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The Cars Most in Need of an LS Swap

Engine swaps offer the chance to radically change a car’s personality (and seriously up the horsepower). And there’s no better option than GM’s LS engines. 

Small Block, Big Power

LS1 - media.chevrolet.com
LS1 - media.chevrolet.com

Ah, the LS swap. As trite as they’ve become, their popularity speaks to the results you get by dropping a Corvette engine into, well, just about anything. From juicing up underpowered sports cars to making dragstrip monsters out of your mom’s station wagon, GM’s LS motors have become the go-to engine swap for project cars in need of some extra horses.

What makes the LS so special? Beginning with the LS1 in the C5 Corvette, the small-block LS motor design was distinguished for its pushrod valves, as opposed the newer overhead cam designs. The in-block cam and two-valve set up lends the LS a small stature while still offering plenty of displacement. This allows the LS to fit in all sorts of tight engine bays, gracing even the smallest cars with absurd levels of V8 power.

Below, we list some of our favorite LS swap candidates. While the possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to LS swaps, these are the cars we felt could most benefit from the added horsepower from a roaring V8.

Mazda Miata

Mazda Miata with an LS3 - Speed Academy on youtube.com
Mazda Miata with an LS3 - Speed Academy on youtube.com

Yes, at this point even your grandma probably drives an LS swapped Miata, that’s how old hat this move is. But the primary weakness of the Miata has always been a lack of power from its dutiful 2.0L four-banger. Logically, people have sought a solution: chucking an LS V8 into the Miata’s engine bay. Obvious as it maybe, an LS swapped Miata is undeniably fun. Who wouldn’t want to finally take full advantage of the MX-5’s playful personality by giving the devil on your shoulder free reign to slingshot out of corners? Also, make sure to ask the kids parked outside the strip mall if your Miata sounds like a hairdresser’s car.

Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86

Subaru BRZ with an LS3 - Supercar Videos on youtube.com
Subaru BRZ with an LS3 - Supercar Videos on youtube.com

Like the Miata, the one consistent gripe of BRZ owners has been a weak engine. And yes, the 2022 update, with its new 2.4L, has addressed this issue by granting the BRZ additional horsepower. This doesn’t mean the first-gen BRZ wasn’t a good car, in fact, it was very good car that, with the added power is now truly great. As a LS swap candidate, the first-gen BRZ is among the best. The lightweight coupe offers excellent balance and spry handling that would be perfectly complimented by a roaring LS V8.

Porsche Cayman

Porsche Cayman with an LS3 - Driftworks on youtube.com
Porsche Cayman with an LS3 - Driftworks on youtube.com

Over the years, the 911’s little brother has notoriously been nerfed by Porsche in the power department. Thus, ensuring the 911’s supremacy in the lineup. Even with smaller engines, the Cayman is a Porsche through and through with impeccable handling and that near 50/50 mid-engine balance. Dropping in an LS grants that Cayman what it’s always wanted, the chance to out muscle a 911.

Mazda FD RX-7

LS Swapped Mazda RX-7 - Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp on youtube.com
LS Swapped Mazda RX-7 - Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp on youtube.comLS Swapped Mazda RX-7 - Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp on youtube.com

Some might call it blasphemy to replace the Mazda RX-7’s rotary engine with a V8. But, as cool as the rotary engine might sound, their reliability, efficiency, and workability leave a lot to be desired. An LS swapped RX-7 will certainly sound different, but it’ll also be faster. With an LS swapped RX-7 you combine the best in 90s Japanese design and loads of American horsepower. Such a car might have you calling up your buddies to form your own Midnight Club.

BMW E36

LS Swapped BMW E36 - Vehicle Build Threads on youtube.com
LS Swapped BMW E36 - Vehicle Build Threads on youtube.com

Beloved by aftermarket tuners, aging BMWs are renowned money pits, often thanks to the complicated and sometimes questionable engineering of their engines. One easy fix is to replace the straight-six with a V8 LS motor. The 90’s 3-Series, the E36, is an excellent candidate for an LS swap. A stiff chassis and a multi-link rear suspension make the E36 ripe for drifting, but even the most powerful M3 version of the E36 only made 240 horsepower (in the US version, at least). This is a great project car for no other reason that it’ll be fairly cheap to piece together. Currently, you can find a 90’s 3-Series for around $7,000-8,000. And once you’ve gotten your new LS in there, you’re just a suspension upgrade away from some seriously driftastic Bimmer madness.

DeLorean DMC-12

LS Swapped DeLorean DMC-12 - RegularCars on youtube.com
LS Swapped DeLorean DMC-12 - RegularCars on youtube.com

One of the great automotive flops, the story of the DeLorean DMC-12 is a tale of what might have been. The DMC-12 had been intended as the next level in sports cars. Gullwing doors, stainless steel paneling, a rear-engine layout, the DMC-12 had the look. But design compromises and production issues doomed the car. Not least of its missed opportunities was the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) V6 that DeLorean settled on for an engine. The 2.85L engine only made 130 horsepower, making the DMC-12 comically slow for its sports car pretentions. An LS swap is just what this 80s classic needs to live up to it’s potential. And while it’s not as fast as a plutonium powered time machine, an LS swapped DeLorean should have no problem hitting 88 mph.

Volkswagen Beetle

LS Swapped Volkswagen Beetle - @ProConverters on twitter.com
LS Swapped Volkswagen Beetle - @ProConverters on twitter.com

What could be a more unassuming sleeper than a VW bug with an LS in back? Especially the case with older models, the Beetle’s little four-cylinder boxers where easy to work on and plenty reliable, but powerful they were not. Rather than do the sensible thing and swap in a Subaru engine, take the more extreme route and get swap in an LS. If you’re a fan of Mighty Mouse, Alanis Morissette’s 90s hit “Isn’t it Ironic,” and burning enormous smoky burnouts in small German cars, then your Beetle needs an LS.

C2 Corvette

LS Swapped C2 Chevy Corvette - Frankie Martinez on youtube.com
LS Swapped C2 Chevy Corvette - Frankie Martinez on youtube.com

Why not go back in time and give the second-generation Corvette some LS power of its own? Why indeed? You don’t need Doc Brown’s DMC-12 to do it, either. Just get yourself a C2 and the engine from a C5, C6, or C7 or really any of the 10 LS motors (or even the successor LT1). Yes, like the Miata swap, putting an LS in classic cars has been done to death. But we love the C2’s classic design, including those dope pop up headlights. So let’s make a great thing even greater by upping the horsepower with some LS goodness.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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