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Chevy Chevelle LS Engine Swap - Swaptastic!

Dropping An LS Engine Into Your Vintage Chevy Can Be A Painless Process If You're In The Know.

By Michael Copeland, Photography by From The Super Chevy Archives

Captions and Introduction by Steven Rupp
Editor's Note: Michael Copeland is General Motors' foremost authority on LS swaps into vintage iron. His title is Project Manager--Concept and Vehicle Integration, GM Performance Division. We are grateful to have him as a SUPER CHEVY contributor.

Since it first hit the automotive scene back in 1997, the venerable LS1 and its various incarnations have quickly become the go-to engines for EFI swap projects. While the LS platform hasn't surpassed the good old first-gen small-block in terms of how many old Chevys it's powering, it's certainly becoming more prevalent each year. Part of this growth is because the aftermarket industry is making it easier than ever to stuff this aluminum powerplant into any Chevy, or anything else for that matter.

Even as recently as five years ago it was a challenge to get an LS engine into old Detroit iron. Engine mounts had to be fabricated, and in some cases headers had to be custom bent to accommodate the engine's unique architecture. Guys have been retrofitting LT1s into cars for some time, so grafting in an EFI capable fuel system wasn't so bad, but it still required fabrication and creativity. Then there was getting the electronics in order. Programming software for the computers needed to run the LS1 were archaic by today's standards and finding people that knew their way around the code was tougher than finding out where Jimmy Hoffa is stashed.

But, as they say, "that was then and this is now." It's 2009 and getting LS power under the hood of your old Chevy is nearly painless. Where once parts needed to be whittled out of steel using a penknife, those parts are now just a phone call or web hit away. And where once the aftermarket only supported the first-gen Camaro it now caters to everything from Tri-Fives to Chevelles. Is it as easy as dropping in a carbed small-block? Not yet, but the benefits of all that EFI-fired goodness is worth the small amount of extra work, and cash, required to make it happen. There are even parts available to make these engines carbureted if that's your bag.

With the aftermarket making the swap easier, that leaves the other common complaint about LS swaps--cost. Can you empty your wallet and max your credit dropping in an LS engine? Hell yeah, but, like most things in life, how expensive it ultimately turns out to be is completely up to the guy holding the wrench. More people making more parts equates to more competition and that ultimately drives down the cost of parts. It also helps that the creative folks out there have had years to figure out how to do it cheaper. If you want that sweet drive system from March Performance or Concept One, but are short on funds, then, thanks to GM, you still have a plethora of LS drive systems lurking in scrap yards. Not as fancy as the billet baubles, but dirt cheap and quite capable of getting the job done.

It's the same story with all the other systems involved as well. Can't afford coated long tube headers yet? Easy: Make due with some factory exhaust manifolds. Whether you have enough cash to buy the best of the best or you're on a restrictive budget, dropping an LS engine into your ride is an attainable goal.

But even more important than parts or cash is knowledge. Since 1997 GM has released quite a few versions of the original LS1 and instituted a host of changes, some not so subtle. Since LS-based mills now reside under the hoods of so many different GM vehicles, it's imperative to know "what's what" in terms of items like oil pans, computer systems, and various other differences. Being well-versed in all things LS will keep you from making costly mistakes.

To get the 411 on LS swaps we went straight to the source, General Motors, and asked Michael Copeland what he felt was the most important info a gearhead would need to know when looking to tackle a swap. So read up on what's become the most successful engine ever put out by GM. After all, knowledge is power.

By Michael Copeland
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