Verdict: If starting with a twin-turbo car, modify that for more power. If starting with a naturally-aspirated car, go with the LS—just get some good mufflers and Dynamat sound-dampening. In the s and '70s, a variety of small, European manufacturers realized that powerful, reliable V-8 engines from— gasp! But under the rear bonnet sat a Ford Cleveland V-8, factory under rated at horsepower—but really making more like through a five-speed ZF transaxle.
The body is made completely of carbon fiber; only a section of roof, about a foot wide, remains from the original body. Every line, every window, every function has been rethought, redesigned, and mostly re-engineered. Although the Pantera was a tuner favorite throughout its forty-plus-year run, with modified versions popping up at car shows, track days, and runway events all over Southern California, for many tuners the LS swap went too far, and they were sure to let us know about it.
The car had literally covered about six miles since completion by the time I got behind the wheel. Frankly, it drove a little weird. But it was fast. My god, was it fast. With an engine approximately 30 percent lighter than the original and making double the power, with 50 percent wider rear tires than the original, straight line acceleration was formidable, and unavoidable. And with sticky tires on foot-wide rear wheels, it hooked and it went.
In the standard car, the ZF five-speed has a gated shifter. Sneaker-pimps Nike replaced the gate with a boot, making it really hard to find the correct gear. Turns out, those gates were there for a reason. I was blown away by that car, to the point that a photo of it now serves as the desktop image on the computer from which I write these words. The stock cam is quite mild, giving it a smooth, even sound.
The steering was light and direct, and the balance between smooth, even power, firm brakes, and light steering was perfectly in harmony. But I really do have to emphasize, again, the smoothness. Verdict: While the Ringbrothers have created a masterpiece of a beautiful interpretation of a Pantera, the original car and its original drivetrain are vastly underappreciated from a driving perspective.
The Lotus Elise is an excellent car by any definition of the word, and an absolutely incredible car by Lotus standards. Sure, the last-generation Esprit V-8 had a snarly twin-turbo motor making horsepower. These cars are as close as one gets to an adult-sized go-kart while still retaining things like body panels, a roof, and air conditioning.
The Elise is quick, fun to drive, and—ingress and egress aside—not a pain in the ass in any way. The Exige is stiffer, racier, and certainly faster, with its force-fed engine. But honestly, neither of these cars, for all their exotic looks, for all their simplistic performance chops, ever really excited me.
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This Lotus Elise was maniacal, incredibly focused, raw, and mean. It was, fundamentally, a time-attack style car for the road. The engine made all the sounds at once: supercharger whine, turbo spool and blow-off, gear squeal, and whatever fear sounds like. The car was twitchy, darty, and undeniably fast as all hell. I was sure that was the limit for the Lotus Elise.
Until John Hennessey and his team shoved an LS engine into one. I meant they used a twin-turbo, longitudinally mounted, balanced and blueprinted LS engine making 1, horsepower and stuck to a Ricardo six-speed transaxle, in my opinion the finest manual gearbox ever produced. In order to make that stuff fit, Hennessey lengthened the chassis by 18 inches and widened it by over a foot, using new extruded chromoly subframes mounted to the standard Lotus tub, and reinforced with a roll cage.
I hit mph from a standing start in just over 15 seconds, without really trying too hard. The force of this engine will suck your eyeballs into the back of your skull. A few seconds at full throttle in one of these can result in just one emotion: the fear giggle. The Venom will shoot a two-foot flame from its exhaust at full throttle. I absolutely adore it. The lengthened and reinforced chassis on custom-valved Penske shocks has a much better ride on the highway than a standard Elise, and with carbon-ceramic brakes stolen from the Corvette ZR1, it stops better too.
There are some downsides, of course. The Venom GT sells for a million bucks, which, depending on your market, will get you between 20 and 30 copies of a standard Elise, and probably two or three killer custom Lotus builds. The verdict: An Elise or Exige make a great and depreciation-free weekend toy. We went to Fueled Racing for the swap hardware, and its kit is impressive in quality and fitment. Both look great, and it's almost a shame they're hidden behind the engine and underneath the car.
The supplied Moroso oil pan clears the SX's front crossmember and fits behind the stock anti-roll bar. The kit also includes power steering and oil lines with AN fittings, an oil filter relocation kit, clutch master cylinder, and a driveshaft for which Fueled offers a variety of material options including aluminum and carbon fiber. The company can also make headers for your application, but we skipped this option, as we have to use the supplied manifolds and catalytic converters for emissions. Fueled Racing. We ordered a larger, SX-specific radiator and a shroud with two inch fans from Mishimoto that bolted right into place and look great once installed.
The Pontiac GTO radiator hoses we bought fit, but required a little modification for clearance and a provision for the LS3's steam port. For electronics, we turned to Racepak. While using the stock Nissan dash is an option, we wanted to be able to monitor multiple sensors without having a small army of gauges on the dash. We've used Racepak's equipment for years for testing cars, so we were interested to see how the company's multi-configurable IQ3 dash would work.
25 of the Most Interesting Engine Swaps We've Ever Seen
And it works quite well. It uses a variety of sensor inputs in conjunction with a 4-Hz GPS system to display pretty much anything you want. The display can show every parameter coming out of the engine's ECU, from revs to fuel pressure to ignition timing. As we've heard oil delivery issues can occur when LS3s start exceeding 1. What's left? A Walbro liter-per-hour fuel pump to meet the increased fuel demands from another set of four cylinders, a new oil filter for the Moroso pan, and countless hoses, clamps, screws, and bolts.
You'll get to know your local parts store quickly doing this swap. After we inventoried everything, the instructions helped make easy work of assembling the accessories, clutch, and flywheel. Once the engine was on a hoist, we drained and removed the stock oil pan and replaced it with the Moroso one. Make sure to check and recheck that everything's tight, as it'll save you some headaches once the driveline is in the car. The SX chassis requires shockingly little modification to accommodate a V The opening of the transmission tunnel needs to be "massaged" with a big hammer or even better, an air hammer to clear the T56's bell housing.
It's also a good idea to install the new clutch master cylinder and power steering lines. And that's it. Make sure the bay is clear and clean, and you're ready to go. No wonder these cars are so popular for engine swaps. The big parts of this install fell into place quickly and easily; we had the engine and transmission in the car by day two.
It's remarkable how well the LS3 fits. The clearances can trick you into thinking it was designed to fit.
The transmission is another issue. While we know the standard T56 fits, the Super Magnum is slightly shorter, and its shifter ends up a few inches forward of the SX's shifter location. We solved this by notching the tunnel and fashioning a small shifter extension from two pieces of metal that puts the Chevy -supplied shifter close to the original spot. It isn't pretty, but it feels great. When we bolted on the exhaust manifolds, we encountered a second problem: The driver's side exit ran right into the steering rack.
The manifolds that came with our E-Rod collected and exited towards the rear. Fortunately our shop had a set of LS3 manifolds that collected and exited towards in the center that cleared everything. Once we were under the car, it was quickly apparent how tight the exhaust system would be. If you don't care about emissions, getting a premade set of headers will save you some time, as they're made to fit. If you care about emissions, plan on taking an extra few days day or two to fabricate a solution that doesn't touch anything. Better yet: Pay an expert to do it.
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The driver's side is the tightest, but there are four lines on the passenger side that will come in close proximity to the hot catalytic converters: fuel feed, return, evap, and rear brake fluid. We relocated the fuel send line to the other side of the SX's frame rail and plumbed it in through the wheel well. We wrapped the rest in heat-resistant wrap and fabricated a heat shield to cover them.
We'll be monitoring temps in the future. The tight clearances by the exhaust manifolds meant lowering the position of the catalytic converters to near the transmission. For one, we didn't want to buy a new muffler. Two, the thought of hooking up a V-8 through a 4-inch-diameter muffler made us giggle. After driving it, we're still giggling. The exhaust is a temporary setup made to get the car running and out of the garage.
We'll be coming back to clean it up and move it up in the chassis for better ground clearance. We mounted the Chevy fuel filter and pressure regulator on the passenger side of the engine bay into an existing hole, assembled the AN fittings, and installed the lines. For safety's sake, check and re-check that the fittings are tight. The last thing you want to give your new engine a gasoline bath.
After hooking up the power steering lines, we saw that the fluid reservoir wouldn't fit under the hood. We removed it and reinstalled the SX reservoir in its factory location. Fueled Racing recommends relocating the oil filter to the passenger side of the engine bay on the frame rail next to the pan, which means routing the oil lines around the back of the engine.
We built a bracket that holds the filter higher than the pan and a comfortable distance away from the exhaust manifold. It sits right next to the drain plug, which will make oil changes easier. Double check and check again that you have the oil feed and return lines correct. Fueled Racing's instruction manual clearly identifies which is which.
For the sake of getting the swap done sooner, we removed the SX's heater and put a U-shaped hose on the water pump to cap the system. As this car resides in temperate L. After attaching the fans and shroud to the Mishimoto radiator, it installed neatly right into the stock mounting points. We cut the upper radiator hose and mated each end onto a metal tube that had a barb that would accommodate a line for the LS3's steam port.
The lower hose needed a little bit of trimming to fit. The E-Rod kit also comes with a rather large fuel evaporation canister that you have to install to be emissions complaint. We ended up building a bracket that holds the canister ahead of the front driver's wheel, right behind the front bumper. We hooked up the existing evaporative fuel line and ran a new line to the specified port on the engine's intake. We also ran the PCV lines following the instruction manual. Stupidly, we didn't think about an intake tube until well into the build.
The pictured intake is a temporary piece that didn't have a MAF sensor provision, so we put one in. We're eager to get the Fueled Racing intake, though, and we'll be looking to incorporate a box around the filter to reduce inlet air temp. The E-Rod wiring harness couldn't be easier. Each wire is cut to the correct length and correctly identified.
The O2 sensor wires even come with heat shielding already applied. The instruction manual lists each plug and its function, even calling out optional ports. It's largely plug and play. We built a bracket around the new pedal that maintained the original's travel, bolted it up, and plugged it in.
Wiring wouldn't have been a big issue except for one thing: When we removed the original driveline, and for reasons not worth explaining, we cut the chassis harness. Among quite a few other things, Ferreira rewired all the chassis components lights, fuel, etc.
LS Swap Guide by LSX Innovations
Wiring up the Racepak hardware was a cakewalk in contrast. The beauty is in the company's V-Net network, which is a modular system that allows you to monitor a dizzying amount of sensors should you decide to install them. The wires from these modules plug into each other and then go straight to the IQ3 dash. The dash can be configured to display any data you like, and it logs everything to a MicroSD card. Though simple to set up, the dash offers remarkable logging potential.
Related The Original 300ZX LS1 Conversion Manual
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