The best cars are built by crazy people. Now cars, from the Toyota Prius to the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, come with engines that will help them sell, engines that will make their companies some bucks. But once they hit the market, you can give them the engines they really need. Here are six cars that could use engine swaps. And what they should get instead.
Performance isn’t really the problem here, right? The failed Karma had 402 hp and could hit 60 in 6.3 seconds, a fairly decent sprint compared to other sedans. No, the problem was that the car wasn’t nearly as quick as it looked, and for 100 grand, you’d better get something faster than a pair of electric drills.
Our ideal replacement engines: Any of the Viper V10s. Yes, Bob Lutz offered to put an LS crate motor in there, but the poor old Chrysler 8.4 V10 has been overshadowed by its more recent Hellcat cousin, and we don’t want to see V10s go away. Especially V10s worth 500-600 hp. What other four door would have those specs?
Toyota Celica Liftback
First generation Celica hatchbacks were known in the ‘70s as “Japanese Mustangs” due to their considerable design er…homages to the storied pony car. But, like everything else that came out in the mid-’70s, it was pitifully underpowered, the reliable but anemic 20R engine forcing out a scant 96 horsepower.
So we thought that, since the Celica aped the Mustang with its lines, a 5.0 V8 engine swap would be appropriate. But to keep it in the Toyota family, we picked the 2UR-GSE 5.0, currently in service in the Lexus IS-F and the brand new Lexus RC-F. In the former it happily crafts 416 hp, and in the latter an astounding 470 hp. Yes, that old Celica will likely need some stiffness and suspension upgrades as well.
The Volvo 200s are beloved for their pragmatic, brickish styling, their RWD+manual combo, and their frozen moose durability. But not necessarily for their performance. Even the 2.6 liter PRV V6 could only be bothered to hit 140 hp.
But the 200s also came with the option of a diesel, which reminded us that Volvo has an entire brand of large trucks to farm for our potential engine replacement. So we’re going with the D6B turbo diesel straight 6, the smallest diesel engine in their industrial line. Sure, it only makes 250 hp, but it also makes over 600 lb-ft of torque, which should scoot the brick along nicely.
The first generation of the best-selling 2-seat roadster in the world is celebrated for many reasons: cheapness, reliability, a huge aftermarket, and laser-guided handling, but not for sheer power. The 1.6 four in the earliest Miatas only made 114 hp. Even the fastest factory models leading up to this year only produce 167 hp.
But when we were at the Art of the Car Concours this summer, we spotted the one and only Troutman-Barnes special, a roadster race car with a Thunderbird engine. Swapping huge V8s into tiny roadsters was made popular by Carroll Shelby with his Cobras, but he was only part of the movement.
In tribute, our NA Miata would get a 400 hp LS6. Miata LS swaps are fairly common, so there’s plenty of knowledge out there on how to make it happen. Add some side pipes, body modifications, a roll cage, and a fuel cell for a true Troutman tribute.
Willys MB Jeep
With all respect to the MB’s extraordinary military service, the original 2.2 liter Go Devil four only managed 60 hp. It made up for that with 105 lb-ft of torque and winning World War II and stuff, but these days, we can do better.
And, since Jeep is part of Chrysler these days, we can do better in about those proportions with a Cummins ISB 6.7 diesel, worth 350 hp and 650 lb-ft. That should be more than enough torque to run your plow.
4th Generation Lincoln Continental
Ever since we saw this slice of slab-sided perfection, we’ve wanted to resto-mod a 1961-1969 Lincoln Continental. A better suspension, new brakes, improved steering, a discreet roll cage, a Coyote eng…wait a second. The Continental had a 400 hp 430 V8?
Well, never mind, then. No offense intended. No need to touch the engine.
What about you? What have you worked on? A V8 S10? A Subaru Beetle? A 911 356? What are your dream swaps? Tell us in the comments!
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.