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Chevrolet S10 - Giant Slayer

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2002
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Mike Copeland's S-10 ZR2 draws a ton of attention, and not just from S-10 guys. It's the kind of truck that people see in action on the sand dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan, and then have to track down the owner like groupies to find out what he's done to the engine to make it blast up dunes with such authority. When Mike pops the hood most people don't even know what engine they're looking at, and because Mike's level of craftsmanship is so high most are convinced that GM offered a V-8 option in ZR2s. When he tells them it's an LS1 Corvette engine (closely related to the 4.8-, 5.3-, and 6.0L Vortec truck engines), they tell him, "That's impossible!"

But Mike's familiar with that because he is one of those guys that doesn't know the meaning of the word "impossible." To him, everything is possible. Tell him something can't be done and he'll prove you wrong every time. Sure, doing the impossible might not be cheap-Mike figures he's got $10,000 into his LS1 swap-but the results speak for themselves. Even at that price the average guy would need a lot of technical help to even come close to duplicating this truck. If you are an S-10 or ZR2 owner and would like to learn more about Mike's truck, visit and click on "Ask Mike." Mike's ZR2 has changed a lot of minds about the capabilities of an S-10, including ours!

After Mike roasted two 4L60Es (transmission temps recorded by the TCM data logger were listed simply as "burn in hell"), he got serious and installed a 4L80E transmission from a 1-ton truck. Since Chevrolet never offered the NVG233 transfer case behind this transmission, Mike plugged and welded the holes on the 4L80E adapter with 1-inch aluminum slugs and then redrilled it for the NVG233 pattern. By using a 32-spline input gear from a NVG241 in his 233, Mike was able to marry and install the drivetrain on the factory ZR2 crossmember, after he notched it for transmission pan clearance and moved it 211/42 inches back. A GM Performance Parts stand-alone transmission controller mounted in the engine compartment runs the 4L80E transmission.

Mike knew the best horsepower upgrade he could make to his ZR2's 4.3L V-6 was to replace it with a V-8. Out came the V-6 and in went a '99 5.7L LS1 from a Corvette (weighs less than the V-6!) on custom engine mounts. To keep things simple Mike augmented the original V-6 radiator with Flex-a-lite's 210 low-profile fan system. The battery was replaced with a smaller Odyssey unit in a custom mount so the air-intake tube made from the V-6 parts could be fitted with a mass airflow sensor and a K&N air filter. The engine now runs off a Corvette PCM that Mike custom programmed to retain all required emissions hardware and diagnostics capability. He must not have been satisfied with the 291 hp available at the wheels so he added a 100hp shot of nitrous controlled by an NX electronic throttle-position monitor and a MSD RPM window switch to really get those BFGs spinning!

Mike isn't afraid to let his LS1 engine point out the weaknesses in the ZR2's drivetrain. During a particularly hard romp session on the dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan, Mike spit out the ZR2's stock 1310 series CV-joint-equipped front driveshaft. Rather than just replace it with a production ZR2 driveshaft, Mike built a longer shaft using a custom front output flange he made for the NVG233 to accept a 1350-series CV-joint-equipped driveshaft. Since the upgrade he hasn't had anymore driveshaft failures, but now he has blown up the front differential. The part we don't understand is, how has the rear driveshaft lasted this long with the stock 1310 U-joints?

The Corvette upgrades on this ZR2 don't stop under the hood. Passengers now sit in full-power leather seats from the same car that donated the engine. These seats aren't what we'd consider bolt-in, but Mike was able to make them work by using the lower half of the original S-10 seat mount with the upper half of the Corvette mount. Mike completed his ZR2's Corvette theme by installing the Corvette steering wheel into his truck while retaining a functional airbag. Even with the engine swap Mike has kept all the factory gauges functional.

All ZR2's use the 811/42-inch ring gear 10-bolt with 30-spline axles and a Gov-Lok differential. Mike's truck rolled off the assembly line with 3.73 gears but he plans to exchange those for 4.10s and an Eaton E-Locker now that he's running the 4L80E with its higher first gear (2.48:1) than that of the 4L60E (3.06:1).

If you're getting psyched to drop an LS1 into your own S-10, keep in mind that even with a 5-inch BDS suspension lift and custom engine mounts, Mike needed to rework the LS1's aluminum oil pan to snake it around the IFS crossmember and front axle. Mike started with an LS1 Camaro oil pan and cut away everything but the pan rails. Then he welded sections of aluminum plate together to form the new pan to "fill the hole" under the engine.

Depending on the terrain, you'll find 33x12.50R15 BFG Mud-Terrains, 285/75R16 Goodyear Wrangler AT/S, or 33x14.00 sand-paddle tires filling the space provided by the 5-inch BDS lift kit that Mike put on in his own garage. Mike mounted the Goodyears on 16-inch Pontiac wheels to use as snow tires during the Michigan winters. The Mud-Terrains get used everywhere else and the paddles are swapped on when Mike plays in the dunes.

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