GM LS Engine Swaps: Taking Over the Import Performance Scene
The popularity of GM LS engine swaps has been steadily increasing in recent years, gaining interest and infiltrating various chassis across the automotive world. Despite initial resistance from the import performance community, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the LS swap process has garnered widespread support from the aftermarket industry, making it easier than ever to combine a domestic engine with a Japanese chassis.
One prime example of this phenomenon is the 2013 Scion FR-S owned by Ryan Smith. Before Smith acquired the car, it had previously participated in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity charity race on the streets of Long Beach. Piloted by television personality Rutledge Wood, the car achieved victory in 2013, earning Wood a spot in the Pro category for the following year. After the race, Wood made some modifications to the car with the help of Atlanta’s KoruWorks, a shop he had a long-standing relationship with.
Impressed by the car’s history and existing upgrades, Smith decided to purchase the FR-S and continue its transformation. The stock FA20 boxer engine, which had only accumulated 7,500 miles, was replaced with a potent GM LS3 powerplant. Known for its exceptional dollar-per-horsepower value, the LS3 engine is highly desirable for drifting applications. Given Smith’s experience in Formula Drift, he recognized the performance potential of this engine swap.
The LS swap, once a custom affair, has become a standardized process with the availability of aftermarket products that streamline the installation. Smith’s FR-S features RTS engine plates to secure the LS3 and a host of other upgrades to optimize performance. A TSP Stage III cam, dual valve springs, titanium retainers, hardened pushrods, and trunnion upgrade enhance the top end of the engine. The intake system incorporates a modified Corvette K&N intake kit, while Vorshlag headers and a custom Y-pipe handle exhaust duties.
To further enhance the car’s performance, an ARE 4-stage dry sump system was installed, and the fueling system was significantly upgraded. A Radium fuel pump hanger, Walbro 450 lph pump, BTR fuel rails, and Deatschwerks 750cc injectors ensure ample fuel delivery. With these modifications, the LS3-powered FR-S produces nearly 500 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, leaving the original Boxer engine in the dust.
In terms of suspension, Smith opted for Fortune Auto’s 500 series coilovers to replace the stock setup. Paired with numerous other suspension components from PBM, Perrin, and Whiteline, the FR-S delivers impressive handling characteristics. The custom TRD roll cage not only provides added safety but also contributes to the overall chassis rigidity.
On the exterior, the FR-S received a few modifications to update its appearance. Smith added a GR86 bumper, Uras grille duct, TrackSpec hood vents, and a generic splitter kit. The wheels and tires were also upgraded to Kosei K1 and Enkei RPF1 wheels wrapped in Falken and Valino rubber, respectively. The finishing touch is a Chase Bays reverse-mounted handbrake for initiating sideways action.
Smith has thoroughly enjoyed his LS-swapped FR-S, praising its balance and overall performance. While he primarily uses it for recreational drift sessions with friends, Smith doesn’t rule out the possibility of adding more power in the future. Perhaps a supercharger installation could be on the horizon, further boosting the capabilities of the LS engine.
Another example of the LS swap phenomenon is Cole Richards’ 2013 Scion FR-S. When Richards acquired the car from its previous owner Ron Ewerth, it already featured an LS3 engine swap along with other custom modifications. The LS3 engine received additional upgrades, such as a custom crank, headers, and exhaust, along with Manley pistons. The standout feature of this build is the Magnuson TVS2300 supercharger, which supplements the LS3’s power output and provides a menacing appearance with its protruding snout.
Richards’ goal for this FR-S is to compete in Formula Drift Prospec. To achieve this, he has been updating various components, including suspension, drivetrain, braking, and more. FEAL coilovers, a WiseFab alignment kit, and a Winters quick-change rear end are just a few of the upgrades implemented to enhance performance and adjustability. In terms of safety, the custom roll cage fabricated by Jeb Greenstone contributes to chassis rigidity and protects the driver.
With over 900 horsepower at the wheels, Richards’ LS3-powered FR-S is a formidable force on the track. The widebody kit not only complements the aggressive power plant but also allows for larger wheel and tire combinations for improved grip. Inside the car, race-inspired modifications include Recaro seats, an AIM MXL digital cluster, and a Sparco steering wheel. The stripped-out interior focuses solely on the necessities, further reducing weight to maximize performance.
Both Smith and Richards began their journeys with capable starting platforms and transformed their FR-S cars into high-performance drift machines. While the LS swap trend may have been met with skepticism initially, its undeniable appeal lies in the combination of a potent engine and smaller chassis. It’s a recipe for an exhilarating driving experience, particularly when the car is pushed to its limits in sideways action.
In conclusion, the GM LS engine swap phenomenon has taken the import performance scene by storm. The LS3-powered Scion FR-S examples owned by Ryan Smith and Cole Richards demonstrate the potential of combining a domestic engine with a Japanese chassis. These LS-swapped cars offer exceptional power, impressive handling, and a thrilling driving experience. As the aftermarket industry continues to support LS swaps, we can expect this trend to persist and evolve, further fueling the excitement among automotive enthusiasts.