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1980 Malibu LS Engine And 4L60E Tranny Swap - Light, Swift... And LS Powered?

We Modernize A 29-Year-Old Malibu With Some Electronic Goodies, Including An LS Powerplant And TCI 4L60E Trans.

By Mike Ficacci, Photography by Mike Ficacci

It seems that every time you open an automotive enthusiast magazine, you come across a first-generation Camaro LS-swap. They are everywhere and the fad is growing faster than this recession. And why not? No car of today can match the spine-tingling appeal of a '60s or '70s Bow Tie combined with the technological advances that an LS-motor provides.

It really is the best of both worlds--you can cruise the streets in a hot rod of yesteryear and make 600 hp with a smooth idle, great manners, simple computer tuning, fabulous miles per gallon, and all while stripping over excess tonnage off the nose. Back that up with an electronic transmission, and you will have bystanders drooling.

We, once again, hooked up with Tune Time Performance as they have opened their shop to our every need time and time again. Our donor hot rod isn't a '69 Camaro, shoebox Nova, or '57 Chevy; it's a car that every weekend drag racer has come to love, the '80 Malibu. Weighing in at close to 3,000 pounds, priced for the average enthusiast, and with a short wheelbase to boot, these Malibus make some of the best drag cars out there. Show up at any Friday night gamblers race and you're sure to see a few with the wheels in the sky.

We pieced together our LS with an LQ9 steel short-block out of an Escalade, Tune Time Performance cylinder heads, LS6 intake manifold, and custom-ground camshaft. To back the LS, TCI Performance Transmissions hooked us up with absolutely everything we would ever need for such a conversion, including its 4L60E electronic transmission, 3200-stall lock-up torque converter, transmission control unit, dipstick, crossmember, and much more.

Follow along as we rip off 30 years of rust and replenish life back into the '80 Malibu.

Available from TCI as a complete kit, the transmission arrived with a 3200-rpm stall lock-up torque converter, transmission control unit, TCU wiring harness, 12-quarts of fluid, dipstick, polyurethane transmission mount, and performance trans cooler.

We then installed the supplied polyurethane transmission mount using the supplied bolts. We faced some issues while mocking up the transmission crossmember and are in the process of getting the correct one.

Installation of the engine and transmission was the first step in getting this hot rod back on all fours and ready for the street and drag strip. To button everything up, we obviously have to slap the nose and fenders back on the car and then get the wiring harness all figured out. One way to go here is to use TCI's stand-alone harness for the 4L60E and do away with the wiring from the stock harness for the trans. We will be posting updates on with our progress and some video at the drag strip. Stay tuned as this is sure to be one bad Malibu.

TCI Performance Transmissions
BRP Hot Rods
5849 Rogers Rd.
GA  30040
Tune Time Performance
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By Mike Ficacci
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