Junkyard Engine Swap Challenge: 1961 Dodge Lancer, You Choose the Engine

Here’s a challenge that’s going to feel just like an episode of our favorite show: Roadkill Junkyard Engine Swap Challenge! Imagine that you’re locked in a big car graveyard with the ultimate set of tools, and there happens to be a shop onsite that will fabricate any driveshaft you want. You have a cool old car, a generous selection of interesting engine donors, and you will drive out of the yard in your new ride after selecting the best drivetrain. Let’s start by taking a look at the car.

42 - 1961 Dodge Lancer in Colorado Junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
Yes, it’s the heartbreakingly lovable 1961 Dodge Lancer that we saw in a Denver self-service yard a few months back. The Chrysler A-Body was a versatile, simple rear-wheel-drive platform that sold in the millions during the 1960s and 1970s, and there’s room in the engine compartment for cutting-and-pasting some pretty hefty V8s. The car has a Slant-6 engine already, and we’ll allow the option of keeping that engine if you just can’t abide the idea of ditching a Leaning Tower of Power. So, the 101-horsepower, 170-cubic-inch straight-six is Choice #1 in the challenge.

Choice #2: 1985 Dodge Ram, 360-cubic-inch V8 and 3-speed automatic transmission
Power: 185 hp
Craziness: Very low
Purist rage: Very low

If you want to be very conservative and traditional about your Lancer engine swap, here’s your choice: a plain old Chrysler LA-series small-block V8, with ancestry stretching all the way back to the early 1960s. This truck even has exhaust headers, so you’d have that going for you.

Mopar 318 - 94 Dakota donor 2
Choice #3: 1994 Dodge Dakota, 5.2-liter V8 and 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 220 hp, 300 lb-ft
Craziness: Low
Purist rage: Very low

Mopar 318 - 94 Dakota donor 1
The 5.2 Magnum V8 is a member of the same engine family as the 360 in the ’85 Ram we just saw; it’s the venerable 318 with roller camshaft, electronic fuel injection, and other modernization touches. It will start up in any weather, idle smoothly, and get decent fuel economy compared to its old-school ancestors.

Mopar 318 - 94 Dakota donor 3
What makes this swap more fun is the 5-speed manual transmission. Yes, first gear is a bit grannified, but 220 horses and a five-on-the floor would be enjoyable in a 2,595-pound Lancer.

Mopar 2.5 Turbo II - 89 LeBaron Donor Car 3
Choice #4: 1989 Chrysler LeBaron GTC, turbocharged straight-4 and 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 174 hp, 200 lb-ft
Craziness: Medium
Purist rage: Slow boil

Mopar 2.5 Turbo II - 89 LeBaron Donor Car 1
Chrysler built some very potent turbocharged machines with their 2.2 and 2.5 four-cylinder engines, and the 174-horse Turbo II out of this member of the K-Car family would make a lightweight Lancer go pretty well.

Mopar 2.5 Turbo II - 95 Dakota Donor Car 1
We know, you’re screaming about how the LeBaron GTC is front-wheel-drive, and that we must be total idiots for thinking that the 2.5 Turbo II could be an easy swap into a rear-wheel-drive Lancer. Well, this very same wrecking yard has a 1995 Dodge Dakota with the naturally-aspirated 2.5 bolted up to a 5-speed rear-wheel-drive transmission— a little-known application for this engine, but it really did happen.

Mopar 2.5 Turbo II - 95 Dakota Donor Car 2
So by yanking the engine out of the LeBaron and the transmission out of the Dakota, you’d have a lightweight turbocharged powertrain setup for your Lancer, which would become a nimble handlin’ machine (by 1961 compact-car standards, provided you modified some junkyard sway bars to fit).

Jeep 4.0 - 95 Cherokee Donor Car 2
Choice #5: 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 4.0-liter AMC straight-six with 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 190 hp, 225 lb-ft
Craziness: Low
Purist rage: Simmer

Jeep 4.0 - 95 Cherokee Donor Car 1
The XJ Cherokee was made for a thousand years, more or less, and U-Wrench-It yards are overflowing with examples equipped with the sturdy 4.0-liter AMC straight-six pushrod engine. Better still, plenty of these trucks are two-wheel-drive machines with Aisin AX15 5-speed transmissions. Dropping this setup in the Lancer would keep the swap in the Mopar family (unless you’re a hair-splitting purist who sees American Motors as an unwanted adoptee into the Chrysler family, in which case you are going to be very angry at the engines that come next in this list), while keeping the car’s inline-six purity.

GM LL8 - 02 Trailblazer Donor Car 2
Choice #6: 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, 4.2-liter DOHC straight-six with 4-speed automatic transmission
Power: 270 hp, 275 lb-ft
Craziness: Medium
Purist rage: DEFCON 3

GM LL8 - 02 Trailblazer Donor Car 1
The GMT360 family of trucks, which included the 2002-2009 Trailblazer/Envoy/Bravada/Ascender/Rainier/9-7X, came equipped with a sophisticated dual-overhead-cam inline-six that made V8 power levels. We’re not even including a small-block GM V8 in this challenge (despite the fact that this junkyard had plenty of 305s, 350s, Vortec 4.8/5.3/5.7/etc. engines), because I am putting together a 1941 Plymouth with a Trailblazer engine. Embrace the glorious blasphemy of a Chevy-swapped Chrysler that isn’t a V8!

Ford 351M - 77 Cougar Donor Car 2
Choice #7: 1977 Mercury Cougar, 351M V8 with 3-speed automatic transmission
Power: You don’t want to know
Craziness: Medium
Purist rage: WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS??!?? (head explodes)

Ford 351M - 77 Cougar Donor Car 1
A few rows over from the Lancer sits this 1977 Mercury Cougar sedan, an intensely brown Malaise Era machine with the not-so-beloved 351M V8 engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission known for popping into reverse on its own. Sure, it’s just 130 horsepower and you’d be chased out of town by a pitchforks-and-torches-wielding mob of Mopar zealots… but sometimes you need to be perverse.

Choice #8: 1992 Volvo 244, B230F SOHC straight-four with 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 114 hp, 136 lb-ft
Craziness: Medium
Purist rage: Hostile befuddlement

This junkyard had neither a 16-valve nor turbocharged version of Volvo’s workhorse slant-four engine, but it would be a simple matter to go back and upgrade your Swedish-powered Lancer with the rod-throwing high-revving four-valves-per-cylinder head and/or the head-gasket-blowing mighty boost of the Volvo 740 Turbo’s induction system.

If you went with this engine choice, you’d be keeping both the slanted engine configuration and the manual transmission, so the case could be made that you’d be keeping true to the ’61 Lancer’s spirit with this swap.

BMW M42B18 - 95 E30 Donor Car 3
Choice #9: 1995 BMW 318i, M42B18 DOHC straight four with 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 138 hp, 129 lb-ft
Purist rage: Full rolling boil.

BMW M42B18 - 95 E30 Donor Car 1
The BMW E36 3-Series is an extremely common junkyard inmate, but the only one in this yard with a manual transmission was this four-cylinder version. 26 more horses than the Volvo engine in Choice #10, plus the same slant-four cylinder layout.

BMW M42B18 - 95 E30 Donor Car 2
The 5-speed manual transmission in the E36 318i is one of the sweetest-shifting units you’ll find in this or any junkyard.

GM 4.3 - 88 1500 Donor Car 2
Choice #10: 1988 Chevrolet 1500 pickup, 4.3-liter pushrod V6, 4-speed automatic transmission
Power: 150 hp, 230 lb-ft
Purist rage: Blood pressure elevated

GM 4.3 - 88 1500 Donor Car 1
The Chevrolet 90° V6 engine is not related to the Buick V6, being a shortened version of the small-block Chevy V8 rather than an abbreviated Buick 215 aka Rover V8. The 4.3-liter version makes plenty of torque and an enjoyable disagreeable exhaust note, and it’s no problem to find a T-5 manual transmission to put behind one (though this junkyard had none).

Toyota 7M - 88 Supra Donor Car 2
Choice #11: 1988 Toyota Supra, 7M-GE DOHC straight-six with 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 200 hp, 188 lb-ft
Purist rage: Tar and feathers

Toyota 7M - 88 Supra Donor Car 1
A lightweight dual-overhead-cam straight-six making 200 horses, replacing a primitive pushrod straight-six making 101 horses— what’s not to like about this swap? Try taking this swap to a Chrysler-centric car show and you’ll find out!

BMW M30B35 - Donor Car 2
Choice #12: 1988 BMW 735i, M30B35 DOHC straight-six with 4-speed automatic transmission
Power: 208 hp, 225 lb-ft
Purist rage: Brain bubbles

BMW M30B35 - Donor Car 1
For many years, BMW made some of the best straight-six engines in the world, and the M30 “Big Six” was in production for nearly three decades. The one in this E32 7-Series Autobahn dreadnaught isn’t quite as powerful as the Trailblazer six, but it’s a lot lighter and sounds like an angelic choir at full throttle. It shares the slant-six layout with the Lancer’s original engine, which almost compensates for the notoriously flaky 1980s BMW engine electronics. You can find manual transmissions for these engines if you’re persistent.

Ford 5.4 DOHC - 01 Navigator Donor Car 2
Choice #13: 2001 Lincoln Navigator, 5.4-liter DOHC V8 with four-speed automatic transmission
Power: 300 hp, 355 lb-ft
Purist rage: Angry but respectful

Ford 5.4 DOHC - 01 Navigator Donor Car 1
The trucks of the late-1990s/early-2000s monstrous-SUV boom are showing up in self-serve junkyards in large numbers now, and most of them got there because the interiors got ooky and the bodies got dented, not because the engines crapped out. The most power you’re likely to find at U-Wrench-It is going to be in a truck like this, and so here’s the most power of all of your Junkyard Engine Swap Challenge choices today. In a 2,595-pound Lancer, this engine with the two-wheel-drive transmission out of any number of discarded Town Cars and Crown Vics would be plenty of power. Squeezing a wide DOHC V8 into that engine compartment will take a lot of hacking and slashing of metal, but you could make it happen.

GM LZE 3.5 - 10 Impala Donor Car 2
Choice #14: 2010 Chevrolet Impala, 3.5-liter pushrod V6 with 5-speed manual transmission
Power: 242 hp, 240 lb-ft
Purist rage: Tsar Bomba

GM LZE 3.5 - 10 Impala Donor Car 1
Do you want by far the best power-to-weight ratio of any engine among these choices and a close-to-bolt-on manual-trans option? If so, the GM High Value V6 is for you. The latest in a series of GM 60° pushrod V6 engines that began way back in the early 1980s with the Citation’s 2.8, the 3.5 in this 7-year-old Impala is amazingly small for its output and features variable valve timing. The LZE’s bellhousing bolt pattern is the same as the one on the common-as-dirt rear-wheel-drive 1980s S-10s/Sonomas/Hombres and Camaros/Firebirds with the 2.8 V6, several of which are in this yard, so no worries about the front-wheel-driveness of the donor car (other than the worries about making the modern engine-control computer from the Impala happy with a different transmission, but you’ll solve that).

21 - 1961 Dodge Lancer in Colorado Junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
There you have it: One great car, 14 engine choices including four V8s, five L6s, two V6s, and three L4s. Detroit engines, German engines, Japanese engines, even a Kenosha engine. Pick your Junkyard Engine Swap Challenge favorite, and explain your pick in the comments below.
Choice #1: The Chrysler 170 Slant-6 and 3-on-the-floor manual transmission that’s in the Lancer now
Choice #2: Carbureted Chrysler 360 V8 and automatic transmission
Choice #3: Fuel-injected Chrysler 5.2 V8 and 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #4: Chrysler 2.5 Turbo II L4 with Dakota RWD 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #5: AMC 4.0 L6 with 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #6: GM Vortec 4200 L6 with automatic transmission
Choice #7: Ford 351M V8 with automatic transmission
Choice #8: Volvo B230F L4 with 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #9: BMW M42B18 L4 with 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #10: Chevrolet 4.3 V6 with 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #11: Toyota 7M-GE with 5-speed manual transmission
Choice #12: BMW M30B35 L6 with automatic transmission
Choice #13: Ford 5.4 InTech V8 with automatic transmission
Choice #14: GM LZE 3.5 V6 with S-10 RWD 5-speed manual tranmission

Something to Say?

51 thoughts on “Junkyard Engine Swap Challenge: 1961 Dodge Lancer, You Choose the Engine

  1. I long been a fan of the Labaron and the Tubo II so my vote goes to #4. There is TONS of power potential and the light weight of the engine will compensate for the lower power. BUT, taking that transverse engine and getting it going on a rear wheel drive, that is just genius and would be awesome in so many ways. Getting a domestic 4 banger going…. would LOVE to see that.

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  2. #5, the AMC 4.0 l6… BUT not with that five speed, those things are made out of Popsicle sticks and the dashed dreams of the early ’80’s USSR. The four speed automatics you find behind these engines are much better, mucho much better!

    Also, go for the ’91 or newer 4.0L, the early engines (Renix0 have wiring issues, sensor madness, and a radiator system incorporated a plastic filler bottle on the firewall, which once broken, led to overheating and blown headgaskets, among other issues.

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  3. The Mopar 2.2 Turbo II has been a background thought of mine in one of these cars for a long time.

    Not one of the available choices, but a Mopar 2.4 16-valve with a turbo (SRT-4, etc) is also a possibility. A bellhousing from a 5-speed 4cyl Jeep Liberty will get you bolted up to anything in that Aisin AX15 family (like the Toyota R154 or the GM MA-5).


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  4. Choice #6: GM Vortec 4200 L6 with automatic transmission

    It would be an excellent chance to show the people what is required when swapping in a modern drivetrain that doesn’t have a lot of aftermarket support into a classic vehicle. The concepts and problem solving shown would be easily applied to any modern drivetrain/older vehicle swap a viewer could want.

    Though, to be fair, it would be much more fitting if that 4200 went into Pigpen. To do it right, though, you’d have to adapt it to a manual trans, though, and that’s a bit more complicated than finding someone to make you a custom harness and flashing the computer. It’s something that I’d love to see, but including a manual trans swap would be too involved for a Roadkill episode. Sticking with a slushbox would allow it to fit into a Roadkill, though.

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  5. I vote #4 these engines are bad ass and highly underrated. These engines are seriously simple to tweak but very few performance parts out there so it would be interesting to see what madness you can come up with! Get a stage 5 computer and see how much boost that turbo can spin!

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  6. Definitely the #3, the 5.2 Magnum with the 5 speed. Even if you have to ditch the EFI and source regular carburetted goodness to throw on top, it would be a relatively straightforward swap and be loads of fun in the little Lancer/Dart. I believe Freiburger and Dulcich were involved in a build called ‘Junkyard Jewel – 400hp from a 318’, so there is plenty of potential in even the lowliest of Chrysler smallblocks!

    If that doesn’t work out, the little 170 cube leaning tower of power can always be cammed up and fitted with a twin-point ignition, long runner intake and four-barrel carb. Lots of fun and fairly simple given its already installed.

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  7. Choice #11: Toyota 7M-GE with 5-speed manual transmission
    Choice #12: BMW M30B35 L6 with automatic transmission
    Choice #13: Ford 5.4 InTech V8 with automatic transmission
    Choice #14: GM LZE 3.5 V6 with S-10 RWD 5-speed manual tranmission
    one of these will be fine 😉
    Craziness of supra engine in dodge its massive 😀
    M30B35 is good engine for everyone 🙂
    Ford 5.4 V8 poweeeeer :3
    and the GM 3.5 V6 ultimate power/weight choose 😉 🙂 🙂

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  8. Supra motor and trans. The L6 is fantastic when the Japanese do it. There’s no need to pass up the opportunity to build not just a weird car but one that actually works very well and isn’t just an ill mannered pile that is meant to poke pentastar nerds in the eye. This could turn into a very good car that does cross country, drag, autocross, and LSR, along with the daily 405 parking lot.

    Also, Murilee is a weirdo (Matadors and Lancers?) and I love it.

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  9. Always been a Mopar guy, not so much a slant-6 guy. So my first reaction is either the 318 Magnum or the 360. But boring. So backing up a little:

    Choice 1: dig up a turbo out of that yard to hang on the slant-6 that’s there. Unlike the 225 slant six everyone remembers, the much rarer 170 is a short stroke engine that actually will rev to the moon without hurting itself. That engine OWNED the two years NASCAR ran a compact car class. With a turbo and assuming its in good shape, in this car it would eat the lunch of any other engine on the list (unless you also boosted one of them). The beauty here is you get to put all your effort into the power adder, not just getting the junk to fit and barely run in the first place.

    Choice 2: the Jeep 4.0
    Choice 3: the BMW

    Common theme is keep it “6-in-a-row.”

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  10. I would do the 2.5l /5 Speed setup. But you have to take the 2.5 block from the Dakota as they are different than the FWD blocks. That lancer is really light, about the same as a sundance or similar, and they were peppy performers with the Turbo 4’s. Especially if you can find a turbo II setup.

    i would drive the hell out if it then.

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  11. I like choice #13 because we’ll roadkill, the most power, probably very difficult to do, a way different engine to work with, I really wana see that 5.4 in a small car because I know how powerful it feels in a f150, 250 and a navigatior!

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  12. Choice #6: GM Vortec 4200 L6 with automatic transmission
    If you could find what you need to make it manual it could be a blast in that car. I have an ’06 Trailblazer and an ’06 VW Rabbit. I have spent many an afternoon wondering what fun could be had with that vortec in a little hatchback. This swap into the old Lancer would be personally gratifying.

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  13. Dodge Lancer heck yeah!!!!! This was my very first car I ever owned. I had a 1962 Dodge Lancer with a 170 slant 6 and push button transmission. I loved this car and never should have sold it. I have been looking for another one since then. It ran great and went anywhere and everywhere. It was grey and had pleather tan bench seats, white wall tires and no A/C in the Texas sun and heat that is down right evil.
    Everyone knew me and the car. Some thought it was an old Jaguar others didn’t know what to think. It was so under powered and really needed the larger 225 but hey it was wheels. I lived in Houston Texas and bought the car from the original owner for $400.00. No dents, No rust and in really good shape and no radio it was an option in 62 and was deleted. I had all the paperwork including the leather key tag that came from the dealer. So i put my boombox on the back seat and down the road i went.
    If your going to do the build you have to do it right…. Keep it in the Mopar family and drop the Jeep 4.0 and a manual trans into it. It would love the power and it would be great to see this back on the road….. Id love to share some photos of mine….

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  14. The BMW M30. That’s a great engine, very stout, loves boost. I’m as much of a fan as anyone of the Volvo redblock but B230F is the worst redblock, a bmw M30 is like a redblock with two extra cylinders and a timing chain. As for some of the other choices, the 7MGE is in no way lightweight, it weighs more than the M30, and the M42 is junk, BTDT, stay away!

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  15. #1 170 Slantsix – But turbo her
    #3 Fuel-injected Chrysler 5.2 V8 and 5-speed manual transmission – because it just works
    #4 Chrysler 2.5 Turbo II L4 with Dakota RWD 5-speed manual transmission – And you can Keep the Name – since it is a Lancer using a Mitsubishi turbo 4…just like the new Mitsubishi Lancer…

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