Imagine you’re an editor of a magazine and you have been tasked with finding the coolest LS-powered vehicles at Holley’s LS Fest East. Sounds like a simple task, right? Well, an event of this size and magnitude, and with amazing cars at every turn, easy it is not.
The event offered over 1,800 cars, 15,000 spectators on Saturday alone, and 107 vendors on the midway. All of these numbers were record-breaking for the Holley crew. We only had two and a half days to cover the fairgrounds and find the elusive top five for your viewing pleasure.
Without further ado, here are our top-five LS swaps at Holley’s LS Fest East for 2019.
A day before the LS Fest began, this vehicle was already starting to grace social media in a big way. We saw it as we rolled into our hotel parking lot Thursday night, and our first thought was: “Hey look a postal Jeep,” followed by, “Dude, it has an LS in it.” We hopped out of the truck and made a beeline toward the owner and builder, David Stacy of Indiana.
David was looking for something different to build for LS Fest. He said, “One day I was driving down the road and a postal Jeep pulled out in front of me. I thought, ‘it’s not going to get any more different than that.’ ” With his mind made up, he began looking for the perfect mail hauler, and find one he did.
The first order of business was to get the old Iron Duke four-cylinder out and an LS in. David found an LS6 that he learned had to be rebuilt after they had already installed the engine. The mill was pulled due to a bad set of cam bearings that needed to be replaced. With the new bearings in place, David installed a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) stage-3 camshaft, BTR valve springs, Holley Mid-Rise intake, 42cc injectors, with a stock bottom-end.
You might think that the big V8 had to be shoe-horned in the little machine, however, this was not the case. According to David, it only took him and his 5-year-old son about five minutes to get the engine in the Jeep. David didn’t even need to massage the firewall or cut anything and says he has plenty of room. The only place that it gets tight is between the radiator and the water pump pulley. He did have to clearance some of the plastic on the fan shroud, but that’s about it. Even the 6L90 transmission fit without any problem. For the rearend, David went with an 8.8-inch Ford axle with 3.73 gears he got out of an Explorer. Guess what? The unit was 4-inches narrower than the stock Jeep axle and basically bolted right in.
As you can imagine, the little right-hand-drive Jeep received tons of attention at LS Fest, and Holley had already lined it up for a photoshoot the morning before the show even started. All weekend, people flocked around the small wonder to admire the work of art. “The response was outrageous. I couldn’t believe that many people were interested in a post office truck,” David said.
Unfortunately, the Jeep was having problems with the fuel system and wasn’t 100-percent, but don’t worry, David plans on having it back next year with an LSA supercharger and intends to air it out at the dragstrip. We think David should call it Airmail and just “send it” for next year.
Let The Good Times Roll: 1978 G20 Custom
Joe Ivans, Pete Johnson, and Doug Johnson showed up for LS Fest in a van from Greenwood, Indiana — this 1978 G20 Custom van was initially built by LRP way back in ’78. The only thing that would give it away on any given day was the fender-exit-exhaust protruding on the driver’s side. The rustic time-capsule was complete with a plush ’70s interior and a gold, brown, tan, and orange paint scheme with the perfect degree of patina.
Pete and Doug’s father originally bought the van for the small-block 400 engine and Turbo 350 transmission, which he wanted to use in his Nomad. The plan was to remove the engine and then take the van to the scrapyard. However, the guys had a better idea and decided to throw an LS in it and head out to LS Fest. Doug said, “We got bored and had a couple of projects that we were tired of working on, so we just pulled some parts off the shelf and put them on the van and had some fun.”
The engine in the van is a 5.3-liter aluminum block out of an Avalanche that was fitted with Chinese head studs, valve springs, pushrods, and an 80mm BorgWarner S480 turbo — yeah, you read that right. The turbo is out of Pete and Doug’s father’s salt flat racecar that is actually damaged. Even with a banged-up exhaust impeller, the van still cranks out an impressive 600 horsepower and drives fantastic. Doug said, “It drives perfectly. I can drive it down the road with one finger on the wheel. It does have the typical van body roll, but we didn’t want to spend money on any of the suspension. We did make sure the brakes were in good shape, though.” The 5,000-pound van went 13.90’s at 102 mph on only 4-pounds of boost.
As you can imagine, the van was another hot commodity at the show.
“The response at the show has been amazing. Everyone loves it.” Doug said, “It’s nothing special, it’s just something different that you don’t see every day.”
We love it — from the Indy 500 Speedway tire cover, the swivel seats, and the bubbled-up window tint, it’s perfect. We just wish this van could have been a factory option from GM.
The guys plan on pulling the engine out of the van and installing the driveline into something else eventually. We will find out what the vehicle will be next year as the gang returns to Bowling Green in 2020.
Beauty And A Beast: 1963 Corvette
Pete Johnson had another car at the show, and it was the complete opposite of the G20 van that the guys brought. This 1963 C3 Corvette was one of the most beautiful, most meticulously detailed cars in the show. Pete built the vehicle for Drag Week, and it’s a show-stopper, like the van — okay, it’s nothing like the van.
Pete’s father had two Corvette bodies with all of the markings and correct bonding strips. The only problem was, neither of these bodies had a VIN associated with them. Pete took the worst of the two and started building it.
The engine consists of a 388 cubic-inch LSX block, Callies crank, billet I-beams, with a stock stroke and big bore. The short block is topped off with a set of Mast Motorsports heads, T&D Machine shaft rockers, and Pete built a custom intake with two complete fuel systems. As we mentioned above, the car was built for Drag Week, and Pete wanted one fuel system for pump gas and a second for methanol. This setup allows him to switch between fuels while they’re driving from one race track to another.
We were curious if the C3 performed as good as it looks. “We’ve been 7.80 at 182 mph and 4.90 to the 1/8-mile. When I started building this car I wanted to go 6.90 at over 200. It can do it we need to figure it out a bit more,” Pete says.
While we could write a full-blown novel drooling over this car, we will just let you check out this killer machine and the full feature over at Dragzine.
Monster In The Making: 1978 Fairmont
Want to know how to make an LS swap stand out in a sea of cars? Just ask Tim Grillot, Engineering Director of Holley Performance Products. He has the perfect formula that is sure to work on any vehicle out there. First, you take a car and insert an LS engine. Then you build a set of zoomie-style headers for it. Finally, you take a monstrous 14-71 supercharger and affix it to the top of the engine. And if this approach doesn’t get enough attention, enter the burnout competition at LS Fest and melt the tires off with wheel speeds of over 200 miles per hour.
Tim’s Fairmount, known as the FairMonster, had people looking in awe all three days of the show. As Tim fired it up for us, people swarmed around the car, trying to wrap their heads around this build.
Tim purchased the ’78 Fairmont about ten years ago at a swap meet in Iowa where he lived. Several years later Holley recruited Tim for his services and he moved down to Bowling Green. Naturally, the Fairmont made the trip, too. Tim had already invested his time in the chassis, but it was set up for a 4.6-liter Ford modular motor. Tim said, “I put the 4.6 motor in the car with a turbo and was able to go 8.60’s. Unfortunately, I blew it up trying to do stupid stuff on pump gas.” Tim continued, “Since the engine was blown up, I wanted to do a swap and have something to bring to LS Fest.”
Surprisingly, Tim told us that he has never been a huge LS swap fan, and if he was going to bring something to the show, he was going to go big. And go big, he did indeed. Tim said, “I put a 14-71 on top of an LSX block 427, with a Callies crankshaft, Callies rods, Diamond Racing Pistons, Total Seal rings, and a complete Crower valvetrain.”
Since no one makes a blower manifold for a 14-71, Tim and his team built one out of billet aluminum.
“We built the car to do burnouts, play around, or whatever.” Tim states. “It’s capable of 2,000-plus horsepower, but we just have it set on 10-pounds [of boost] for the burnout contest.” The FairMonster is good for a modest 1,150 horsepower on the 10-pounds. Another cool feature about this car is the exhaust system. Even though the Fairmount appears to have just zoomies, there is more than meets the eye: each tube has a valve on it that can divert the exhaust gasses through a full exhaust system at the touch of a button.
When asked if he had any regrets with putting an LS in the car, Tim quickly replied, “No, not at all. I embrace everything. I had always been a Ford guy so putting an LS in a Ford was a little bit of a thing for me, but I’m good with it.”
We’re good with it too, and so was the crowd after the burnout contest.
As Tim idled the FairMonster out in front of the crowd, you could feel the tension in the air as the 14-71 blower surged the car forward. At the crack of the throttle, Tim’s beast went from an angry growl to a banshee scream with the tires begging for mercy…which they did not receive. Tim never lifted until the tires were vaporized. Everyone watching was in awe as the FairMonster stole the show.
A Long Shot: 1968 Camaro SS 396
We’ve all done it, and chances are, if you haven’t yet, you will. As you go through life, situations can emerge that might force you to sell your prized possession. Maybe it’s a divorce, financial struggles, or just a bad decision. Jon Kelly didn’t sell his dream car, his father did. At the time he was just a kid, but remembered his dad racing the vehicle.
After some discussion, Jon and his wife decided to try finding the car and repurchase it a few years ago. However, there were several problems with this plan: the car had initially been in Minnesota until his father sold it to a guy by the name of Matt in Reno, Nevada in 2004. The car hadn’t been registered in years, and no one knew where it was. That didn’t stop Jon from looking.
The search began in 2015 as Jon scoured Facebook and the internet for hours on end trying to find the relic from 1968. Then one day, it happened — he stumbled upon the Nevada Camaro Owners page on Facebook and made a post looking for the car. Someone tagged Matt, the car’s owner at the time, in the post. Jon had found it. The only problem was, Matt was not willing to part ways with the Camaro…not yet anyway.
Two years ago, Jon was sitting at work, and he got a call. Jon said, “I picked up the phone, and a guy says, ‘Hey it’s Matt.’ ” By this time, Jon had completely forgotten who Matt was. Jon said, “Matt, who?” Matt replied, “The guy with the Camaro. I’m ready to sell it.” Jon couldn’t believe it and told Matt he would take it on the spot. Excited, Jon immediately called his wife to share the good news with her and said he bought the car. Jon’s wife asked how much he paid for the Camaro, to which he said he didn’t know because they never discussed a price. Jon said, “Luckily, Matt was super cool about selling me the car back. He could have asked for $40,000, and I would have paid it. Fortunately, he cut me a really good deal.”
We spotted the car on Friday and kept stopping by the Motion Raceworks‘ booth trying to catch Jon. We knew the car had to have a story, and we were right.
Jon’s father bought the now super-rare 1968 Camaro SS 396, which received the custom paint job in 1971. Matt, the previous owner, went through some hard times and lost interest in the car, leaving it outside. Nevada is known for harsh conditions, and while rust is not a factor, the sun is. The years of exposure from the fireball in the sky quickly took a toll on the trendy paint scheme. But we love a good patina, and this one is not good…it’s great.
The engine in the sought-after SS 396 SS is now a 2004 Junkyard L33, with a set of 799 heads, head studs, a Trick Flow cam, and a massive turbo. We were lucky enough to catch Jon’s Camaro in eliminations as it did a colossal wheelstand, but regrettably, the car came down rather hard, forcing Jon to abort the run.
There were so many cars at LS Fest that could have easily made our top five, but these were all a solid mix of vehicles from the show with great stories, and we hoped you enjoyed them from afar as much as we did in person. We do have others that didn’t make the top five but will be featured in a separate story in the coming days, so stay tuned. Let us know what your favorite was in the comments below and remember gang: LS swap the world!