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How can you transform your ride into something truly special while drastically improving its performance at the same time? Just swap in a V8 engine!
Welcome to another installment of The Short List! It’s hard to argue with the smooth, responsive performance of an engine with two banks for four cylinders. I think we can all agree, the addition of a V8 can improve practically any car.
This engine configuration provides maximum displacement in a relatively small package, meaning you can shoehorn one into a space normally occupied by something as small a malnourished four-cylinder.
Now, on this list, we’ve focused on realistic V8 swaps, ones you could do yourself using readily available kits. This means there are no crazy one-off builds from SEMA or anything, as much as I’d like to see a Rolls-Royce Merlin swapped into an original Mini, but I digress.
8. Jeep Wrangler (Hemi)
Starting things off, who wouldn’t want a V8-powered Jeep Wrangler? If you’re a JK owner and are unhappy with Pentastar power, or worse, that breathless, old 3.8-liter pushrod V6, the folks over at Quadratec will happily sell you a kit that allows a 5.7-liter Hemi to mount under this off-roader’s hood. Making it worth the $5,800, this kit also includes things like a new wiring harness, an updated transmission crossmember and high-flow catalytic converters. Engine not included.
Of course, there are other companies that will sell you kits allowing you to drop a GM LS V8 into your Wrangler, but c’mon, a Chrysler product should really feature a Mopar powertrain.
7. E46 BMW 3 Series (GM LS)
Love the E46 3 Series? Who doesn’t? All these years later, it’s still my favorite BMW. But if you’re unsatisfied with the performance provided by this generation 3er’s inline-six, fear not, there’s room for an LS ahead of the firewall. Vorshlag Motorsports sells a variety of brackets and bolts that allow this legendary V8 to securely mount inside the bowels of your favorite 3 Series where it can provide stupid-fast acceleration with plenty of rumbling sounds.
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6. Ford Focus (Small-block Ford or Modular)
The Ford Focus has always been a scrappy little car, funky and fun to drive, but it’s never been the fastest thing on four wheels, especially the first-generation model. That changes if you grab the V8 conversion kit from Kugel Komponents. It allows you to drop a small-block Ford or modular V8 into your Focus. Best of all, this kit is completely bolt-on, requiring zero welding, however, it ain’t cheap, costing roughly $8,000, which doesn’t include an appropriate engine, transmission or rear end. Still, the idea of a rear-drive Focus with V8 power is tantalizing…
5. Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 (GM LS)
The Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 family of sports coupes is a blast to drive, sharp, light and plenty engaging. But the major complaint about these cars is a relative lack of power. Their 2.0-liter boxer four maxes out at about 205 ponies, though this is nothing a little LS can’t correct. For a mere $3,200, Weapons-Grade Performance will sell you a kit that allows one of these V8s to fit into the engine bay of your BRZ-family vehicle. Opt for the $7,500 complete kit, which comes with extra goodies like cooling components, upgraded wiring, a new instrument cluster and more, and you’re well on your way to roasting the tires, just provide the LS engine and transmission of your choice.
4. Nissan 350Z (GM LS)
Nissan’s Z car is a legend. For decades, it’s provided performance and driving dynamics in spades. Now, if you own a 350Z, the acceleration it offers is more than adequate, but who wants to settle for good enough when you could have astounding? Rectifying this, Sikky Manufacturing offers a little something that – surprise, surprise – lets you enjoy the smooth giddy-up of a GM LS V8. Base price is around $2,250 and it goes up from there depending on what goodies you want.
Interestingly, with this kit, no modifications to the factory crossmember or subframe are required. And that’s an important word of warning; V8 conversions are generally neither easy nor cheap. Lots of heavy wrenching is involved, and many require welding. While they can be SERIOUSLY COOL, swaps like these are NOT for the faint of heart.
3. Honda S2000 (GM LS)
Unquestionably, one of the greatest sports cars of the last 20 years is Honda’s S2000. Light and nimble, its naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine revved to the heavens above to deliver exhilarating performance. But for all its virtues, this two-seater had one serious flaw: a complete lack of torque. You had to wring its neck or else it wouldn’t move. But solving this issue is as easy as signing your name; just cut a check for a suspiciously inexpensive $1,650 and you’ve got most of what you’re going to need in order to fit an eight-cylinder fire-breather between the S2000’s front fenders. Yes, yet again, it accepts another LS, which you have to provide…
2. Subaru WRX (GM LS)
With standard all-wheel drive and unusual-sounding boxer engines, Subarus are not afraid to be different. But let’s say you want something a little more mainstream, to make your WRX sound like a muscle car. Well, now you can do that thanks to a bunch of components offered by the website V8WRX.com. Buy their subframe kit, oil pan and more and you’ll be well on your way to LS-ifying your favorite Subaru.
1. Mazda MX-5 Miata (GM LS)
Miata Is Always The Answer, right? Sure, unless you’ve got to haul sheets of plywood. Anyway, if you want an absolutely INSANE MX-5, get in touch with the fine folks at Flyin’ Miata out in Colorado, because they’ve figured out how to fit a V8 into each generation of this legendary Mazda car: NA, NB, NC and even the new ND. This swap is sure to transform a light and nimble vehicle into something absolutely insane, a car that’s fast enough to outrun some supercars. Because don’t forget, the Miata has always been a featherweight.
It’s amazing how popular GM’s LS engine is. It’s taken over the world, trouncing both the Chrysler Hemi family and Ford’s various V8 offerings. And why shouldn’t it? They’re reliable, GM’s built untold millions of them meaning they’re affordable, they support huge displacements with very compact external dimensions. This puts it right in the sweet spot of the Venn diagram, making it an ideal engine for V8 swaps.
Check out more episodes of The Short List