Some say that gearing can make up for engine deficiencies, while others repeat the old adage “There is no replacement for displacement.” But if you’re looking for a good time might I suggest getting blown.
Last month I started telling you about this new project truck that I’m building with the guys from The Off-Road Connection in Fultondale, Alabama. I used to own an ’86 Chevy K30 military truck until someone decided that they needed it more than I did. I didn’t think I wanted another one until I learned about Chevrolet Performance’s new E-Rod version of the LSA supercharged 6.2L V-8 engine. This engine pumps out 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque, enough to huck a fullsize truck up stupid climbs and across sticky mud pits. I was drooling and dreaming of something new to build that would be the perfect home for a blown small-block.
Enough horsepower to huck a fullsize truck across sticky mud pits
I wanted a truck that the engine would fit in easily, something with strong axle and drivetrain components already in place, and if it had a bowtie on the grille, all the better for ease of adaption. The military Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles (CUCV) are a great starting point. Based on mid ’80s Chevy Blazers and K30 trucks, these are often stripped down vehicles with lackluster 6.2L diesels under the hood and frequently low miles when released to the public.
Since I used to own a pickup version (known in the military as an M1008) I initially thought I wanted a Blazer (aka M1009), but then I came across another pickup that was too good a deal to pass up. The Chevy military pickups have larger 1-ton axles than the Blazers and a TH400 automatic that is strong enough to live behind the LSA.
This month we’ll finish stuffing the E-Rod engine in the Alabama Army Truck, but come back in 30 days to see how it works on and off road. Want to see even more Alabama Army Truck? Check out Dirt Every Day on YouTube for four episodes about the buildup www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSU2lvRWeYw
Step By Step
1. I mentioned it last month, but I can’t say it enough. If you’re doing an engine swap, take the time to clean out the engine bay after you have the old engine pulled out. We yanked out the 6.2L diesel anchor, covered the front of the TH400 with some plastic, and hosed out the firewall and inner fenders with Gunk degreaser before pressure-washing it all. This will make reassembly much easier.
2. Before the fresh new LSA engine found its new home, Wayne Howse jumped in the engine bay and eradicated unnecessary wires. The factory light wiring was kept along with some wires that ran inside to the ignition.
3. With the engine out we did a filter change on the TH400 and planned on a deep pan from TCI. We found that our factory pan was just as deep as the aftermarket pan, and we wanted a bung for a transmission cooler sending unit, so we kept the stock steel pan and added the bung. Only five of the bellhousing mounting bolt holes are used when attaching a TH400 to a late-model LS series engine.
4. A new PSC steering gearbox plumbed for ram assist and set up for crossover steering found its way onto the frame at this point. This is a good time to check for frame cracks around the steering when the engine is removed.
5. To alleviate any future frame cracks, we added an Offroad Design steering gearbox brace. This ties the steering box to the crossmember and reinforces the frame at a high-stress location.
6. The E-Rod LSA engine has plenty of power for a truck, but it still has the car steering pump used on the Cadillac CTS-V. We sourced a pump from PSC to upgrade the volume for the ram assist and hydro boost brakes (shown mocked up on the engine), but found that mounting it would require a new steering pump mount on the engine, and we didn’t have time to engineer the mount. We plan on doing this upgrade in the future, as the pump that came with the engine is just barely adequate for the large tires and brakes.
7. To adapt the LSA to the TH400 we used a TCI flex plate (PN 399756) and torque converter. We initially built the truck with a small 2,300-stall converter (foreground) but eventually swapped it for a 1,800- to 2,000-stall converter (back ground, PN 241502) after seeing very high transmission temps, which could be due to the smaller diameter and higher stall. We have since been advised that TCI PN 241602 would be the best for our application since it is designed for heavy torque loads and trucks.
8. We used a forklift to install the new lightweight aluminum crate engine, but we also removed the tires and wheels and lowered the truck down onto its drums and rotors to make it even easier to work on. We bolted the engine to the transmission and then began mocking up our motor mounts to the frame.
9. The motor mounts built by The Off-Road Connection use a spring bushing and then have a plate that boxes in the frame and gussets to the tube the spring bushings are inside of. All the factory diesel motor mounts were removed.
10. The Offroad Design crossover steering draglink is seen in the foreground, while the low-hanging alternator is also visible. When eventually adapting the PSC power steering pump, we may move the alternator to higher ground to protect it from mud intrusion.
11. Between the motor mounts, a bolt-in crossmember was added from Pacific Fabrication. Pacific offers a variety of crossmember systems for late ’60s to late ’80s GM trucks getting LS engines swapped in. We routed the front axle vent line up through the crossmember and added the PSC ram assist to the tie rod to help turn the bigger tires.
12. The E-Rod engine from Chevrolet Performance is a smog-legal crate engine, but in order to qualify you need to run the supplied catalytic converters close to the engine. The four cats help keep the engine whisper-quiet when idling.
13. Behind the cats, Wayne Howse added a pair of Dynomax Ultraflow mufflers. We had a full builder kit for the exhaust but used just a small portion of it on something short and sweet.
14. We cut holes in the frame and the lower bedsides and dumped the exhaust in front of the rear tires. This eliminates all the routing needed to get the pipes out the back of the truck.
15. To feed the healthy LSA we contacted Aeromotive for a full fuel system. The goal was new parts from tank to fuel rail. Aeromotive has all the plumbing needed to get the fuel delivered with ease. We chose all -8 AN fittings and steel braided hose.
16. The Aeromotive A1000 in-tank fuel pump is the heart of the lifeblood pumping system. The pump has a 100-micron stainless steel filter and is rated for supercharged engines up to 1,000 hp. I always prefer an in-tank fuel pump to keep the pump running cool when submerged.
17. We plumbed the fuel system from the fuel pump through a fuel filter, and then to an Aeromotive pressure regulator that we set to 58 psi for the LSA. The pressure regulator has a return line to the fuel cell and a single line to the engine (not shown) since the fuel rails are a non-return system.
18. The Aeromotive 20-gallon Stealth fuel cell is perfect for a recreational truck like this. It has a fuel level sending unit and a baffled sump, but is not a racing fuel cell. We mounted the cell in the bed of the truck and put a piece of UHMW plastic under it to prevent chaffing against the floor. Then we built a small steel frame around it to keep it from sliding around the bed. The fuel tank is vented to the evap canister that was supplied with the E-Rod engine.
19. The LSA engine uses a supercharger to compress the air charge into the engine, but this can increase the temperature of the charge, so a water-to-air charge air cooler is used after the supercharger to cool the air, making it denser for more power. The charge air cooler system uses coolant (separate from the engine cooling system) that flows through a reservoir (background) and a small Edelbrock heat exchanger. The heat exchanger mounts in front of the radiator and is cooled by airflow into the engine bay.
20. This is the small electric pump that is included in the LSA engine package to flow the coolant for the charge air cooler. We ordered the hose for the plumbing as well as the reservoir tank and heat exchanger from Summit Racing Equipment. In drag racing applications some drivers put ice water in the charge air cooler system to really drop temps.
21. In front of the engine we mounted a BeCool radiator. This radiator is a drop-in replacement from BeCool for this era truck (PN 86313). The aluminum radiator comes with dual 13-inch fans (controlled by the engine ECU) and measures 35 by 21 inches. It is a bolt-in replacement and is rated at 1,000 hp of cooler capacity. (Note: The Summit radiator hoses are incorrectly routed in this photo.)
22. BeCool has its own line of recommend coolant that we ran in the truck. It was after these photos that we found out our engine pulls coolant from the lower passenger-side engine inlet even though the thermostat is located there, so that was eventually attached to the bottom of the radiator, not the top.
23. In the cab, Howse was mounting our new Auto Meter gauges in a slick carbon fiber dash. The big red light on the right is our Check Engine light; a diagnostic port mounts to the bottom of the dash in case we need to run codes. The dash is from Summit and designed for mounting aftermarket gauges in these boxy Chevys. Don’t like carbon fiber? You can always paint it.
24. The Auto Meter gauges follow engine and transmission temp, oil pressure, and fuel level. A giant tach shows rpm. The coolest, though, is the speedometer—it is based on GPS! No more wondering what your speed is or swapping little gears to get the speedo correct. It also displays time, location, odometer, trip odometer, and hour meter.
25. That’s it for this month, folks. We still have more to tell you about how this happy healthy bundle of tire smoking joy made it in our Alabama Army Truck, but that’s going to have to wait until next month.