My favorite movie of all time is The Road Warrior, a film about the post-apocalyptic world and a guy who is trying to survive and find fuel for his supercharged muscle car while evading maniac marauders (almost sounds like a visit to Los Angeles). From that show I got two things: Every vehicle must be able to survive after the end of the world, and superchargers are really cool (even fake clutch-driven superchargers like Mad Max’s Police Interceptor). So when I heard about Chevrolet Performance’s new supercharged LSA crate engine I knew it was time to build a truck ready to cruise the wasteland.
The LSA engine is commonly found in the Cadillac CTS-V and the new Chevy Camaro ZL1. It is a supercharged 6.2L (that’s 376 ci), and in stock form it pumps out 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque (I say “in stock form” because this engine has plenty of aftermarket support to push it up to 700-1,000 hp). Plus, Chevy has just released a crate engine package of the LSA in its E-Rod setup offering street-legal use in many smog-required vehicles. The engine package isn’t cheap at around $13,000, but then again when you consider this type of power from all new parts with a 24-month or 50,000-mile warranty and with lots of OEM testing behind it, you realize it’s actually a pretty good deal. Also it can be ordered from your local Chevrolet dealer or through many parts houses such as Summit Racing Equipment. Most smaller crate engine boutiques charge similar or more for comparable power, and you would need to spend $55,000-$65,000 to get a Camaro or Caddy with this engine—and they don’t even have a transfer case!
An engine this cool needs a good home. Some of you may recall I had an ’86 Chevy army truck that we documented in the Operation Army Truck buildup series back in 2004. That was a good truck, and it really bummed me out when some Los Angeles lowlifes stole it. I didn’t know I wanted another one of these trucks until I saw this LSA crate engine and the gears started turning. These ex-military CUCV (Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle) trucks are great starting points for an off-road project. Many come with a strong TH400 automatic transmission, a 1-ton Dana 60 front axle, and a Corporate 14-bolt rear axle, both with 4.56 gears and the rear a Detroit Locker. The downfall of these trucks is their less-than-impressive 6.2L diesel engines. They aren’t bad, depending on what you compare them to. Kind of like how gas at $2.50 isn’t “bad.” They are heavy, have little power, and are somewhat finicky. I had added a turbo to my old ’86, and it still wasn’t going to blow the doors off any wasteland-roaming marauders. I wanted a new (old) army truck project with a new (new) supercharged engine to devour the desolate doomsday roads (or mud hole, rock climb, backwoods two-track), and that’s just what I got.
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1. Chevrolet Performance introduced the E-Rod emissions-compliant crate engine program a few years back. It was groundbreaking with the ability to legally swap these engines into many rigs that are required to pass smog tests. When I saw the LSA supercharged version at last year’s SEMA show I was drooling and dreaming of big power under the hood of an off-road truck. Chevy currently offers LC9 5.3L and LS3 6.2L engines in this E-Rod variant in addition to the LSA.
2. Keith Bailey at Off-Road Connection (ORC) in Fultondale, Alabama, told me about an ’86 Chevy K30 military truck very similar to the one stolen from me a few years back. It didn’t run but was complete. After getting the green light to do the project at ORC, I made the purchase. We started by getting the old diesel running to make sure the transmission and rest of the drivetrain was OK. This required a new fuel pump, a part I didn’t want to buy, but it was good to know that the TH400 worked well.
3. The truck would have been much easier to swap an engine into at stock height, but we wanted to wheel it, so before we started thinking about the engine we added a 6-inch Skyjacker lift kit. We documented the whole buildup for a few episodes of Dirt Every Day on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSU2lvRWeYw).
4. The Skyjacker kit has all new leaf springs front and rear and included the drop pitman arm and steering arm block to the front. We are running the new M95 monotube shocks and Offroad Design heavy-duty front shackles.
5. New U-bolts front and rear are also a must, as you don’t want to reuse old U-bolts since they stretch. The Skyjacker kit includes U-bolts. We added the rear high-clearance bolts from Offroad Design that have the nuts at the top of the springs for better off-road clearance.
6. Wayne Howse was the head mechanic on this job, and he didn’t waste a second of the day. He was slinging wrenches and spinning sockets, and when old parts didn’t comply he threw fire their way until they fell off the Alabama Army Truck.
7. After our lift was complete we decided to keep going in order to prep for the upcoming power program under the hood. A new set of Yukon chromoly front axleshafts and Super Joints were prepped for the front axle. Outer stubs and hubs were upgraded from 30-spline to 35.
8. The military army trucks are pretty awesome to start with since there are lots of upgrades for these 1-ton trucks (the military actually rated them 11⁄4-ton due to their heavy suspension) and they come with beefy parts and a locking rear differential. We called 4Wheel Parts and got a front Detroit Locker to match the rear Detroit. Howse swapped the ring gear over and added new Yukon bearings, plus repacked the hubs and added new seals.
9. With the 6-inch lift we cleared 38-inch BFGoodrich KM2 Mud-Terrain tires on 17x9 Level 8 ZX wheels. These tires and wheels came from Discount Tire Direct and were shipped mounted, aired up, and balanced! The wheels also have an optional bolt-on scratch guard for off-road protection. We bolted the spare in the bed with a TireGate universal tire mount since we didn’t want it under the bed like the factory spare.
10. We know what you’re thinking. Where is the Cadillac engine we started this story with? Well, here it is in a new Cadillac CTS-V that we drag-raced before and after the engine swap. See the results on Dirt Every Day.
11. In a matter of days we got our old truck running, took it wheeling, added a lift kit and tires, took it wheeling, drag-raced a Cadillac, swapped in a front locker and axleshafts, and again went wheeling. The truck worked much better off-road, but the old 6.2L was destined for the dumpster. Three days from when we first laid eyes on the project vehicle it was lifted and lightened with an empty engine bay.
12. If there is one recommendation for any engine swap, it is to do the dirty work first. And by “dirty work” I mean clean up the old truck before you stuff a shiny new engine in there. I invested in a few cans of Gunk engine degreaser and a pressure washer to get the engine bay shiny and grime-free.
13. Why do they call it a crate engine? Because it comes in a crate! Of course, they could call it a great engine, because it felt as great as Christmas morning when we opened the big wooden box to find the shiny new LSA staring back at us. Though similar in design to the normal GM LS series engines you find in Chevy and GMC trucks, the supercharged LSA has a massive intake with integrated charge air cooler built in. This is like a small radiator that is built into the intake and cools the compressed air after it gets pushed through the supercharger.
14. The crank also has a unique bolt pattern, so we sourced a special flex plate and torque converter from TCI to go between the LSA and TH400 automatic. The flex plate has an eight-bolt crank pattern and both a 10.75 and 11.063 torque converter bolt pattern. Two yellow caps cover the inlet and outlet ports for the internal charge air cooler.
15. The LSA E-Rod crate engine comes with two sets of exhaust manifolds for center and rear dump exhaust systems; we chose the rear dump. ORC made simple bushing-style motor mounts.
16. We hate to leave you hanging, but tune in next month when we show you more about how we stuffed a supercharged Caddy engine in an old Army truck.