Top 5 Wildest Swaps At LS Fest West 2019 And Event Recap

All of the hard work, planning, and dedication for the Holley Crew paid off as LS Fest West 2019 comes to an end. Man what a show! The Holley team did a fantastic job keeping this event moving along throughout the day, and there was never a dull moment. Between drag racing, drifting, autocross, burnout contests, off-road racing, and the Grand Champion contest, there was no time to be bored. All three days were unique to the event because each one offered something new. Even with all of the happenings at the show, we did manage to find some vehicles that stood out in the crowd, and we wanted to share that with you.

1. The Mini Tire Slayer:

You can tell by the pictures that Dario is by no means a small guy. He had to put the seats where they needed to be for him to fit in the Mini and build the car around them.

Dario Gaiga brought a 1977 Austin Mini to the party from Calgary Alberta Canada. The Mini build was influenced by the latest trend in Australia, “Burnout Cars.” Dario built this micromachine to blaze the tires and make as much smoke as possible, and it worked. Not only did he add to the clouds in the sky in the burnout contest, but he also won one of the burnout competition in extraordinary fashion by blowing the rear tires on the car.

The Mini houses a 4.8-liter engine equipped with a GM LSA cam, Holley Hi-ram intake, and a B-series 6-71 blower off of a Detroit diesel with dual stock 78mm throttle bodies. This combination is good for 600 horsepower at only 10-pounds of boost. The power is transferred through a Turbo 350 transmission and to a Ford 8-inch rear end that has been narrowed 22-inches. Dario used a 2×3 square tubing to build the frame and connect it to Chevette front suspension.

It took Dario 3-months to build this tire killing machine. His favorite thing about the car is the amount of attention it gets. We can attest to this statement because it always had a crowd around it at LS Fest West.

2. Project Pacemaker

After a failed attempt at building a previous Pacer, Dick decided to buy another one. This 1975 Pacer was found on Craigslist and he used parts of off other cars to complete the build.

Dick Hamm from Tuscon Arizona brought another crazy compact car as well, an American Motors Company (AMC) Pacer. Dubbed the Pace Maker, this little car was put together in just 16 days. Dick decided to start on it right before LS Fest and not only had the car running, and driving, and he was on the strip drag racing!

The engine in the car is either a 4.8 or 5.3-Liter LS. Dick was not sure what it was because he never actually checked to verify it. Either way, the turbo makes up for any power loss if it happens to be a 4.8-Liter. The VS Racing 78/75 turbo is a hot air setup meaning it doesn’t have an intercooler. The Pacer runs on e85 or at least Dick thinks it does because he never actually checked that either. A Micro Squirt ECU handles the engine functions. For the transmission, Dick decided to use a Turbo 400 transmission.

The hardest part of this build according to Dick was the front brakes.  He thought that he had some blockage in the system, but that was not the case. Instead, Dick figured out that the floating brake setup was not floating and this was causing all of his problems. Evidently, the previous owner had installed the brakes wrong.

Dick did manage to get the car situated and to LS Fest West in the nick of time. We saw him ripping it up in the burnout competition, on the drag strip, and cruising around the pits a few times. For a car that was not very popular back in its day, it sure is popular in 2019.

We loved this thing for a few reasons. It’s LS-swapped, turbocharged, and it is as wide as it is long. Dick managed to run an 11.6 elapsed time at 116 mph after only his fourth pass in the car. Unfortunatly, they found out that the turbo was trashed so their weekend as LS Fest was done. We expect the Pace Maker to be in the 10’s soon so keep an eye out for it. You can check out Dick’s daily build of the Pace Maker here on youtube and follow him on Instagram.

3. The Fish Out Of Water:

James has owned the boat for two years, and this build took him a total of 8-months to complete. He is looking to build the engine in the future with all forged internals and to turn up the boost to see what the boat can do. We want to know that as well!

James Galindez showed up with an LS swap that no one was expecting at LS Fest. It was unlike anything on the property because it was not a car. Instead, it was a boat that was home to a twin turbo LS engine. The 1975 Kona jetboat started life as with a big block Oldsmobile 455 engine. When the engine was on its last leg James told his wife he was going to go with an LS engine. She agreed so he picked up the LS pretty cheap and started the build. At first, the power plant was set to be naturally-aspirated but after finding some inexpensive manifolds and turbos, though James decided to go with a boosted setup. The manifolds are from Hardin Marine and are water-cooled. James said, “Most people look at this boat, and their minds are blown, and they don’t know how it works.”

For jet boat fans out there Jet Boat Performance makes a rail kit to bolt the engine in along with a bell housing to adapt to the pump. The kit includes the front and back plate for engine mounting. James also decided to run a closed cooling system much like that on a car, but instead of the coolant being moderated by air, the temperature is reduced by the lake water as are the intercoolers for the turbos as well. The boat has an A-impeller which is set up for 800 horsepower. The twin turbo engine is making 600 horsepower at the moment and pushes the boat to the 70-plus miles per hour range effortlessly.

4. Here Kitty Kitty:

With a 700 horsepower​ LS, Hellcat kill stickers, and a bullet hole, what could make this thing any cooler?

Stephen Dorrick, Owner of LOJ Conversions, showed up with a 2004 Infinity FX45 SUV from New Jersey. After several requests from people wanting to swap the SUV, Steven decided to look at it. Loj is known for offering complete quality swap parts for Infinity and Nissan vehicles. Steven grabbed one of the companies G35 swap kits and for the most part, the conversion bolted right in the FX45. Steven states, “We did have to manufacture a few FX45 specific parts to get it to work, but they were minimal.”

The FX houses a 6.0-liter 2012 out of a suburban with ls3 heads. Modifications consist of a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) stage 3 cam, LSA supercharger, and methanol injection. The engine makes 712 horsepower and 707 lb-ft of torque on 93-octane with methanol injection at 15 pounds of boost. A factory 6l90 transmission has an aftermarket torque converter which sends power to the factory rear end.  The only other upgrades are the big brakes, and a set of red powder coated Nismo wheels. Some of our favorite things about this creation other than the LS mill are the Hellcat “kill decals” — yes it’s way faster than a Hellcat and much cheaper — and the bullet hole in the rear driver door. Steven said the hole was there when he bought at the junkyard and he intends to leave it. Be sure and check out all of their products at

5. The Forbidden Five Ten: 

Marcus Fry of Redwood City California brought a crazy looking 1970 Datsun 510 out to LS Fest. The Datsun started out as a Pro Formula-D drift car but was considered illegal due to a rule change in the middle of the build. According to Marcus, it became a “whatever car” to run regional events.

Marcus engineered everything on the car, suspension, drivetrain, engine, and exhaust. The engine is a stock LS3 with a cam, aftermarket valvetrain, and a Hilborn Injection individual throttle body (ITB) setup with some monstrous stacks. The headers were custom made by Marcus that connect to an ovalized pipe that is 10-inches by 2-inches high to help with clearance and spacing under the car.

The drivetrain under the 510 is also impressive and utilizes The Drive Shaft Shop axles that are connected to a Winters Performance quick-change rear end. Marcus had a custom billet chrome-moly input shaft that connects to a Jerrico Performance dog box 4-speed which uses a ’68 Camaro bell housing.

Marcus was very cautious of the weight of the 510 and weight distribution. For this reason, the cooling system was relocated to the back of the car providing better weight placement and more clearance up front. The front end of the Datsun is also all fiberglass, and the doors are completely gutted. The total weight of the car with fuel and minus the driver comes in at only 2,260-pounds.

Mr. Inconspicous – Honorable Mention

This stock looking VW would certainly get the attention of an onlooker when the red light switches to green with V8 power.

This car was by no means the wildest looking swap at LS Fest. It might have been the most innocent looking car on the property, but it deserves some attention. This little red Volkswagon (VW) Beetle was built by Dave Hill of Hill’s Automotive out of Provo Utah. At first glance, the car just looked out of place, and we thought it might have been someone that was lost. As it turns out, this car was right at home.

Dave popped the hood on the VW, and it was obvious that the Beetle had every right to be at LS Fest West. Stuffed with an LS4 power plant and transmission from a Monte Carlo SS, Dave said the installation of the engine and transmission wasn’t the hard part of this swap. The wiring, on the other hand, was a much larger task. He was not able to find any wiring schematics for the Monte Carlo engine and transmission, so Dave had to figure all of that on his own.

He picked up the Bug as a running car for only $200. He then spent $1,000 on the engine and transmission. It took Dave about two months to complete this build because of the wiring issues and the fact that you can’t buy a single part to help with this swap. For the amount of money invested in this project, we are sure that Dave will certainly get a return on his investment in the way of smiles and tire smoke.

Photo gallery


We had a blast at LS Fest West 2019, and LS Fest East will be here before you know it. So, you better get to work on those projects! We’re working on a few of our own and hope to make the 12-hour trip to Bowling Green too. We hope to see you there!

About the author

Brian Havins

A gearhead for life, Brian is obsessed with all things fast. Banging gears, turning wrenches, and praying while spraying are just a few of his favorite things.
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