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Junkyard LS Swap Identification Guide: Part 1

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If you haven’t heard, there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to modern V8 engines for hot rodders to consider when deciding what power plant to fit between the frame rails of their latest project. Known by many different names throughout the auto industry, the LS series of engines has taken budget performance builds to a whole new level in the last ten to fifteen years. Thanks to a clean sheet design by a group of very smart engineers at GM, they were able to introduce to us the “Modern SBC” that has made a huge impact for any type of project needing a powerful and efficient fuel injected V8.

The success of the LS series of engines can be attributed to the aftermarket manufacturers jumping on board rather quickly and providing a wide selection of performance parts and accessories during the early years of the first LS style engines. For the record, it was the LS1 that found its’ home in the 1997 Corvette.

Now the best news is that this series of engine has been found in virtually any make/model or even custom projects being built all around the world. Anymore you can find an LS under the hood of just about anything; Mustangs, T-buckets, Coupes, Bel-Airs, Muscle cars, classic trucks, Jeeps, dirt track cars, sand rails and even boats… they literally have replaced the SBC in a world that seemed like it could never be replaced.

The intent of this article is to go over the more common variations of the LS series of engines and all the different vehicles that they can be found in. With this information you should have a better understanding of which engine suits your specific needs and what vehicles you can source parts from while scouring your local junkyards and Craigslist ads.

Now to be fair, there is no way to cover every bit of info and every single detail about each of these engines without writing some sort of book. This is more of a short generic guide to help you keep an eye out and understand the LS platform as a whole.

Generation 3 engines are where this whole crazy thing started. As mentioned previously, Gen 3 started with the introduction of the LS1 found in the 1997 Corvette. The LS1 engine features a 5.7L (346 c.i.) six-bolt aluminum block and cylinder heads. In stock trim, it pumps out around 350hp/350tq. As with any LS style motor, making just minor bolt on upgrades really wakes these motors up without dipping into your savings too much. The LS1 engine can also be found in 98-02 Camaros, Firebirds, and Trans AMs as well as the 2004 GTO. These are generally picked through rather quickly when they get to a junkyard and are bit more expensive then other LS platforms.

A slight variant of the LS1 - the LS6 would find its home in 2002-2004 C5 Z06 Corvettes. GM put a performance cam in and changed the piston design for a higher compression ratio; which would help this motor see 405hp/400tq numbers. It would be even more rare to come across a Z06 in a junkyard that still has its drivetrain in it. If you some how discover that treasure with low miles and can make a good deal on the whole package, make sure you don’t leave to go home without it in the back of your truck. With either of these two engines, you will want to make sure that you are picking up a complete engine with the wiring harness, front accessories, and transmission if possible. Doing so will save you valuable time and money down the road and also prevent many headaches when trying to transplant this into your project.

Along with the performance variations of the Gen 3 LS motors, GM also utilized this new V8 technology in their lineup of full size trucks and SUV’s. Luckily all the parts and pieces from this new generation of small block V8s are for the most part easily interchangeable following a few guidelines from series to series and would soon become readily available by the tens of thousands in nearly every junkyard across the country.

In the ½ ton series of trucks and SUVs you will find the LR4 4.8L (293ci) and the LM7/L59/LM4/L33 variations of the 5.3L (327ci) engines. Both of these options are readily available for an affordable price and are very capable of just about any horsepower goals. Producing a respectable 255-310 hp and 285-335 tq, these smaller and lighter truck motors make the perfect foundation for a mild build on a budget.

The larger ¾ ton trucks, cargo vans, and SUV’s would offer a larger cubic inch version in the form of the LQ4/LQ9 6.0L (364ci) series of Gen 3 LS engines. Pushing out anywhere from 300-345 hp and 360-380 tq, the 6.0L packs a bigger punch, but both versions are iron block options that tip the scales a little heavier than the smaller aluminum truck motors. With the added size and power, these will typically cost a little bit more up front, but the investment could be worth it down the road.

I can’t stress enough how much easier it will be if you are attempting to do an LS swap into anything, that buying your drivetrain as complete as possible is so much simpler. It may look like costing more up front, however having a complete car or front end to pull from as you work through the process is worth a little extra cost. You can piece it together, it just requires a much more detailed and knowledgeable approach to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and work.

The Gen 3 LS series, regardless of which option, is the more common, easier to find, and usually least expensive choice, when making the switch to a modern V8.

For more information, continue reading Junkyard LS Swap Identification Guide: Part 2.

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