature aftermarket has provided us with everything we need to make it work.
So why not modify the original 302 that came with the car? Well, the fact of the matter is that the LS1 is far superior from an engineering standpoint, no matter how you look at it. No lie, not opinion. It is just the cold, hard truth. A 302 would require heads, cam, and intake right off the bat to make the same power as a stock LS1. Though the Ford 302 design can handle immense horsepower levels, to get there you need an aftermarket block with serious internal rotating parts, as well as cylinder heads and trick valvetrain parts. For less time and money, you can buy an LS1 and benefit from 40 years of advanced technology with an all-aluminum motor that makes 350 hp box stock. With a stock LS6 intake manifold, small cam, and nicely ported heads, 500 hp is not out of the question. And if you want more, you can still rely on the LS1 design to take you above and beyond the Ford Windsor of yesteryear. Now count to three, take us off the dartboard, and put that weapon down.
Dollars And SenseIn one of our editorial meetings, we came up with a theoretical budget that would accurately represent the total cost of the project, should someone walk into this mission for the first time without any special connections. The price range was developed with a focus on getting the job done right. It starts with a clean and straight car, a low-mileage drivetrain from the newest Camaro available, and new, top-quality parts to make it all work together. If done properly, the car would last years to come without skimping on the things that matter.
Total outlay was pegged at $7,500 to $9,000, which took into consideration the cost of a decent Mustang ($2,000), a complete LS1/T56 setup ($4,000), and $1,500 to $3,000 for a set of headers and miscellaneous parts such as a custom driveshaft and custom mounts. Because we were able to find great deals through friends-of-friends and Internet auctions, our total out-of-pocket thus far is just $4,750, which is well below our estimate. With that, we believe experienced Internet stalkers could build an LS1-powered Mustang for under $5,000, car included. This is money well spent, as you can walk away with an incredibly one-off piece of machinery able to muster 25 mpg and 11-second timeslips. And while these end results are all theoretical, we aim to prove them possible.
Mercy KillingsWe are not saying that you should go out there and start ripping up perfectly fine Mustangs, tearing the hearts out of every F-car you see. What we are saying is that with careful planning and shopping, you can complete a project like this with a moderate budget, a realistic timeline, and, more importantly, a patient wife. Hello, dear.
For our buildup, we started with a straight 1990 Mustang LX that represents what you could buy today. The fact that it had been modified did not bother us at all, and we considered it an added bonus that the former bracket car already included some goodies, such as drag suspension and a set of Weld Racing wheels with slicks. Straddled with a weak but repeatable 302 and T5 transmission, this car laid down 14.0s all day long at 94 mph. As a matter of fact, we took it out to Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey and ran a 14.02, 14.05, and a 14.06 the same night we bought it.
Then we set out to find a complete take-out engine and transmission. Because F-cars transmissions are mounted directly to the engine, as opposed to Corvettes featuring rear-mounted trannies and funky engine wiring with drive-by-wire throttles, it made sense to pick our powertrain from a 1998 to 2002 Camaro Z28, or Pontiac Trans Am or Formula.
We then worked www.fastls1.com's Jeremy Beck to hook us up with his LS1 crew. Within an hour, we spoke with LS1 fanatic John Moundros of J&T Auto in Huntington Station, New York, who said he had a complete take-out engine and transmission assembly, rescued from a wrecked 2001 Camaro SS, just waiting for our scruffy little hands to take home. Next we scoured the classified ads on www.fastls1.com, where we came across a set of ported 5.3 heads and a matching aftermarket cam, miscellaneous parts for our swap, and a connection for custom headers (American Racing, Amityville, New York). After that we spent countless nights on www.ls1tech.com's website for LS1/Mustang swap information, and with the help of its many members, we came up with a strategic plan to get the engine into place.
Follow along as we show you how to make no friends and rile the ones you already have. We are willing to bet that in the long run, this swap (along with many others), will drastically affect the aftermarket-as well as the word on the street-as to what is really going to be popular.