An Engine Swap Revolution is Coming

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We’ve come a long way

In 1990, buying a 10-year-old car or engine swap all but guaranteed that you would be purchasing some carbureted, Clean-Air-Act-choked, Malaise Monstrosity. If you wanted to perform an engine swap, nothing would make sense that was between 5-20 years old because of the emissions equipment that had been haphazardly slapped onto its ECU and exhaust. It was pretty much pointless.

Fast forward a bit, and a common sentiment in the more meme-ish corner of the automotive community is a call to “LS1 everything,” as in “perform an LS1 engine swap into any possible automotive opportunity.” This gets its steam from the general virility and overall venerability of the LS platform, and its compact size making it easy to swap into an incredibly high number of applications. It’s a great alternative to brute force like the Windsor 351 or high-horsepower turbocharged builds like the Toyota 2JZ or Nissan RB26. The LS1 is already super popular in Miata engine swaps, old BMW swaps, 240SX swaps, the list goes on. But it’s about to get a whole lot more popular. Why, you ask? It’s about to get a whole lot cheaper.

engine swap
LS engine swap in a BMW 3-series. Nice.

Super swapper

When the LS1 was introduced in the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette, it blew away its LT1 predecessor with increased horsepower, torque, efficiency, and technology, and decreased weight to boot. It was then sold in immense numbers in the Corvette: over 248,000 Corvette LS1s were sold between 1997 and 2004, before the LS6 saw its debut. Additionally, over 92,000 Camaros were blessed with LS1 power over their 4th generation run. Production information isn’t available on Firebird/Trans Am models, but based on what I can find I’m going to estimate they sold about 4,000 LS1 models per year between 1998-2002.

With that estimation, we end up with exactly 350,000 LS1 motors (not including any truck variations of the same small-block architecture) sold in the US over that time period. This is accelerated by the fact that I don’t believe any of these cars (with the exception of some special edition Firebirds) are going to be future classics. The car wrapped around the motor was the only thing stopping enthusiasts from getting their hands on a cheap engine swap… until now. Or soon. But ‘until soon‘ doesn’t sound as good.

A new challenger appears

Why, other than through use and wear, do cars depreciate? Because automotive design is typically iterative, and when something better comes out that improves on a previous version, they can’t hold the same value on the used market. The new LT1 engine introduced in the 2014 C7 Corvette is better than the LS1 in almost every way, in the same way that the LS1 replaced the (previous)outgoing LT1. GM is also producing more Corvettes than they were with the LS1, at an average pace of 35,000 models per year. The Camaro received the LT1 in SS trim for the 2016 model year, and though production numbers aren’t available yet, estimation puts them on pace for a whopping 56,000 models built in 2016. V8 models typically make up about 25% of sales, so that means 14,000ish LT1 Camaros were produced in 2016, which is insane. This is going to be an engine swap game-changer.

Eventually, this mass-produced LT1 is going to flood the used market, and LS1 prices (when no longer such a commodity) are going to hit an all-time low. I think this will happen around 2018-2019, when the last valuable F-Body, fourth generation Camaros are displaced by the infinitely better, but equally plasticky, fifth generation style. Then, every fourth car on the road will eventually have an intake manifold that reads CORVETTE in hot red paint. As they say on the internet, LS1 engine swap all the things.


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