So, the boss has asked us to pick our favorite engine swap. As fate would have it, I have a friend who knows a thing or two about swapping… and the odd thing is that he was just a toddler in the ’70′s! Matt “Tinman” Johnston is that rare and valuable combination: good friend and the master fabricator. He built me a fast, reliable Neon ACR complete with Grand-Am-spec rollcage for my 2008 NASA racing season… and when I hit the wall at 90+ mph and totaled it, he built me another one in just 20 days. Needless to say, he’s a good fellow to know. When he’s not busy literally saving me from a fiery death, however, he likes to build GM-powered “FC” Mazda RX-7s.
Let’s start with his daily driver. This RX-7 has a GM 3800 Series II V-6 from a fourth-generation Camaro. It’s a stock engine, but Tinman fabricated a rather unique exhaust that gives it a V-8 sound and a little extra poke… With over 200 horsepower for about 2500 pounds, it’s capable of keeping up with an E36 M3 or Porsche Boxster on a road course. The heater works, the stereo works, the car just plain works. Five or six times a year he drives it to HPDE events, thrashes it nearly to death, and then drives it home. It’s never had a major mechanical problem. In fact, it’s such a great car that one wonders what Tinman could do if he wanted to focus on speed instead of reliability and working heaters. As it turns out, he was wondering the same thing…
Hmmm…. that’s another “FC” RX-7. Looks like we have a rollbar in there, but there’s no engine. What do you suppose could fit in there? Well, a Chevy LS1 would fit, and some people say that nearly every car is improved with an LS1, with the possible exception of the LS7-powered Z06. But that would be too easy. Let’s get a small-block in there, sure, but let’s make it a tough small-block.
That’s more like it! A NASCAR-spec small-block Chevy with all the trimmings. This car is hardly any heavier than its 200-something-horse V-6 garagemate, but as you can see from the dyno chart at the top of the story, it’s basically three times as powerful. The Brembo system from a Mitsubishi Evolution clamps custom Brembo discs and Tinman-fabricated-from-raw-stock suspension components. The result is a car that, while lapping Tinman’s home stomping grounds, Nelson Ledges Road Course, can easily spin the rear tires… in fourth gear. Look at it this way: it has all the power of the new ZR1 Corvette without the weight. Yeah, it’s a little fussy, but any car with this kind of juice is likely to be. It’s my choice for “Coolest Engine Swap”, hands-down.