The Chevy LS engine has become the de facto engine swap suggestion for anyone seeking to add power to their existing platform, regardless of where the original vehicle might have been built or how many cylinders it left the factory with. It’s easy enough to understand why: the LS V8 is relatively compact thanks to its OHV design, aluminum construction helps keep the weight down, and so many people have done this swap that a vast wealth of experience is available to draw from when planning your own engine surgery.
Still, the LS doesn’t have to be the go-to drop-in whenever you’re looking for more power. There are a number of other very popular swaps out there that have consistently crossed company lines to deliver reliable and fairly affordable horses, each with their own unique advantages and unusual quirks. Really, why not put a Honda B-series in your Mini?
We looked for some popular non-LS engine swaps you’re likely to find at your local race track, but let us know in the comments if we missed a trend.
- Honda K-Series
If you own a Honda, chances are you’ve thought more than once about dropping a K20 between the front fenders. The 2.0-liter, K20A four-cylinder was a very popular motor in Japan, appearing in the Honda Civic Type R and the Integra Type R before making the leap across the ocean to star in the Acura RSX Type S engine bay as the K20A2. The A2 variant was good for about 200 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, produced 142 lb-ft of torque, and it featured variable valve VTEC fun for both intake and exhaust (along with intake camshaft phasing). Later versions of the K20 gained displacement but not necessarily power (K23A1, K24A), with extra twist offered by 2.4-liter versions of the engine found in the Acura TSX.
If you expand your horizons to include a host of JDM K-Series motors you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the subtle differences found in a motor that was sold in everything from compact hatchbacks to full-size minivans. Still, you could stick to just what was delivered in the US and be happy with a sizable boost in output for your Civic, Accord, Integra, or base RSX. The K20 isn’t limited to find a home in Honda products, either – the four-cylinder has powered Miatas, Toyota AE86 Corollas, even RX-7s. There’s a huge amount of aftermarket support for the K-Series, and while it’s not the cheapest engine out there (and almost always requires third-party components to deal with shifter position and other details), it’s incredibly reliable.
- Ford 5.0 V8
Before the LS stole its thunder, the 5.0-liter HO V8 made famous by the Ford Mustang was one of the most popular options for anyone looking to quickly and cheaply boost performance with a swap. On paper the specs looks less than impressive in a modern context: 225 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque from five liters of displacement is a far cry from what the slightly larger LS was able to deliver in later years. The 5.0 happens to respond very well to even light modifications to its breathing and exhaust, however, which meant the factory numbers were merely a starting point.
Almost any vehicle you can think of with a rear-wheel drive chassis layout has had a 5.0 stuffed into it at one time or another, particularly since parts cars (wrecked Mustangs, later-model Explorer SUVs, some Lincoln coupes) are cheap to buy and make it easy to strip out all the supporting wiring, sensors, and little parts you need to make the swap work. It’s also a favorite amongst kit car builders, particularly Cobra replicas that used the Mustang frame as a starting point, and its narrow design made it much easier to work with than the modular 4.6 and current 5.0-liter Ford engines that succeed it. The downside? The V8 is fairly heavy given its output, and can negatively impact the weight balance of your project.
- Nissan SR20DET
Looking for a relatively compact turbocharged engine? The Nissan SR20DET certainly fits the bill, what with its 2.0-liters of displacement and baseline 205 horsepower / 203 lb-ft of torque rating . The motor itself was never offered in the U.S. or Canada but instead found fame in Japan where it was a staple of the 180SX and Silvia (sold here as the 240SX). Naturally, importing the SR20DET and replacing the naturally-aspirated KA24E/DE found in the American Nissan 240SX became a cottage industry, but the turbo four is also super straightforward to embed inside almost any rear-wheel drive platform sourced from the land of the rising sun, including classic Datsuns (510 and Z), the Mazda RX-7, the Mazda Miata, and even the BMW 3 Series and Volvo 122S. It was also sold in a number of front-wheel drive vehicles, which makes it a versatile option for pullers, too. Inexpensive to buy and cheap to install, you can get 350 horses out of a tuned SR20DET without much investment.
- Chevrolet Small-Block V8
Bet you were wondering when we’d get to this one. Before the LS came along, the Bowtie was well-represented in the swap community thanks to the ubiquity of its small block V8. Available in a range of displacements and outputs, whether you’re rocking a 327, a 350, or a 305, you know what you’re getting with this workhorse of a motor. Hot rodders have made the 350 cubic inch SBC their powertrain of choice, but moving beyond the hot rodding world, the small block has also given life to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of classic trucks and SUVs that had been saddled with tepid OEM motors too complex, rare, or frustrating to repair. No one’s surprised when you lift the hood on an International, Jeep, or Land Cruiser and find a SBC.
- Toyota 2JZ-GTE
Toyota’s 2JZ-GTE is a legend when it comes to performance potential, and while American audiences were introduced to the silky-smooth 3.0-liter straight six in the fourth-generation Supra Turbo, the motor has been co-opted by legions of builders seeking to light up the rear tires. The Japanese market benefited from the 2JZ-GTE being installed in a number of sedans and coupes, and while stocks were once plentiful pricing has gone up due to the opportunity to coax nearly 500 turbocharged horsepower from the stock internals without having to make major modifications (a big improvement over the factory 320 horsepower rating). The easiest swap candidates for the 2JZ include any rear-wheel drive Toyota or Lexus, but enterprising individuals have introduced BMW sedans, apex seal victim RX-7s, and Nissan 240SX’s to the joys of inline forced induction.