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Best Off Road Truck Engine Swaps

Agustin Jimenez
| Staff Editor
Posted December 1, 2009

What To Shoehorn Into Your Off-Road Rig

We've all been there at one point or another...You know what we're talking about. "What engine should I drop into my truck?" This sort of dilemma is usually a result of prolonged bench racing sessions. Most of us ask a couple of friends and fellow wheelers what they think about certain engines and if they think it would be a wise choice for our personal off-road rig. The options are fairly wide when it comes to choosing engines for your off-road toy.

Crate engines are a viable source when searching for more powerful motivation. Most companies that sell crate engines these days offer great warranties for their products as well as technical support in case you need some assistance with your build. Some of them even offer the option to custom build it to your specifications and needs.

In case you don't have a few grand burning a hole in your pocket, salvage yards may be the solution to your power problems. The key thing to remember when scrounging around a salvage yard is that you never know what you're going to find in the next jalopy. Crumpled fenders or bedsides may be a good indication that the engine you are looking at may still be good. Junkyard shopping is an art form that takes years of experience to master. Keep in mind that looking around the entire lot may lead to a heck of a find, but make sure you don't forget where you found your treasure. Putting a loose tire on the roof of a potential candidate is a good way to mark where your discovery is incase you walk away to poach elsewhere.

We felt the need to fuel the fire a bit and decided to give you our opinions on what we think are some of the best engines out there to use in your off-road toy.

GM Performance Parts LS3 376/480
Why go with an LS3? Why not! The lightweight small block produces enough power to muscle its way through any difficult terrain while still giving you excellent street manners. This LS3 has all the good qualities of the smooth idling LS engines yet produces enough power to make you think it's a big block, thanks to the LS Hot Cam (p/n 12617570) that features 0.525-inch intake and exhaust valve lifts that allows for a dramatic increase in power across the power band.

Displacement: 376ci 6.2L V-8
Horsepower: 480 hp
Torque: 475 lb-ft
Block material: Cast aluminum
Bore x stroke: 4.06 x 3.62 in.
Weight: 415 pounds
Features: High flowing rectangular port cylinder heads, 1.7:1 roller rockers, 6-Bolt aluminum block, nodular crank, high performance rods, and 10.7:1 hypereutectic aluminum slugs.
Warranty: 24-month GMPP limited warranty
Average price: $7,356.55
What to use it in: Any LS powered Chevy and GMC truck as well as mini truck and buggies that need more power in mud slinging action or high speed desert applications

Ford 408ci ATK Stroker V-8 Crate Engine Drag racers have long known the benefits of running a 351W based 408ci stroker. These engines command respect, and rightfully so since it has more stump pulling power than a stock big block. If you drive a Bronco and are tired of getting spanked by small block Blazers, this is exactly what you need. Though this engine is limited to only 5800 rpms, they are very reliable in off-road trucks because you don't need to hammer the throttle to get some monstrous power to the wheels.

Displacement: 408ci Windsor based V-8
Horsepower: 430 hp
Torque: 480 lb-ft
Block material: Cast iron
Bore x stroke: 4.030 x 4.000 in.
Weight: 550 pounds
Features: 60cc aluminum cylinder heads with 2.02 inch intake and 1.60 inch exhaust valves and 180cc intake runners, 1.7:1 roller rockers, big hydraulic roller cam with 0.512-inch intake and exhaust lift, nodular iron crank, I beam rods, and 10.0:1 forged pistons
Warranty: 24-month / unlimited mile warranty
Average price: $5,999
What to use it in: Any Bronco or F-150 that has a tired engine. An engine like this would definitely give it a serious attitude adjustment while letting you retain all of your old EFI equipment. If you just want something other than a mouse motor in your Ranger, Toyota mini truck, Jeep CJ or Wrangler this engine will give you all the power you could ask for and then some.

AMC Third Gen V-8
This is one of those oddball engines that are not as mainstream as the other big three's engines but nonetheless it is a great engine that offers monstrous torque. They can be had for practically nothing and if you treat them right, they can live a long life and turn your slow Jeep into a dirt rocket.

Displacement: 304ci, 360ci and 401ci
What they came in: They were produced from '70 to '91 and were available in the Jeep CJ7, Wagoneer, Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, J-10 and J-20 trucks
Horsepower: 125 to 255 hp
Torque: 220 to 435 lb-ft
Features: Dog leg exhaust ports which build more power than the previous designs, larger piston bores paired with shorter strokes for gobs of torque
Benefits: Inexpensive to purchase at a wrecking yard or online, not a small block Chevy, keeps your Jeep AMC powered, awesome lumpy exhaust note, produces enough power and torque to lift a 39-inch tire off the left front of a CJ-7 under hard launches
Drawbacks: Obsolete parts that can be expensive to repair or replace, stock axles and drivetrain can break under the torque of the AMC V8.
Make It Better: Install a big lumpy cam along with a set of Edelbrock AMC Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads.
What to use it in: Any Jeep CJ7, Wrangler YJ or TJ that needs to turn massive tires and calls for a V8 that isn't a Chevy or Dodge power plant, would make a great engine choice for a class 3 desert racing Jeep


Torrance, CA 90501
Nissan Motorsports
Gardena, CA 90248
GM Performance Parts
Detroit, MI 48232
ATK High Performance Engines
Grand Prairie, TX 75050
Chrysler Group LLC
Auburn Hills, MI 48321
Phantom Off-Road
Los Angeles, CA 90022
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