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the LS swap fad and styling continuity

first off, i appreciate everyone that comes and checks out our website and my blog on here. some may have noticed that i havn't done a blog article in a very long time. the reason why is i've been putting my time on the weekends into doing a book that i'm making good progress on, which i'm hoping will be in publishing stages by the end of the year. in the mean time, i've decided to do an LS swap rant. as you will soon see, i'm very passionate on the subject. i hope you enjoy.


engine swaps have been the foundation of hot rods and customs since the very beginning. it was all about swapping in the newer engine that just came out or adapting body parts and copying the new automobile styling that just came out for the current year. this worked when we're talking about styling updates, 10, 20, or 30 years newer. not 60 or 70 years newer, people would customize their older cheap cars just to make it different from the one that they parked next to in the grocery store parking lot. custom cars tended to mimic high end luxury cars with adapted trim, headlights, tail lights, and grilles.. more expensive luxury line engine swaps (the song "hot rod lincoln" comes to mind), and body mods/ accessories such as skirts, continental kits and spot lights that were synonymous with your cadillacs, buicks, and lincolns. it was always about making the car better or restyling it to make it cooler and more unique to stand out in the crowd.

if you drive a 60+ year old antique car, i guarantee its for the following reasons. you like the styling of it, or you think its cool and a display of creativity. if fuel economy and 10k interval oil changes were your main priority, then you'd just drive your toyota instead. old cars for most of us, is much more than a hobby. its an identity and a lifestyle that sticks with us our entire lives.

more and more people are brainwashed into thinking that you need to have a late model drivetrain to have a reliable vehicle. points are dirty? rear main seal leaks? the solution is an LS swap. i assure you, that if you pull an LS powered car out of a barn, 60 or 70 years from now, you sure as hell arn't going to get it running in a weekend like the 60 year old cars we have now. women and children drove all these cars across country when they were new. they are just as reliable as the cars are now. they just require a little more maintenance. i've been driving (most of it has been daily driving) antique cars my entire life and i have never once had a car on a tow truck outside of purchasing the vehicle and bring it home for the first time. people will argue "i cant get parts easy at napa." i assure you that you arnt going to change a cylinder head on the side of the freeway. all consumable parts (that you would be able to change on any late model engine on the side of the road, just the same) are available over the counter for the nailheads. safety checking and going over your car with a "fine tooth comb" isnt done by people anymore these days and should be done no matter what year your car or drivetrain is, and even more so if your car is heavily modified. the vast majority of road trip breakdowns could have been completely avoided by simply maintaining your car and replacing obviously worn out or "due for a change" parts before they fail completely. people get 60 or 70 year old cars that need a total mechanical restoration and rather than fix it all at once to make a reliable vehicle that they won't have to touch or fix anything on for years to come... they only replace one ticking time bomb part at a time until the next time they get stranded and towed and then curse the fact that its a vintage design and not the fact that the car is twice your age and needs a restoration.

modern electronics deteriorate with age and plastic simply crumbles. even simply putting EFI on your vintage engine, makes it far less reliable long term. you're trading out a simple fuel system, consisting of a mechanical fuel pump and a carb, for a throttle body, computer, wiring harness, special high pressure fuel pump that has to be mounted in the tank to keep it cool, O2 sensors, throttle position sensor, etc, and to top it off, you have no OBD2 diagnostic system to trouble shoot it when you have problems. all for the sake of what? reliability? because the car has hard starting after heat soak? (easily remedied otherwise.) comparable throttle response can be achieved with the updated venturi design of the avs2 series. these late model drive trains require the same mods, plus most don't and wont fit in center sump nailhead cars without cutting up the frame. people think its an affordable options, and yes it can be if you do all the work yourself and are using a junk yard engine. most LS engines actually make less power than a late nailhead. also fuel economy isnt even better if you're comparing the both to overdrive trans applications. that 500+ hp everyone assumes that comes stock with every LS swap is around $8-10k in terms of a mail order crate engine, and then add up the cost of adaption of everything else. but hey, you can't even use 500hp on city streets and highways anyway these days, so whats the point anyway? so you can build a cookie cutter car thats no different than all the other default button cars you see at goodguys? no one cares to even stop and look at these engine swaps. its cooler to see a 325hp obscure and odd drivetrain than yet another car with the same late model ugly plastic covered engine compartment.

one thing that people i feel don't commonly take into consideration when building a car, is that the engine is part of the styling of the car. late model drivetrains clash with the styling of the rest of the car. 60+ years is just too much of a difference in a car's styling and technology for the two to work together and mesh. imagine wearing a 50's era suit with some 2022 nike running shoes. that's a pretty graphic image right? if you look at every iconic custom or hot rod thats ever been built, you will notice that they have styling continuity, and stick to a strict theme throughout. inside and out. they dont put head rested 2014 seats and a 13 inch steering wheel in a 50s car because the styling clashes. they don't put 22 inch billet rims with a bolt on visor on it because the styling clashes. just because we may like a certain thing, doesn't mean that it is what's best for the vehicle as a whole in terms of a completed piece of art. anything that you add or take away from an art piece either makes it better or it makes it worse. there is no neutrality in terms of art. that is also what makes a car a rat rod.. but that's for some other rant.

let's circle back around to the reason why you tell yourself that you drive an old car to begin with. what part of the LS swap is cool, creative, or has good style?

i feel like some people are truly into the spirit and soul of driving old cars and appreciate the whole experience of it. the history. the feel. the era.. and others just kinda sorta think they like the styling, but really just wish they were driving a modern car that somewhat resembles something from the 50s or 60s? no disrespect to the latter. to each their own.

the absolute worst thing that you see now is the "fake engine fad." i actually had someone tell me that putting nailhead valve covers on an LS swap was what real hot rodding is. huh? it's pretty hard to build a real custom or a real hot rod around a fake engine. the excuse is always "the nailhead is too expensive to build and doesnt make enough power for the money." 400hp and 500 torque is easily obtainable with a late nailhead with more carberation, bigger cam and boosted compression. even 400hp isnt usuable for the driving that 98% of people with classic cars are doing. instead people will pay more than the cost of a nailhead rebuild, for an LS swap.. and then spend over 3 grand to put fake nailhead valve covers on it, i guess to trick 12 year old girls? ...and devalue the car in the process. to end up with a "fad car" that will be out of style in 15 years that everyone else will look back on like the pastel graphics, cloth interiors, and heartbeat of america sbc valve covers of the 80s.

this day in age, its $30k to start, to pay someone to body work and paint a 60+ year old car. the drive train is couch change in the grand scheme of what it takes to build a car. so ask yourself? is an LS swap unique and creative? will it bring attention? does it fit the styling of the car? is it actually more reliable in the long run? will it make the car more valuable? i feel the answer to all of the above questions is no.

at the end of the day, my opinion shouldnt really have any weight on what you do with your car. its your hard earned money and not mine. i have my own cars to build the way that i want. with any luck, however, maybe if you were on the fence with which direction to go with your project, this article was successful if it swayed you in a better direction.




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8 Comments


Good Read! My son has a 1956 Roadmaster, I was thinking of helping him with bringing it back to life. I am not a big motor head, I do like tinkering with old cars. So, the read has planted a seed for the classic!

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ron paulson
ron paulson
Aug 15, 2023

Great read! Having an "out of the ordinary" engine is so nice to see. Nailheads, Y Block/FE Fords, Packard, Studebaker, Olds. So many cool engines out there but a well dressed Nailhead is about as good looking as it gets. It what's sitting in the engine bay of my 53 Studebaker Starlight Coupe!

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"Big" ED
"Big" ED
Jun 05, 2023

Preach on Brother Matt!


I used to criticize and laugh at "tuner" cars with fart pipes, then one day at a car show with my pops he reminded me that everyone has their own taste and as long as they "bust their own knuckles" on their car, then accept them for their work.

But I just can't accept the LS swap either, just like I'm SOOO tired of the SBC in EVERY hot rod. Be different people and separate yourself from the herd!

My '32 lakes roadster runs a '49 Mercury .239 Flathead, my '28 Model A is pushed by a '54 .264 Nailhead, the family ALL "Henry Steel" '34 Ford Sedan is a tire's worst nightmare thanks to the…


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100% Correct! Well written and nailed it.


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Great article. The part about being drawn to older, unique builds is true for me. Ls swaps are boring. Good read.

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