Some wonder if the LS1 small-block is really the product of mere mortals. Examining its prolific accomplishments—propelling stock F-bodies into the 12s, cracking 500 hp with nothing more than a cam swap, and knocking down 30 mpg on the freeway, all in a compact and lightweight package—the notion that it is was really engineered by an advanced intergalactic civilization seems somewhat plausible. It’s even rumored that a think-tank of LS1s has worked out a preliminary plan on how to eliminate Hillary’s campaign debt. Next on the list is solving our country’s energy woes, and Josh Lucher’s second-gen illustrates how such a preposterous proposition may actually have an element of credibility.
Sadly, the miserable Washington bureaucrats otherwise known as Congress are too busying collecting checks from lobbyists to offer any viable solutions to the issue. In the meantime, common sense says that burning less gas can’t hurt. That’s precisely why Josh dumped his carb’d 383ci Mouse for an LS1, and the result is nearly three times the gas mileage. Traditionally, hot rodders don’t give a hoot about maximizing mpgs, but when sensible Americans start making just one trip to Starbucks each day instead of three, you know that times must really be tough.
“My 383 only got 8 mpg, but with the LS1 I get 18 in town and 21 on the freeway, and expect those numbers to improve once I get the tuning dialed in,” he explains. Obviously, mileage was only one of several reasons for the swap. “Gas prices made me want to upgrade to an LS1, but I’ve always been envious of the big power people get out of them with almost no mods. Plus, it’s cool to have new technology in a muscle car. With EFI, I like having the ability to easily diagnose problems and tune the motor with a laptop.”
As is becoming a common theme these days, Josh is a refugee from the increasingly exclusive first-gen camp. He helped his dad restore a ’68 Camaro during his formative years, and envisioned picking up a first-gen of his own someday. “Right after I turned 14, my dad and I started looking for a project car,” he recollects. “I saw this ’72 Camaro in a junkyard for $525, which was the first time I had ever seen a second-gen. I liked first-gens better, but they were too expensive. Not many people had second-gens at the time, and the more I worked on it, the more I fell in love with it.”
With a vinyl top and a prodigious rust hole population, the car needed lots of work. While the quarter-panels and fenders were salvageable, Josh had to replace the roof, doors, and trunklid. Likewise, the dash, carpet, and door panels were scrapped in favor of fresher trim pieces. To spruce up the interior and enhance functionality, Josh installed Auto Meter gauges, a Grant steering wheel, a Hot Rod Air A/C system, a Pioneer stereo, and seats from a fourth-gen Camaro. “It was a big project, but by doing all the bodywork and interior work myself with the help of my dad, I was able to restore the car on a budget funded by mowing people’s lawns,” he quips. “My goal was simply to have a cool car that ran respectable numbers at the track that I could drive to school when I turned 16.”
Once the car was completed, it became quite clear that Josh had succeeded in accomplishing his endeavors. Equipped with a mild hydraulic cam’d 355 attached to a TH350 trans, the second-gen ran 12.90s at the track. Next came the aforementioned 383 that pared e.t.’s down to 12-flat thanks to a solid-roller cam and a looser 3,500-stall converter. Tired of going broke at the gas pump, Josh bit the bullet and dropped in an LS1 and T56 trans, a swap he says was surprisingly simple. “I welded a plate to the stock LS1 mounts and the motor dropped right in,” he explains. “For the trans, I just cut part of the factory crossmember, turned it 180 degrees, then welded it back together.
I had to heat them up and bend them a bit, but a set of PaceSetter fourth-gen long-tube headers fit just fine.” The only mods made to the motor at the time of install were a 232/234-at-0.050 cam, home-ported factory heads, and a 150-shot of nitrous. All that was good for 502 rear-wheel hp on the dyno. Since then, Josh has added a larger Thunder Racing 242/248-at-0.050 hydraulic roller cam, and is hoping for 530 hp at the wheels and 10.80s in the quarter.
In the coming months, Josh is looking forward to giving his car the complete Pro Touring rubdown. Next on the agenda is a tubular suspension, a four-link, a big brake kit, and grippier Corbeau seats. “My new goal is to make my second-gen handle and brake like a late-model,” he says. “As much as I like drag racing, I’d really like to start running some SCCA events.” Sounds good to us, and the more he drives it, the more his investment in the LS1 will pay off. Considering his new powertrain combo yields 2.5 times the fuel mileage of his old 383 and that gas currently costs $4 a gallon, the $4,000 Josh spent on his LS1 and T56 will pay for itself in about 13,000 miles. So who needs hybrids and worthless policymakers when you have LS1 swaps?