Part 2: Late-Model Muscle
Last month I ran down a bunch of junkyard and budget engine swap options I con- sidered for my ’89 Wrangler. After failing to find any decent low-mileage swap candidates in my area, I expanded my search to include late-model salvage yard and brand-new crate engines. You’ll notice Chrysler engines are barely touched upon and the Ford offerings are completely ignored. There’s a reason.
For starters, most late-model Ford V-8 engines like the 4.6L and 5.4L are bulky, wide, and not well supported by the aftermarket in terms of swapping. As for the Chrysler engines, I’d really only consider a 5.7L Hemi. My seat time in 6.1L-powered vehicles has proven disappointing in real-world driving scenarios. The 6.1L Hemi is a very peaky engine that’s not great for slow-speed off-road use. The low-end is lacking and when the power finally does come in around the mid-3,000 rpm-range, it hits like a sledge-hammer. It’s almost like driving a two-stroke V-8. And while the 5.7L Hemi is more real-world, there are limitations and drawbacks that preclude swapping into older chassis, including relatively soft aftermarket support, high cost, limited engine-to-transmission adapters, and (sadly) a lack of factory-backed enthusiast support. Crate engines from Mopar Performance have been small in quantity and ridiculously expensive. Rather than offer production-based options like GM Performance, the Mopar stuff is comparatively high-zoot and spendy.
So, it’s little wonder I began worming my way into LS-land, researching late-model GM powerplants. The nice thing about the Gen III GM engine options is they’ve been around in one form or another since ’97. Parts interchangeability between the different Gen III engines is strong, as is the aftermarket support in terms of conversion harnesses, accessories, exhaust, and other components. They’re durable, make great power, and respond well to aftermarket modifications. Furthermore, you can easily mate them to a host of transmissions (including factory Jeep offerings), and they’re cheap and plentiful if you’re looking to score used take-outs.
So which is it gonna be for my Project Why-J? Normally I’d tell you to tune in next issue to find out, but as of this writing I’m in a holding pattern for my engine-of-choice. You see, I’m in line for one of the first-ever GM Performance Parts E-Rod 5.3L packages. GM already has its E-Rod LS3 available, but there are a number of factors that make me want to wait for the E-Rod 5.3L, which I’ll happily share with you in Part 3 of this series—as soon as my new engine shows up.
Wrecking Yard Gen III Prices
If you’re bargain hunting, forget the more-exotic all-aluminum LS engines and go straight for the ’99-up pickup and SUV engines. While a used aluminum LS1 or LS2 may fetch $2,000 from a wrecking yard, you can score an iron-block 6.0L LY6 or LQ4 for $1,000-$1,500. Still seem steep? Then forget the big-bore 6.0L and go straight for the meat-and-potatoes 5.3L. GM put millions of ’em in pickups and SUVs since 1999. The lower-mileage (sub-100,000) iron-block LM7 5.3L with PCM and harness can be found for around $500 and it’s not uncommon to find higher-mileage (150,000 or more) engines for $250. Or, if you’re sketched-out thinking of buying an engine over eBay, Pacific Fabrication sells quality take-out engines complete with an easy-to-install harness, all the accessories, and more. Either way you go, don’t let the miles scare you. GM builds one hell of a durable engine.
I’ve owned a 5.7L Hemi-powered vehicle for seven years and it’s been flawless for 120,000 miles. But that doesn’t make the engine cheap or easy to swap in an older vehicle. And you can’t mate it to your current tranny (unless you’ve already got a Chrysler V-8). However, if you’re dealing with a TJ or JK it’s a different story. Companies like AEV, Burnsville Off Road, Hotwire Auto, and TeraFlex all make conversion components and harnesses that let you plug a Hemi in your modern Jeep and go. Another great source for crate engines, front accessories, and fueling systems for Hemi engines is Bouchillon Performance. However, in most cases you’re stuck running the big five-speed 5R45 auto transmission or the Ram truck’s somewhat-rare six-speed manual. Furthermore, when compared with a similarly sized GM Gen III-series engine, the Hemi just doesn’t deliver the same gooey performance down low. It’s a great engine, but I think the GM Gen III-series gives you better drivability and power and is better suited for swapping into an older Jeep.
You can buy aftermarket front-accessory packages from a variety of manufacturers, but in almost every case they’re insanely expensive. Another reason to gravitate towards GM Performance is its front accessory packages created from production parts. Offered for Corvette, CTS-V, LSA, LS9, and now the LC9 (truck-type front accessory package), the engine swapper can select a package that offers a layout that fits his chassis. Most Jeep and 4x4 enthusiasts will go with the LC9 (truck/SUV-style) or Corvette package. For just over $800 it includes all the accessories (A/C compressor, alternator, power steering pump) idler pulleys, brackets, belts, and bolts. Or, there are less-expensive kits without the A/C components. The A/C compressor can cause frame interference when installed in a Wrangler, but Novak Conversions offers an A/C compressor relocation kit under PN ACG3 that mounts a Delco R4 compressor in front of the passenger-side cylinder head. The kit only works with the truck-type front accessory and water pump.
If you want new, go straight to the source. GM Performance Parts uses its production-based parts and assembly infrastructure to offer (comparatively) inexpensive crate engine options ranging from its $3,000-ish 327hp 5.3L HO to hot fuel-injected or carbureted LS3, to LS7, supercharged 556hp LSA, or the madman LS9 with dry-sump oiling system and supercharged 638hp—all come with a 24-month, 50,000-mile warranty. GMPP also offers transmissions and other drivetrain components, wiring harnesses, ECU, front accessory packages, and lots of other stuff you’ll need to wire or fire your new engine.
Introduced at the 2009 SEMA show, GM Performance created a buzz with its E-Rod LS3 engine package, which included a production-spec 430hp LS3 Corvette engine, wiring harness, exhaust manifolds, catalytic converters, O2 sensors and bosses, fuel tank evaporative emissions canister, MAF sensor and boss, accelerator pedal, air filter, and ECU. The result was a crate engine package with 50-state CARB certification for use in ’95-older OBDI vehicles. In 2010, GMPP announced plans to expand the E-Rod program to include a 315hp 5.3L, 505hp LS7, and 556hp supercharged LSA and is currently working towards expanding the CARB E.O. coverage for OBDII and new specialty construction vehicles.